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Sansom Investigation to Continue

A House panel investigating the conduct of former House Speaker Ray Sansom voted down a request by the Destin Republican to dismiss a complaint against him that could result in his expulsion from the Legislature.

Lawyers for Sansom had asked a select committee investigating a complaint that the former Speaker had damaged the integrity of the House to dismiss the complaint against him. But committee members rejected the motion without debate as Sansom watched from the audience.

More difficult for members was a request by Sansom's attorney, Gloria Fletcher, to delay the House hearing scheduled for the end of February. Fletcher asked that the hearing be delayed so that the criminal case against Sansom would not be influenced by the House, and noted that Sansom, former Northwest Florida State College President James “Bob” Richburg and Okaloosa County developer Jay Odom would not testify at the House hearing.

Committee Chair Bill Galvano wants to conclude the committee's work by the start of session in March, and a lawyer for Sansom said the earliest the criminal proceedings might wrap up is mid-March. The problem for some of the committee members is that without Sansom, Richburg and Odom, they might not get to hear straight from the parties involved.

“It's tough to make a decision when you're only going to hear one side of the story,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City. “I wish I had a good answer. Right now, my brain is caught 50-50.”

The case began more than a year ago when Sansom accepted a job at Northwest Florida State College, a vice presidency that had not been advertised. An investigation by the St. Petersburg Times revealed that Sansom had steered millions of dollars to the college in a tight budget year, creating the appearance of a quid pro quo.Additionally, some of the money - $6 million - appeared to benefit a contributor, Odom. The money's official use was to be for an emergency operations center at the Destin airport, but later documents indicated that it might be used as an airport hangar for Odom's private business.A grand jury indicted the three men on misconduct charges, then tacked on perjury for Sansom. Judge Terry Lewis gutted the case against the men, and an appeals court upheld that decision. State’s Attorney Willie Meggs then amended the indictment, charging all three with grand theft. A status conference for the case has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 19 after having been canceled last month. There’s a motion to dismiss it pending.

Fletcher argued that Sansom would lose due process rights if the House case continued.

“It seems to me there is no fundamental right more important the right to protect yourself and make the system work for you,” she said.

Lawmakers ultimately decided against delaying the committee’s action any longer and independent counsel Melanie Hines advised the committee that case law indicated that courts were not compelled to stop one proceeding if it ran parallel to another.

The panel also authorized Hines to subpoena nine people including Richburg, Odom and former state Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, who was the Senate budget chairwoman when Sansom chaired the House committee. The list of subpoenas does not indicate the full list of people that may be called to testify for either side.

After the hearing in late February, committee members will make a recommendation to the full House as to whether Sansom should be punished or not. The punishment could include anything from a reprimand to expulsion from his House seat.

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