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Nancy Smith

Why Does New Jersey Have Bridgegate, but There's No Judgegate in Florida?

March 30, 2014 - 6:00pm

In New Jersey, when there was cause to suspect a breach of ethics in the governor's office, the state Legislature was on it like a kid on a cupcake. But for some unknown reason, it doesn't work like that in the Florida Legislature.

Less than three days after Gov. Chris Christie was accused of sanctioning a payback plot that saw one of his aides order traffic jams at the on-ramps to the George Washington Bridge, the New Jersey Legislature had convened its Special Committee on Investigations. A week after that, the committee issued 20 subpoenas.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Florida are treating a possible ethics breach by former Gov. Charlie Crist -- the selling of judgeships for campaign contributions and/or other special favors -- as if it's none of their business. If they could care less, it doesn't show.

Who would have thunk it? The much-maligned Garden State actually has less tolerance for public corruption than Florida.

New Jersey had political spite and lane closures. Way bigger, apparently, than allegations that a former governor who wants to be governor again had a quid-pro-quo arrangement with a sleazy, $1.4 billion Ponzi schemer now serving 50 years in a federal prison.

Was Crist friend and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein telling the truth in all that sworn testimony he gave? In deposition after deposition when he talked about his arrangement with Gov. Crist, his story never wavered. Was it for real? He said he put it in writing once. Anybody follow that up? And were there any more Scott Rothsteins doing the same kind of business with the governor?

What makes this stick out like a sore thumb now is that the further we get into the 2014 session, the more evident it becomes where the Senate Judiciary Committee isgoing with a Charlie Crist investigation.

It's going nowhere.

It isn't even a blip on the radar because it doesn't exist.


I tried to reach out last week to Committee Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to find out why not. I even left a detailed message with one of his aides, but I never got a call back.

Lee is the main sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would make it clear whoever wins the election this fall will get to pick the next three Florida Supreme Court justices. A sobering thought under the circumstances, don't you think?

Charlie Crist could sail into office on the largest trial-attorney bankroll ever amassed for an elected state official. Already more than half his donor list is made up of lawyers and law firms. He even has a Houston hurricane-damages attorney donating $300,000 and flying him around in his private jet. Houston, Texas, for heaven's sake. What's that all about.

Does anybody believe at least a handful of the biggest fish on his lawyer-donor list won't want a say in who sits on the bench in Florida? You think they aren't salivating after reading Rothstein's testimony?

And if Crist is as innocent as a lamb, shouldn't we find out? The man was our 44th governor and he wants to be our 46th.

Remember when Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, asked Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, for his blessing to create theSelect Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin? He became a hero. Polluting Florida's waterways is an egregious public act. Negron's panel was a response to crisis. And, I submit, so would an investigation of the accusations against Charlie Crist.

How tough could it be for Sen. Lee to seek a select committee to study Crist's choices for the state's nominating commissions? The executive branch and the judicial branch can't police themselves. Floridians need to know their courts don't belong to governor's appointees, they belong to the people.

For now, it's a little disconcerting to think New Jersey has a quicker trigger finger than Florida against public corruption.


Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at 228-282-2423.

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