TALLAHASSEE — Republicans slapped Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist with an election-year ethics complaint Thursday, and like an earlier election-law complaint, it involves the Morgan & Morgan law firm that Crist joined soon after leaving the governor's office.
The complaint by Juston Johnson, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, alleges a cause-and-effect between Crist's appointment of a Morgan & Morgan partner to a judicial nominating commission seat and Crist taking a six-figure job at the high-profile personal injury law firm. That, Republicans say, violates an ethics provision that bars an official from taking any action with the "promise of future employment."
According to the complaint, on Dec. 30, 2010, five days before Crist left office, he appointed a Morgan & Morgan partner, Joseph Linnehan, to a seat on the JNC for the 20th circuit in southwest Florida. The Florida Bar confirmed Thursday that it had recommended Linnehan for one of the vacancies on the commission.
During that time period, Johnson says, Crist "apparently received a promise of future employment with Morgan & Morgan," a claim based in part on a Tampa Bay Times article that appeared around the same time in which Crist said he was in "serious" talks to join the law firm (the article is cited in the complaint).
Johnson's complaint says Linnehan's application was handled in a manner "inconsistent with the proper performance of public duties" because Linnehan left blank a question on the application, did not submit the names of any references and his paperwork languished in the governor's appointments office for more than six months.
Crist campaign spokesman Kevin Cate called the complaint absurd, and invoked a favorite theme, Gov. Rick Scott's leadership of Columbia/HCA. The hospital corporation paid a record fine for Medicare fraud, but Scott was not personally implicated. He did invoke the Fifth Amendment 75 times in an unrelated deposition that has been widely circulated and has become a staple of the Democrats' attack campaign.
"It doesn't get more ironic than Rick Scott, after pleading the fifth 75 times to avoid going to jail and leading one of the largest fraud schemes in the history of the U.S., directing his staff to file an absurd ethics complaint against Charlie Crist,'' Cate said.
Johnson also filed elections complaints against Crist in March, claiming that Morgan & Morgan TV ads and billboards promoting Crist were illegal campaign contributions. The firm said the billboard contracts had expired and that CBS Outdoor had not leased the space to new buyers. Not long after the complaint was filed, the Crist billboards disappeared from I-75 and Florida's Turnpike.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected]