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Pam Bondi 9-6-2017

Court throws out charities lawsuit against Pam Bondi

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A Tallahassee judge has tossed out a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that accused her of improperly coercing businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities.

Those donations are part of settlements in consumer protection cases her office pursues under the “Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.” Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, who was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office, filed suit over the practice.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit said.

In a Friday order, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with Russell Kent, Bondi’s special counsel for litigation, that lawmakers “did not provide that any such contributions must either be charitable or go to a charity, registered or otherwise.”

In fact, the law “does not contain any statutory definition for ‘contributions,’ ” he wrote, granting Bondi’s request for summary judgment, which allows parties to win a case without a trial.

Smith had been investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015 for his Storm Stoppers plastic panels, marketed as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He sued, saying some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, on Tuesday filed a motion with Dodson to reconsider the decision. He had argued that Bondi’s office can’t have “unfettered discretion,” saying “the Legislature could never have possibly intended such a result.”

In an email, Smith said he found it “most interesting that Madame Bondi is all preachy to consumers about their need to MAKE SURE a charity is registered with www.800helpfla.com before donating via disclosures on her website, but then her office doesn’t follow her own advice as she gets to forward these ‘contributions’ of her shady investigations to all these charities that I discovered were unregistered.

“Her office sets a lousy example of good character, as my father used to say,” he added.

Bondi had called Smith’s suit “meritless” and “harassment.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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