Elder Affairs attorney quits amid questions about hiring, arrests

TALLAHASSEE — A top-level attorney at the Department of Elder Affairs has resigned after a lawsuit filed by a former human resources employee accused the state of bending rules to hide his arrest history.

Attorney Don Bell was arrested five times between 1973 and 2002 on charges including a drug offense and driving under the influence. He was convicted at least twice.

While the Florida Department of Law Enforcement screened Bell twice as part of his application for the job in December 2011, human resources employees halted standard hiring procedures, according to a lawsuit filed by former state employee Fran Brooks.ww

The lawsuit claims Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Charles Corley and Bell — who had already been hired — ordered human resources employees to shield Bell from further vetting that might expose his record to other employees.

The department also skipped Bell's state of Florida application and did not turn over Bell's arrest history to the department's legal office, as is policy, state documents show.

Bell was recommended for the $98,000-a-year job by Gov. Rick Scott's former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on the lawsuit on Saturday. On Monday, Corley announced Bell's resignation while testifying at a Senate confirmation hearing. Corley told lawmakers that the state followed all of its procedures and that the lawsuit is being waged by a "disgruntled former employee."

"There was nothing that violated procedures of the department or statutes or state or federal regs," Corley said in response to questions from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

The Department of Elder Affairs provides dozens of services to elderly people, from financial and legal advice to helping them sign up for Medicare.

As lead attorney, Bell defended lawsuits against the department, oversaw its internal legal needs and facilitated legal services for the elderly.

Steven R. Andrews, Brooks' attorney, said Bell's resignation will not affect his decision to continue the lawsuit.

"It's an acknowledgement that he should have gone through the background check," Andrews said. "It's sad, but it's an admission."

Contact Brittany Alana Davis at bdavis@tampabay.com or 850-323-0353.

Elder Affairs attorney quits amid questions about hiring, arrests 04/08/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 8, 2013 9:09pm]

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