Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Pam Bondi strikes back, but first, Corrine Brown

In today's Friday Files, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi strikes back against the former investigators who say Bondi's office ousted them for too aggressively going after fraudulent — and deep-pocketed — foreclosure firms in this state.

But first, you need to be aware about the latest attack on democracy.

This one comes courtesy of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who is now asking Washington's special interests to bankroll her fight to overturn your vote.

Brown, the Jacksonville Democrat more interested in preserving her gerrymandered district than promoting fair elections, sent out an invite this week asking donors for as much as $5,000 to fund her lawsuit against Fair Districts.

Never mind that 63 percent of Floridians supported this constitutional amendment. Brown says she needs "urgent help." Lobbyists were instructed to bring that "help" to Johnny's Half-Shell on Washington's North Capitol Street next Wednesday.

Disgusted? Well, it gets worse. Because it's not just special-interest money being spent to overturn your vote. It's also your money.

 Remember that Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon and the state House have already spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on the cause as well.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a one big bipartisan orgy of big money, self-interest and disregard for the public will.

 Bondi strikes back

In Wednesday's column, I detailed the case of two investigators with the attorney general's office who were making national headlines for cracking down on foreclosure fraud — right up until Bondi's office forced them out.

Investigators Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson said they were being thrown out because they ruffled the feathers of too many powerful people. They had unearthed thousands of examples of fraud — and helped earn taxpayers a record $2 million settlement with one firm. They were gunning for more in May when they were told they must either resign or be fired.

Previously, Bondi and her deputies had refused to explain themselves. But on Thursday, they changed their minds.

Bondi's office issued a statement saying the two were fired for "poor performance."

Although the statement said the two "had not engaged in deliberate misconduct," it accused them of having problems in a variety of areas, such as "professionalism to opposing counsel," "judgment in discussing matters related to pending" and "proper case file organization."

But the office offered no specifics or examples — nor any documentation of such criticism before their ouster. (The lone example was a memo criticizing their boss for having staffers with those problems … but not mentioning either Clarkson or Edwards by name.)

The claims of "poor performance" stand in stark contrast to the investigators' most recent job reviews.

Both received ratings of either "exceptional" or "above expectations" in 29 out of the collective 30 categories in which they were reviewed.

A review Edwards received just four weeks before she was forced out stated: "I cannot overstate the degree to which I respect Ms. Edwards and her work with this unit."

Apparently, these were two of the most highly rated poor performers Florida has ever employed.

More to come on this one — including details about the deputy attorney general who recently left the office … to work for one of the foreclosure firms his office was investigating.

smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141

Read the complete piece in the Orlando Sentinel here.

Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

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