Legal experts across the state -- particularly those who specialize in legal malpractice and ethics-related matters -- are carefully watching a fascinating case filed by an Orlando-area businessman against Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi alleging dubious practices by her office as they relate to charitable donations.
In general, it's common practice for the AG's Office to require defendants to make charitable donations in legal settlements when it's not immediately clear who was harmed by the underlying conduct. Indeed, more than 50 companies, including such corporate giants as AT&T, Chase Bank and Dollar Tree, have all done so within the last five years.
According to state law, these donations must be made to charities registered with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The lawsuit in question, however, is alleging that Bondi has abused her authority by directing over $5 million in restitution payments to be directed to 35 unregistered charities, as well as to at least one charity with which her office has ties.
The Orlando businessman, whose company sells hurricane window protectors, filed the lawsuit after being investigated by the AG's Office for allegedly making false statements regarding his product.
Specifically, the businessman has stated that an assistant attorney general indicated that the matter could be settled if he made a charitable donation. He refused and the matter was ultimately dropped by the AG's Office after the Florida Building Commission indicated that hurricane shutter rules were inapplicable in his case.
Angered by his experience and suspicious of the process, he began his own investigation, which resulted in the aforementioned lawsuit, which seeks an order prohibiting Bondi from directing donations to unregistered charities and requiring her to abide by conflict of interest rules, such that donations could no longer be made to charities with connections to her office.
For her part, Bondi has denied any wrongdoing, characterized the businessman's efforts as "harassment," and sought to have the matter dismissed.
"These contributions, among other things, support legal services for the poor, scholarship funds, governmental entities and educational institutions,” read a statement from Bondi. “[The] lawsuit to stop these efforts is meritless, and I will continue my fight to protect Florida’s citizens from abusive business practices."
As to how this could all play out, some legal experts believe that it will culminate in the AG's Office acknowledging that there was indeed some confusion as to the registration status of certain charities and the presiding judge ordering it to get their list of charities in order.
Stay tuned for updates …
If you have reason to believe that the actions of your attorney have resulted in some manner of financial harm, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.