You’re the victim of a bad business deal, a drunken driver, a home improvement fraud, or a big bad check.
So you call your lawyer.
Nothing happens. The other guy’s lawyer has gotten to yours. They go partying together and he contributes money to your lawyer’s political campaign fund.
If this happened in private life, both lawyers would be disbarred. Nothing is considered more unethical than a lawyer selling out his client, whatever the reason.
It ought to be no different for the people’s lawyer. Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general, should be disbarred.
Attorneys from a hotshot Washington firm, Dickstein Shapiro, have repeatedly lobbied Bondi out of representing her clients, the 19.5 million people of Florida, against culprits whom other state AGs accused of consumer abuse or tax avoidance. Now, the firm is a $3,000 contributor to Bondi’s re-election campaign.
One such case, which her predecessor Bill McCollum had opened and she dropped, concerned Travelocity, Priceline and other online reservation companies accused of improperly withholding state taxes on hotel rooms booked in Florida. Rick Kriseman, a legislator later elected St. Petersburg mayor, put the loss at $100 million a year.
And let’s not forget the suit she didn’t file against Donald Trump after he contributed $25,000 to a campaign committee supporting her. Bondi had announced that she might follow the lead of New York’s attorney general, who sued Trump over get-rich seminars that he called a “bait and switch” operation.
Trump’s foundation cut the check three days later.
This is familiar conduct among sleazy politicians, but the attorney general is supposed to be above that. Her first duty is to the law, not lobbyists.
As Bondi’s Democratic opponent, George Sheldon, points out, the attorney general should represent the “conscience of Florida.”
It’s more than a theoretical duty. Florida’s so-called Little FTC Act, which Gov. Reubin Askew sought and signed in 1973, makes the attorney general legally responsible for suing on behalf of the people of Florida against unfair and deceptive trade practices. AGs of both parties have used that power diligently. Bondi is the first to betray it.
Sad to say, she’s not the only AG who’s selling out to politics.
As The New York Times has been reporting, associations separately representing Republican and Democratic AGs nationwide have become best buddies of the Dickstein firm and other fixers. Bondi had a featured role in one of those articles, a lead story Wednesday.
“Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations,” The Times said.
Such sleaze is as disgusting as if they were judges taking gifts from counsel for one side or the other.
The corruption is so total that the two groups of AGs have a deal not to oppose each other’s incumbents. This is like the Five Families having apportioned New York City among themselves.
The Florida Democratic Party — as worthless as a buggy whip in a Porsche — hasn’t given to Sheldon either, which is a big reason Bondi, a darling of the GOP, has been outspending Sheldon four to one.
Bondi won’t be disbarred, of course, no matter how slimy her ethics are. The Florida Supreme Court ruled long ago that it would be an improper end run around the impeachment process to attempt to disbar a constitutional officer who is required to be a member of the Florida Bar, such as a state attorney, judge or attorney general.
However, the Bar can go after them once they leave a protected office. Justice David McCain, for example, was disbarred after he resigned during an impeachment investigation.
Here’s a Halloween horror thought: Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott win Tuesday, and he appoints her to replace a Florida Supreme Court justice who must retire in 2017.
But if she can’t be disbarred, she can be defeated — as she will be if Florida voters look beyond the propaganda, the glitter, the glamor, and her exploitation of the same-sex marriage lost cause, to see how utterly unworthy she truly is.
I have known Sheldon for nearly 45 years, watched him serve with honor in a range of public service, and consider him a friend. I have contributed modestly to his campaign. I would stake my life on this promise:
He will never betray your trust. He will never sell you out.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, N.C. Column courtesy of Context Florida.