Probe of Florida AG employee firings ends
Published: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — A five-month probe into the forced resignation of two lawyers who led a crackdown on foreclosure fraud has concluded that no one in the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi broke any laws or rules.
But the findings contained in the 84-page report did not appear to silence critics who questioned the independence of the investigation since it was done by the inspector general working for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Atwater and Bondi are both Republicans.
Theresa Edwards and her colleague June Clarkson were forced out of their jobs in late May despite positive job reviews. Both women had been involved with investigations into law firms handling foreclosures on behalf of banks. The firings set off a firestorm against Bondi because she also had opposed a nationwide settlement with banks that would have proposed cutting the principal owed by homeowners.
Bondi said the report should end any questions over the firings.
"I think it clearly shows in no way it was politically motivated," Bondi said on Friday.
Bondi said that she had gone over the report numerous times on Friday and said that even she was "taken aback by the utter lack of professionalism and performance by these two staff attorneys."
"Sloppy work will not be tolerated in this office," she said.
The lengthy report details numerous instances of finger-pointing and complaints between attorneys and investigators who work in Bondi's office as well as disagreements over legal theories. It also details a handful of previously publicized incidents that supervisors in Bondi's office used to justify the firings, including the accidental release of a draft subpoena against a foreclosure firm.
The dismissals of Edwards and Clarkson came months after an attorney representing one of the companies under investigation — Lender Processing Services — complained that both had made "irresponsible" statements and had already "tainted the investigation" with a presentation they had made to court clerks. This presentation is cited numerous times in the report.
The report also points out that since the firings Bondi's office has continued to investigate cases. But the report also relies heavily on statements from employees who still work in Bondi's office.
Carlos Muniz, who is chief of staff for Bondi, said that most of those interviewed are attorneys and had an ethical obligation to be truthful.
Not everyone was satisfied with the report findings.
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, contended that "the termination of attorneys is a violation of state policy by obstructing the prosecution of mortgage and foreclosure fraud.
"The inspector general's report focuses, instead, on minutiae in order to avoid making a call on the big picture," Soto said in a statement.
Edwards on Friday was still going over a copy of the report but continued to stand by her work, noting that she received positive job evaluations from Bondi's predecessor, Bill McCollum. Most of the investigations against the foreclosure law firms started under McCollum. Back in March one of the firms under investigation agreed to settle its case for $2 million.
Edwards agreed that there was a "certain amount of turmoil" because of the sheer volume of work that Florida was doing looking at companies that assist lenders processing foreclosures.
But she also said she has vindicated by a recent decision by Bondi to ask the state Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the attorney general's office has the legal authority to investigate foreclosure law firms. Edwards had helped argue the initial case.
"She must be feel unhappy that she has to go in and say I was doing a good job," Edwards said.
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