A grand jury in Tallahassee deliberated for less than an hour today before deciding not to pursue an investigation into the new 1st District Court of Appeal, with State Attorney Willie Meggs acknowledging that extravagant amenities don’t necessarily equal criminal wrongdoing.
Meggs concurred in the panel’s decision, saying the building six miles from downtown Tallahassee might be a little lavish but that there’s no indication anything illegal was done. Meggs last year got an indictment of former House Speaker Ray Sansom and two associates for a budget item involving a $6 million airport project near Destin, but he said this is different because “everyone knew we were building a courthouse.”
In the Sansom case, he said, the airport hangar, which was never built, was disguised in the state budget as a classroom facility for Northwest Florida State College and an emergency staging area during hurricanes. That case is still pending in the courts.
Meggs said the project has been in the works for years and “whether it was plush or how deep the carpet is, that’s not really a concern that a state attorney’s office should be involved in.”
In related news, The Buzz is reporting that Charlie Crist, who has been quoted as recently as yesterday criticizing the budgeting process surrounding the project, approved the project at least three times.
First in 2007, when the appropriation was explicitly noted in Ray Sansom’s so-called “turkey list” of expenditures that were closely inspected before Crist announced his record number of vetoes that year, which totaled $459 million.
His second opportunity to veto the project came with House Bill 985, the transportation bill which was approved on the final day of the 2007 session and included a mention of the courthouse in the bill summary. He instead signed the bill into law.
Finally, in August 2008, Crist went along with the bond approval at the State Board of Administration, along with CFO Alex Sink, who launched an inquiry late last month.