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Embattled Hillsborough County attorney now hit with Bar complaint

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Attorney Renee Lee is now facing a complaint with the Florida Bar Association in addition to a state criminal investigation.

Hillsborough-based political consultant and blogger Chris Ingram on Wednesday lodged a bar complaint relating to the recent e-mail snooping allegations against Lee. He claims her actions violate the Bar's rules governing professional conduct.

Barnes has claimed that the e-mails in question may have included information pertaining to his review and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of 1 percent pay raises that County Administrator Pat Bean secretly awarded to herself and Lee in 2007. Lee had no business looking at them, Ingram says.

"If you are aware of an audit and law enforcement investigation that involves you, even my 4-year-old little girl who is in kindergarten would know she shouldn't be dabbling in e-mails that involve that investigation," Ingram said.

Lee has said her office never accessed Barnes' e-mail, except to fulfill records requests submitted by members of the public. She says her office never initiated the e-mail searches.

Bean has acknowledged requesting the e-mails, but says she never looked at them. She submitted to a lie detector test to back that claim up.

Ingram's complaint notes an assertion made by Commissioner Rose Ferlita Wednesday that Lee provided her with a box of e-mails to and from Barnes' staff some time after the period he says his e-mail was accessed. Ferlita has voiced several criticisms of Barnes' work, and she used some of the e-mails to suggest that one of his employees had been conducting personal business at work.

Ferlita said she never solicited the e-mails from Lee, but rather that the attorney volunteered to provide them to her.

Lee has declined comment about Ferlita's assertion, as did her attorney, Barry Cohen, Thursday.

Cohen noted that Bar complaints are supposed to be confidential until there is a finding of probable cause that the person accused did something wrong. He said the complaint is without merit.

"This just shows a lack of class and a motive," Cohen said. "I'm not at all concerned about it."

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Embattled Hillsborough County attorney now hit with Bar complaint 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 9:35pm]
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