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A Times Editorial

Accusations against candidate on BP link don't hold up

State Sen. Dave Aronberg's attempt to tar his opponent in the Democratic primary for attorney general with the BP oil spill is out of bounds. By exaggerating some facts and disregarding others, Aronberg has raised the specious claim that state Sen. Dan Gelber's former association with Akerman Senterfitt, the state's largest law firm that now represents BP in Florida, conflicts with being able to act on Florida's behalf as attorney general. There is no conflict; Gelber acted honorably and resigned from the firm and Aronberg's campaign literature is dishonest.

Aronberg, D-Greenacres, missed his window of opportunity to honestly capitalize on his opponent's alleged ties to BP. For roughly a month after BP retained Akerman, Gelber was one of the firm's roughly 500 lawyers. Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said he was "of counsel," a term used for attorneys that operate largely independently in handling clients.

By June 24, Gelber had quietly submitted his resignation. He says he recognized the perceived conflict of interest if he is elected attorney general and said he was never involved in a conversation at Akerman about the BP case. Gelber said he didn't resign sooner because it took several weeks to find his clients new representation. A May 24 letter written by one of the three other legislators employed by the firm, Sen. Alex Villalobos of Miami, urged Akerman's management to wall off the four legislators from any issue related to BP. Gelber's employment contract confirms he would not have benefitted financially from BP as a client.

Aronberg didn't have all those facts on June 28, when he sent out a news release calling for Gelber to resign the firm — after Gelber already had resigned. The firm just that day had removed the erroneous notation of him as a "partner" from its website. Since then, Aronberg has continued to try to create an issue where there isn't one with misleading, emotional mailings to voters linking Gelber, BP and the oil spill.

Aronberg's campaign has repeatedly sought to tie Gelber to BP in direct mail pieces and press releases, saying "BP hired Gelber's law firm" and that the firm was "defending BP." There's no evidence Gelber was involved in the BP case. Several legal experts told PolitiFact Florida, the St. Petersburg Times fact-checking site, that that made it highly unlikely a court would ban him from representing Florida against BP.

The facts are that within about a month of Akerman taking BP's case, Gelber had left the firm. Aronberg is purposely distorting that record to advance his bid for attorney general. Such conduct is unbecoming for someone seeking Florida's top legal job.

Accusations against candidate on BP link don't hold up 07/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 17, 2010 9:21pm]
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