Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Florida Bar committee clears former Hillsborough Aviation Authority attorney Gigi Rechel of Sunshine Law violations

TAMPA — Former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority attorney Gigi Rechel did not violate Florida's Sunshine Law and conflict of interest laws, according a Florida Bar committee.

A Bar grievance committee released a notice of no probable cause and letter of advice on Feb. 19, nearly a year and four months after Rechel resigned abruptly as the aviation authority's attorney. She had worked as an attorney with Tampa International Airport for 15 years.

Rechel said that former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board member Martin Garcia encouraged the Florida Bar to investigate her. Garcia quit the airport's board in May 2013, less than a year after the governor had appointed him.

"I didn't feel comfortable defending myself and continuing to represent my client," Rechel said during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. "I was so surprised and disappointed at the time. But I'm anxious to move on now."

Rechel faced Sunshine Law allegations after text messages she sent from her personal phone to Garcia could not be recovered. The authority now has a system that can archive texts for the public record. In addition, the Bar investigated a conflict of interest issue, in which Rechel represented the aviation board as the organization's attorney and privately represented airport officials like its CEO.

This was the first time the Bar had conducted any investigation into Rechel's conduct. She never had any disciplinary action taken against her.

Andrew Blaise Sasso, the ''designated reviewer'' with the Florida Bar, has 30 days to review the letter of advice from the grievance committee and decide to take action. If no action is taken, the committee's decision becomes final.

"This means that her unblemished record is maintained," said attorney Jeffrey Gibson, who represented Rechel. It is unclear why it took the Bar more than a year to respond to the investigation, but Gibson said it's not abnormal for the process to take this long.

Rechel made $210,000 a year as the airport's top lawyer. Michael Stephens, a lawyer in Tampa, was hired to fill the general counsel vacancy at the airport in November. He makes $203,000. David L. Smith provided legal service to the aviation board and airport staff on an interim basis since November 2014.

"Gigi worked here a long time and was instrumental in the airport's success. We're pleased with this decision," said Janet Zink, spokeswoman for the Tampa airport.

Rechel, 54, says she has no plans to come out of retirement and will continue to enjoy spending time with her family, which includes her 90-year-old mother, 11-year-old daughter and husband.

"When I cleaned out my desk (after announcing retirement), I found two retirement letters," Rechel said. "I always intended to retire after the new CEO (Joe Lopano) settled in."

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