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Florida Spent $240M on Outside Lawyers: 'Insane'

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 14, 2017 3:56 PM

The state of Florida has quietly spent nearly $240 million on outside lawyers in six years since Governor Rick Scott took office, the AP reports. Scott and Florida Republicans have shelled out "more than $237 million on private lawyers to advance and defend their agendas," according to the AP investigation. Throw in the costs paid in opponents lawyers' fees and the total rises to $253 million.

The spending, according to Carlos Trujillo, a Republican state representative for Miami and chair of the Appropriations Committee, is "insane." Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, called the total "a gosh lot of money."

Hey Big Spender

Governor Scott and Florida Republicans are frequent critics of government spending, but much of Florida's massive legal spend goes largely unnoticed, the AP reports, since the spending is not part of the state's budgeting process.

Though Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi oversees a team of more than 450 lawyers, plenty of legal work ends up getting turned over to outside counsel. Some of that legal spending has been dedicated to fights over testing welfare recipients for drugs, removing voters from the state's voter list, and excluding companies that do business with Cuba from bidding on state contracts.

One of the most expensive cases has been Florida's ongoing litigation with Georgia over water rights. That case is being handled by Latham & Watkins, whose most expensive lawyers cost $825 an hour. In the last 18 months, Florida has spent more than $41 million on that case alone. In contrast, New York State spends about $17 million a year on outside counsel.

Floridians React

While defending the state's legal interests is important, many question the need to shell out over a quarter billion dollars to do it. "As taxpayers and constituents," Trujillo says, "we have the right to ask: 'Is this necessary, are we overpaying?'"

House Speaker Richard Corcoran implied that the question had already been answered. "We're getting gouged," he said.

Still, Governor Scott's office has defended the spending. "When there are complex legal matters or specific expertise needed, including defending laws passed by the legislature, we utilize available resources and, as required by statute, get approval from the Attorney General's office," a spokesperson said.

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