Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi may have been cleared of charges that she fired two state attorneys for “political” reasons, but the motive behind the firings is still being called into question.
Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson were lead foreclosure fraud attorneys under former Attorney General Bill McCollum, and responsible for netting more than $2 million in foreclosure fraud damages in the state. But despite (or, as some have suggested, because of) their track record, the two were fired in 2011. Bondi maintained that the two “were failing to meet expectations, and they were held accountable for those shortcomings.”
Critics argued that the firings might have something to do with Bondi’s ties to two companies being investigated by Edwards and Clarkson: Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services and Tampa-based ProVest. Edwards and Clarkson have publicly said that their former boss, Richard Lawson (the head of the economic crimes division in Bondi’s office), questioned them extensively about the companies, both of which are mortgage processors currently under investigation by the A.G.’s office.
Lawyers for the companies expressed concern with the way Edwards and Clarkson were handling the investigations. In one instance, the two participated in a public forum in which they used Lender Processing’s records to illustrate a PowerPoint presentation on the deceptive practices of so-called “foreclosure mills.” The two, who had received glowing performance reviews prior to their firings, had been uncovering evidence of legal malpractice that also implicated banks and loan servicers.
Bondi received thousands of dollars in campaign funds from Lender Processing and its employees, as well as its in-house counsel, Holland & Knight, during her successful 2010 campaign. According to Follow the Money, the company made more than $52,000 in campaign contributions between 2008 and 2010.
An attorney for Lender Processing, Martin Fiorentino, who lobbied on behalf of the company, is actively involved in both state and national politics. Fiorentino is a well-known political fundraising bundler, and has raised at least $102,9000 for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The Fiorentino Group has been paid at least $180,000 by Lender Processing Services since 2009.
Bondi has defended the decision to fire the employees, and argues that her office is “aggressively pursuing foreclosure law firm investigations” and has “substantially increased the amount of time and more than doubled the number of employees working on these investigations.”
A report released Friday by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office said that no laws or policies were violated in the dismissal of either Jackson or Clarkson.
Despite the report, some continue to criticize Bondi’s actions. In a statement made earlier today, state Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, called the firings “a violation of state policy.”
“Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson netted $2 million in foreclosure fraud damages for Floridians and were quickly fired thereafter,” said Soto. “The termination of these 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.”