Sansom Committee to Continue with Investigation
The House panel investigating the conduct of Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, decided to move ahead with its proceedings, despite protests from Sansom's attorneys that the legislative proceedings could influence a pending criminal trial against the former House Speaker.
“I don't think we should stop,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City. “I think we should continue on with our process.”
An attorney for Sansom wrote House Speaker Larry Cretul last month asking that the legislative committee investigating a citizen's complaint against Sansom stop all work until criminal proceedings against Sansom are wrapped up.
A grand jury indicted Sansom, along with Okaloosa developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida College President Bob Richburg on official misconduct charges this past spring. Sansom and Richburg were also slapped with perjury charges. Leon County Judge Terry Lewis gutted the official misconduct charges against the three men, and dismissed Richburg's perjury charge. Sansom's perjury charge still stands.
The state attorney's office has also appealed Lewis’ ruling.
The charges stem from whether Sansom acted improperly as budget chairman when he steered millions of dollars to Northwest Florida State College, an institution that later gave him a job and appeared to be building a structure that would house aircrafts for Sansom friend and contributor Odom.
Separately, an Odessa resident filed a complaint with the House saying that Sansom had damaged the integrity of the Legislature, which would be a violation of House rules. A committee, led by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is now investigating that charge, and will make a recommendation to the entire House.
The committee could choose to do nothing, order a simple slap on the wrist or even expel Sansom from the Legislature.
Richard Coates, who is representing Sansom in the legislative proceedings, warned the committee that even if it proceeds now, it may have to come back and revisit the issue. Lawyers have warned that media attention on the legislative proceedings could affect Sansom's ability to get a fair jury trial.
Each side is expected to call witnesses, but some witnesses may be reluctant to testify if the criminal proceedings are not complete. And not being able to speak to the key witness – Sansom – may significantly slow down the committee's work.
“I don't think that I would want to make a final determination without having the opportunity to discuss this with the individual himself in front of us,” Glorioso said. “That may cause a problem as we go through.”
The committee has set out a timeline for the legislative proceedings. A preliminary witness list will be exchanged later this month and discovery will be completed by Christmas Eve. A hearing has also been tentatively set for Jan. 25-Jan. 29.