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Panel delays Sansom trial

TALLAHASSEE — A legislative panel on Thursday delayed for a month its planned House trial of ousted Speaker Ray Sansom, but will urge the lawmaker to appear next week as it weighs allegations that he undermined the House's integrity.

Sansom has already indicated he would not testify before a panel of five colleagues while he awaits trial on criminal charges, and his attorney in the House proceedings has resigned. The panel's action appears to be an effort to end delays in the legislative review of the Destin Republican's conduct.

The panel will meet Jan. 22 to vote whether to clear Sansom of a citizen's complaint that he violated House rules as budget chairman to secure millions of dollars for Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, which later hired him to an unadvertised, $110,000 part-time job.

"I would like to give the opportunity to Rep. Sansom, if he wants to go with or without counsel, to contribute to those deliberations," said Rep. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who chairs the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The panel's staff will send Sansom a letter formally inviting him to appear.

Richard Coates withdrew as Sansom's attorney in the House case, citing "irreconcilable conflicts that cannot be resolved" involving past representation of other potential witnesses in the case. Coates asked the panel for a delay to give Sansom time to secure a new lawyer.

Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach, one of two panel Democrats, said the reputation of the House is at stake and he's concerned Sansom may be trying to delay any decision by the House panel until after the session ends in May.

By then, any action will be impossible, and the term-limited Sansom is scheduled to leave office in November.

Sansom did not attend Thursday's brief session.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had dismissed most of the original criminal case against Sansom, but State Attorney Willie Meggs filed new charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft against Sansom, developer Jay Odom and former college president Bob Richburg.

The judge is expected to set Sansom's trial date at a status conference, also on Jan. 22. But the special counsel guiding the House panel said Sansom's criminal trial could be delayed for months, because the filing of new charges restarts the 175-day period to comply with Florida's speedy-trial law.

"We are no further along in learning when the criminal case will be resolved than when we last met," counsel Melanie Hines told legislators.

Hines said she's prepared to try the House case against Sansom the week of Jan. 25, but at Galvano's urging, the panel voted to postpone for at least four weeks. Galvano said the likely start date will be the week of Feb. 22, the only week next month when no legislative committee meetings are scheduled.

The committee could clear Sansom of any wrongdoing or recommend sanctions ranging from a reprimand to expulsion from the House. Any recommendation would need to be approved by the full 120-member House.

Panel delays Sansom trial 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 11:41pm]

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