State Politics

Fla. House delays Sansom committee hearing

TALLAHASSEE — A legislative panel Thursday delayed for a month its planned House trial of ousted Speaker Ray Sansom, but will urge the lawmaker to appear next week as it weighs allegations that he undermined the House’s integrity.

Sansom has already indicated he would not testify before a panel of five colleagues while he awaits trial on criminal charges, and his attorney in the House proceedings has resigned.

The panel’s action appears to be an effort to end delays in the legislative review of the Destin Republican’s conduct.

The panel will meet Jan. 22 to vote on whether to clear Sansom of a citizen’s complaint that he violated House rules in his actions as budget chairman to secure millions of dollars for Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, which later hired Sansom to an unadvertised, $110,000 part-time job.

“I would like to give the opportunity to Rep. Sansom, if he wants to go with or without counsel, to contribute to those deliberations,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who chairs the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The panel’s staff will send Sansom a letter formally inviting him to appear.

Richard Coates withdrew as Sansom’s attorney in the House case, citing “irreconcilable conflicts that cannot be resolved’’ involving past representation of other potential witnesses in the case. Coates asked the panel for a delay to give Sansom time to secure a new lawyer.

Rep. Joe Gibbons, of Hallandale Beach, one of two Democrats on the panel, said the reputation of the entire House is at stake and he is concerned Sansom may be trying to run out the clock and delay any decision by the House panel until after the session ends in May.

By then, any action will be impossible, and the term-limited Sansom is scheduled to leave office in November.

“If we can be stalled through the session, nothing will happen,” Gibbons said. “And doing nothing, I think, will hurt the image of the House of Representatives.”

If Sansom declines to appear before the committee next week, “He’s not a smart man,” Gibbons said. “He has to show respect for us as well.”

Sansom did not attend Thursday’s brief session.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had dismissed most of the original criminal case against Sansom, but State Attorney Willie Meggs filed new charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft against Sansom, developer Jay Odom and former college president Bob Richburg.

The judge is expected to set Sansom’s trial date at a status conference, also on Jan. 22. But the special counsel guiding the House panel said Sansom’s criminal trial could be delayed for months, because the filing of new charges re-starts the 175-day period to comply with Florida’s speedy-trial law.