Five law firms, including several political donors, were tapped Thursday to represent Florida's pension fund in mega lawsuits that could produce millions in legal fees.
The selection of a sixth firm was put on hold after Attorney General Bill McCollum got an anonymous letter alleging misconduct by the firm's partners.
The winners in the State Board of Administration securities litigation contest are Pomerantz Haudek Grossman & Gross of New York City, Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann of New York City, Berman DeValerio of Boston, Barrack, Rodos & Bacine of Philadelphia and Kaplan Fox of New York City. Berman DeValerio and Barrack, Rodos & Bacine have represented the SBA since 1998, but this renews their status.
New York City's Bernstein Liebhard was ranked No. 1 in the selection process, but a two-page letter allegedly written by a former employee said Bernstein Liebhard lawyers had complex financial ties to charities and investors that raised serious ethical questions.
In a statement, Bernstein Liebhard said the allegations are false.
The SBA decided to delay a vote on the firm, asking representatives of Bernstein Liebhard to return to Tallahassee in January to respond to the allegations.
McCollum is one of three trustees overseeing the SBA, which manages $136 billion for 1 million current and future retirees and hundreds of cities, counties and state agencies. The other trustees are Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.
Also Thursday, the SBA released documents showing one of the preferred law firms, Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, paid $5,000 a month to Akerman Senterfitt, a politically influential Florida law firm, to help secure state business.
Akerman Senterfitt employs Allan Katz, a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist with close ties to Sink. Barrack, Rodos & Bacine is a big Democratic donor nationally.
The SBA recently tightened rules to require private firms seeking pension work to declare whether they have paid anyone to help with their sales pitches. The SBA also required the law firms to disclose political contributions to trustees, though they did not have to report contributions to political parties.
In addition to $1,550 in contributions that several of its partners made to Sink's campaign for governor, Berman DeValerio said it is a member of the Democratic Attorneys General Association. The nonprofit group made contributions to Democratic candidates for attorney general.
Bernstein Litowitz reported hiring a lobbyist in Florida last year, paying $5,000 a month. It donated $25,000 to the Florida Democratic Party in April.
Kaplan Fox gave $5,000 to the Florida GOP in 2006 and $15,000 to Florida Republicans in 2002.
Bernstein Liebhard gave $15,000 to the Florida Democratic Party in 2006, and two of its partners contributed $500 each to Sink's campaign for CFO.
The only firm that did not make political contributions in Florida is Pomerantz Haudek.
All six law firms have come under scrutiny for pension fund pay-to-play in other states.