Ruth: Bondi too busy to explain herself

Bondi had no time to answer ethics questions.
Bondi had no time to answer ethics questions.
Published April 27, 2016

To hear her various apparatchiks, minions and supernumeraries tell it, Pam Bondi is the John Henry, Walter Payton and Steve Jobs of the nation's attorneys general. All work, work, work, work. Burning the midnight oil. Leaving no stone unturned. Taping her eyes open to stay awake filing those legal briefs, preparing closing arguments, researching the intricacies of the law. By comparison, Thomas Edison was a ne'er-do-well dilettante.

Little wonder then that when the Florida Commission on Ethics sought but a moment of Bondi's precious time to inquire if it was possible she just might be improperly lathered up in lobbyist swag and hospitality, Florida's chief legal officer was harder to find than a unicorn.

Suggestions that she had become Tallahassee's most frequent of frequent fliers arose following disclosures in the New York Times and Tampa Bay Times in 2015 that the attorney general had been especially friendly toward a former Washington law firm, Dickstein Shapiro, that represented clients facing scrutiny by Bondi's office.

The optics aren't pretty.

At the time, Dickstein Shapiro had donated $122,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, where Bondi served on the executive committee. The association contributed $750,000 to Bondi's re-election campaign and spent $25,000 to cover the attorney general's travel expenses to attend numerous association junkets, where Bondi met with Dickstein Shapiro partners and the firm's clients.

At issue was whether since Bondi was face-down in Dickstein Shapiro's feedbag for all that direct access, the law firm should have registered as a lobbyist doing business in Florida.

Alas, when the Florida Commission on Ethics attempted to schedule an appointment with Bondi to ask some perfectly legitimate questions about her relationship with Dickstein Shapiro, a gofer informed investigators the attorney general would be unable to cooperate because "due to her busy schedule and heavy workload she would be unavailable for an interview."

Really? Over the course of the 16-month-long ethics commission review of Bondi's official duties, Florida's attorney general couldn't spare a lousy, stinking 30 minutes or so of her time? Who knew the AG's gig was more rigorous than the ramming speed galley slave scene from Ben-Hur?

Busy schedule? Heavy workload?

Bondi managed to carve out a few hours of her Cool Hand Pam chain gang-esque work schedule to schmooze Donald Trump at a campaign rally. But no time to discuss her ethics.

At great personal sacrifice, Bondi tore herself away from her desk to party at the Gasparilla Parade this year. But no time to defend her scruples.

And there was Bondi, who practically qualifies for a homestead exemption on Fox News, making frequent television appearances to polish her anticipated future occupation as a legal commentator. But no time to defend her reputation.

How the attorney general's office was barely able to function is anybody's guess, when Bondi busied herself flying off to attend RAGA conferences at chi-chi resorts in Michigan, Hawaii, Arizona, California and Mexico. But not a minute to defend her integrity.

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The pressing responsibilities of Bondi's work seemed to require going off on sailing jaunts, cocktail parties and swanky dinners, often in the company of Dickstein Shapiro lawyer/lobbyists. But not so much as an elevator ride worth of time to explain her conduct.

Bondi did break long enough to offer her Tampa home to a Dickstein Shapiro attorney to recover from surgery. But not a moment to account for her behavior.

In the end, the Florida Commission on Ethics determined Dickstein Shapiro did not violate the state's lobbying laws. The finding turned on a delicate nuance in the law. Investigators could not determine that Bondi had accepted free dinners or other personal benefits directly from Dickstein Shapiro. Instead, the costs of the hospitality had been legally laundered through the contributions made to the RAGA, which then picked up Bondi's tab.

And what a fine investment in justice Dickstein Shapiro's contributions to the RAGA turned out to be, since clients investigated by Bondi's office saw their cases languish, or get dismissed, or simply disappear. But not a nanosecond to explain why.

What does it say about the chief law enforcement officer of Florida ducking state investigators examining a possible violation of the law for 16 months?

You try that. You try running away from the Florida attorney general's office if you are the subject of an investigation. Then again, you could simply hire a lawyer from the former Dickstein Shapiro firm. They know how to get things done. Or not.