Black caucus wants trial lawyers to unfold their walletsby Dara Kam | October 7th, 2009
A racially-charged mail piece targeting former House Speaker John Thrasher will cost the state’s trial lawyer association more than embarassment.
The Florida Justice Association has hired former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan to conduct an investigation into the flier that elicited outrage from the legislature’s black caucus.
“It was the most blatant display of racism I’ve seen in 27 years,” Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, who is black, said at the legislature’s black caucus meeting last night.
The mailer was especially offensive to black lawmakers because they have historically sided with the trial lawyers in votes and considered them their friends, Lawson said.
“This experience really threw me for a loop,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said.
FJA’s executive director Scott Carruthers apologized for his organization’s involvement in the flier depicting President Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and others and captioned “Is this the change you want to believe in?”
But hiring Kogan to investigate and saying they’re sorry isn’t enough to win back black lawmakers’ support, some said at a meeting last night.
They want campaign cash, too.
The trial lawyers have contributed five times more to Republicans than to Democrats, complained Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Fort Lauderdale. He called the race-baiting flier an example of a “systematic problem” within the association.
The mailer went to absentee voters in the Jacksonville area preceding a special GOP primary election last month to replace the late Sen. Jim King. The ad targeted Thrasher, a trial lawyer nemesis who won the election today.
Carruthers admitted that his group bankrolled the political committee that paid for the flier.
But that didn’t go far enough for Sen. Gary Siplin, the head of the black caucus who’s got his own axe to grind with the trial lawyers. They targeted him in a Democratic primary for reelection last year.
Siplin, a lawyer, last week sent a letter to FJA President Michael Haggard demanding that he clean house and fire anyone involved with the mailer. The flier was “deplorable” and represents “the very worst nature of political campaigning,” Siplin wrote
“While FJA has already stated that it believes the content of the absentee mail piece was unconscionable and has apologized for the organization’s contribution to the third party group that produced the material, FJA believes it is imperative that a respected party of impeccable credentials, like Justice Kogan, conduct an outside, independent review to make sure that such an event never happens again,” FJA President MIchael Haggard wrote in a letter to Siplin yesterday.
Haggard also agreed to Siplin’s request for a meeting.
Siplin called Haggard’s response “a good faith effort” to restoring the mutually beneficial relationship the groups shared in the past.