Former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom racked up more than 800-thousand dollars in legal fees while defending himself against corruption charges that were eventually dropped. Now, he wants Florida taxpayers to pay him back, but some experts say Sansom may not get what he wants.
Sansom spent four years trying to convince the state that he did not steer millions of dollars from the state’s budget to build an airplane hangar for campaign contributor and Panhandle Developer, Jay Odom. The case was finally dropped in March 2011, after a judge said the state’s prosecutors could not prove Sansom was at fault.
Now, more than a year later, Sansom is asking the state to not only pay about 820-thousand dollars in legal fees for that case, but he also wants the state pay for the legal costs of this current lawsuit.
State Attorney Willie Meggs says Sansom’s legal team may be using a current Florida law as the basis for his lawsuit.
“If a person gets arrested or charged with a crime that occurred during their duties in furtherance of their duties and they are acquitted, then the governmental agency that they were an employee of, would and there’s precedent for that being paid by that agency," said Meggs. "But, it has to be within the scope of their duties as a governmental official. Well, I don’t really believe that what he was charged with was in the scope of his duties, but that’s my opinion.”
Among the charges Sansom faced, while he was on trial, included grand theft and conspiracy.
Meggs, the prosecutor in the case, had argued that Sansom had disguised money to build an airplane hangar as an appropriation for Northwest Florida State College, during his time as the House budget chief in 2007.
Meggs says while he does not believe the law actually applies to Sansom, the decision ultimately would lie with the Legislature.
But, Meggs says he’s not so sure lawmakers will want to compensate Sansom, especially now that’s he’s essentially suing his former colleagues.
“I would be surprised if they did because he's suing them because they [the Legislature] haven't [covered his fees," said Meggs. "And, right before he left the Legislature, they were trying to impeach him. And, he resigned from the Legislature to avoid an impeachment proceeding. So, I don’t know how amenable the Legislature will be to fund him.”
When Sansom’s lawyers filed the suit last week, they maintain that because Sansom’s charges stemmed from passing a state budget that served a public purpose, that he was entitled to getting his legal fees covered as a public official.
Neither House Speaker Dean Cannon nor the attorneys representing Sansom could be reached for comment.