Thursday, November 23, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Florida spends too much on private lawyers

RECOMMENDED READING


Gov. Rick Scott and his fellow fiscal conservatives in Tallahassee are all too willing to make an exception to their spending discipline by paying private lawyers to defend their agendas at taxpayer expense. In the last six years, the state has spent more than $250 million on outside counsel to defend legislation, agency actions and lawsuits. The runaway spending has gone on with little oversight, leaving taxpayers in the dark about whether their money is wisely spent.

The Associated Press calculated the staggering cost by analyzing budgets and other documents obtained through public records requests. The total for outside lawyers' fees is not included in the normal state budgeting process, and Attorney General Pam Bondi's office was not keeping track. That's a recipe for blindly wasting public money.

What have all those millions in lawyer fees paid for? The biggest line item is the state's long-running battle with Georgia over water rights. Scott vastly increased spending in that fight when he took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Securing the state's water supply is undoubtedly an important issue, but Florida has hemorrhaged $98 million litigating (and so far losing) that case. Couldn't even a fraction of that money have been better used for river restoration and resource management rather than legal fees?

Nearly $16 million went toward paying opposing lawyers in cases the state lost. Those include battles waged to the detriment of millions of Floridians, such as the state's ban on gay marriage, tougher voting restrictions and an unconstitutional law requiring welfare recipients be drug-tested. The Republican-led Legislature also can be thanked for steering almost $20 million to lawyers to defend education budgets that starve public schools and legislative and congressional districts that violated the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution.

The response has been defensive and unapologetic. Bondi's office, which employs 450 lawyers, says its staff is busy handling criminal appeals and Medicaid fraud cases. The governor's spokeswoman says it should be "no surprise" that Florida defends its laws — no matter how backward or ill-fated. Taxpayers could wonder what expensive legal fights might come next. Last week, seven felons from Florida filed a federal lawsuit over the state's clemency process for pardoning inmates, commuting sentences, restoring civil rights, negating fines and allowing gun ownership. Under Scott, the process has become more opaque and unfair, leaving a backlog of requests that never get heard and a pile of denials with no reason ever cited. A House committee passed a bill, HB 83, that would enact harsher criminal penalties on undocumented immigrants, despite voluminous case law establishing that such proposals violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. That didn't seem to matter to Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, who practically dared the Florida Supreme Court to overturn it.

Florida's $253 million tab for outside legal counsel is ridiculously high. It's all the more galling that taxpayers were stuck with the bill for highly partisan battles that they often lost. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who is on a crusade to eliminate wasteful spending, has promised a legislative review. It should start with a crackdown on agenda-driven bills that aren't reasonably likely to pass legal muster and adding more oversight and accountability for hiring private lawyers at taxpayer expense.

Comments

Another voice: Wall isnít a lifesaver, itís a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trumpís controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction ó and even what type of wall ó remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nationís budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more ó s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nationís highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldnít back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

From birth to death, opioid addiction is ravaging the lives of thousands of Floridians. Drugmakers, doctors, state lawmakers and insurance companies all have a role to play in slowing the epidemic. Lately some more responsible answers, including mill...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/21/17

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "Iím pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

By now the guest list if not the table is all set, and the house will be warmed with the noise of loved ones and the smell of that dish with cream of mushroom soup. Tucked between the sugar rush of Halloween and the sparkle of Christmas, Thanksgiving...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17