Hunting for what it calls potential conflicts of interest, Gov. Rick Scott’s office asked every state agency to disclose a case in which it employs a law firm that has a state legislator on its payroll. More than 30 agencies responded, but none said it has such an arrangement.
Only the Department of Corrections appeared to hedge somewhat, telling Scott’s office that “it does not appear to have any current contracts with a law firm that employs a current Florida legislator.”
Scott’s chief of staff, Kim McDougal, asked agencies to respond after learning from a Times/Herald report that Broad & Cassel, the law firm that employs House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has received more than $235,000 in legal work from Enterprise Florida since 2014. A top Corcoran priority is to abolish Enterprise Florida, which he has repeatedly cited as an example of waste and “corruption” in state government.
In response, Scott’s office said Corcoran’s connection to Broad & Cassel “could easily be perceived as a conflict of interest” under state ethics laws, but Enterprise Florida has given no indication that it intends to sever its relationship with Broad & Cassel as a result. (The question is, if such a relationship is an apparent conflict of interest, why does Enterprise Florida do business with the firm?)
Corcoran said he could be fairly accused of a conflict of he was protecting Enterprise Florida. He described his determination to abolish a client of his law firm as “noble behavior” and proof that no conflict exists. “If every legislator is going to sacrifice their financial interest for the betterment of public good, that’s a good thing … For him (Scott) to call that bad, it’s just not right.”
Besides Corcoran, 36 of the 160 members of the Florida Legislature are attorneys, including 25 other House members and 11 senators. Most are employed by small law firms. It’s illegal for a lawyer-legislator to personally represent a client before a state agency, but law partners and associates can.
“We will continue to ensure all agencies are in compliance with our state contracting laws,” Scott’s office said. “We are also continuing to look at all possible avenues where law firms conduct business with the state and we are looking at further potential executive action concerning these contracts.”
Ironically, Enterprise Florida did not have to respond to Scott’s edict on agency law firm contracts, because it is a “public private partnership” and not a state agency by law.