House seeks ex-statewide prosecutor in Sansom inquiry
The select House committee investigating Republican Rep. Ray Sansom voted Wednesday to recommend the hiring of an independent prosecutor: Melanie Hines, a former statewide prosecutor, law school professor and registered Democrat. Her job will be to gather all relevant facts to determine whether Sansom violated House rules, which could lead to sanctions by his colleagues.
The panel's chairman, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the decision to hire Hines is an indication that the six-member committee is moving forward on a citizen complaint by Susan Smith of Odessa that Sansom violated House rules in his dealings as budget chairman on behalf of a Panhandle college and a state-funded building that aided a developer friend's jet business.
Hines, 54, of Tallahassee, is a registered Democrat. In 2004 she was named of counsel to the firm Berger Singerman law firm, which has had a very high Democratic profile in both state and national politics (name partner Mitchell Berger was instrumental in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign in Florida). The web site www.opensecrets.org says Hines gave $1,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and $1,250 to Sen. Bill Nelson's 2006 re-election.
Galvano said Hines' qualifications were vetted closely and that he saw no reason to question her ability to impartially judge the facts in the Sansom case. "I think her reputation speaks for itself," Galvano said. "This is not a question of it being Republican or Democrat. I think we looked for who was a qualified person, and who the committee members would be comfortable with."
Hines served as statewide prosecutor from 1991 to 2003 and previously was an assistant public defender. She's a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law and formerly taught law there. The next step is for House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, to negotiate terms of Hines' state employment.
"I believe the committee wants to move forward expeditiously but fairly," Hines said. "I'm willing to do my best to meet those expectations." She said she does not know Sansom, and expects that someone might question her impartiality given her limited partisan activity on behalf of Democrats.