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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pay to play for multi-million Fla pension fund legal contracts?



A veritable pot of gold — untold millions upon millions of dollars in legal fees — is up for grabs this week when the state decides which of 12 legal teams will represent Florida in securities lawsuits.

Will the State Board of Administration, overseen by trustees Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, select the firms best able to look out for the interests of the pensions of teachers, police officers and public employees across the state? Or will politics skew the process?

The politicians say politics plays no role, it's all about looking out for Floridians. But the law firms look for every edge. In the last 14 months, lawyers and others tied to 51 firms interested in representing the SBA have spent at least $850,000 on Florida politics.

This month, a six-member SBA evaluation team narrowed the search from 31 to a "short list" of 12.

• Of the 12, one had what a federal judge called a "gross conflict of interest." Two hired lobbyists to influence the process. Three have been criticized for high legal fees at the expense of investors and consumers.

• Three of the 12 spent $265,000 on Florida political parties and lobbyists in the last 14 months.

• Two revealed relationships with politically influential Florida law firms that since October 2008 gave a combined $75,000 to the Republican and Democratic parties.

(Story here)

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:09pm]


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