Ethical Questions In Gov. Scott's Law Firm Hire

November 18, 2011 12:01 pm ET — Kate Conway

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) hasn't exactly built a reputation for himself as a bastion of ethical conduct. In addition to a history in the private sector fraught with allegations of systematic fraud and a disregard for the welfare of the communities in which his businesses operated, he's run into trouble as a public official for pursuing policies that could benefit Solantic, a company in which he owned a large number of shares.

When the media caught on the ethical complications surrounding Scott's Solantic shares, Scott put them in a trust under his wife's name, prompting further outcry, before eventually selling them to a New York investment firm. Now, there's another chapter in the story: A partner at the investment firm that took shares off Scott's hands also works for a law firm that has inexplicably been hired by the state of Florida at a billing rate over 250 percent above the norm. The Miami Herald reports:

Since August the state has paid nearly $400,000 to the law firm of Alston and Bird to defend a new state law that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state pension fund.

The firm was hired at the urging of the Scott administration which asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to approve paying the firm hourly rates at $495 an hour or nearly $300 more than what is normally allowed. [...]

While not working directly on the lawsuit, a senior counsel with the firm's Washington D.C. office is Thomas Scully. Scully is also a general partner with the New York investment firm of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. That's the investment firm that this June purchased Scott's shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent care clinics the governor started back in 2001.

Bondi's and Scott's dismissive responses don't lay to rest the ethical questions raised by the rather convoluted circumstances. Scott, who has known Scully, the lawyer in question, for two decades, claims not to have known which law firm Scully works for. And, when asked why her office agreed to pay an out-of-state firm such an exorbitant fee, Attorney General Bondi responded, "We thought they were the best."

A gubernatorial administration that hasn't exactly earned the public's trust will have to do a little better demonstrating that the decision to hire a firm connected to the governor is merely an oversight or an error in judgment, and not some kind of unethical scheme.