The Florida Inspector General, Jeff Atwater issued a statement (pdf) deciding not to investigate the forced resignation of two lawyers who led a crackdown on foreclosure fraud. The report concluded that no one in the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi broke any laws or rules.
Now narrowly, there may indeed be nothing to investigate relative to their firing, in that workers in the US have pretty close to zero rights and a boss can indeed fire someone simply for not sharing his sense of priories. But there is a more general question of public interest as to whether a firing in a public office was indeed politically motivated, particularly if the investigators were ruffling the feathers of parties that the AG did not want to annoy (and as the brief one page conclusion notes, Florida does have statutes against “misuse of a public position” but query how that is interpreted in practice).
Effectively, this “review” is an effort at reputation/character assassination via the release of pretty much only one side of a “he said, she said” (Clarkson and Edwards were given a brief phone interview which was limited to two conversations Lawson had with them about their performance; they were given no opportunity to contest the allegations made in the subsequent interviews, which were not just with Lawson, Conners, and Muniz, but also five other members of the AG’s office).[..]
To put it mildly, if you read the 85 page document and didn’t know the context (the extensive, widespread evidence of bad conduct and strained pleadings by the foreclosure mills and LPS, and the prior tip top reviews received by Clarkson and Edwards), you’d think they were fuckups of the first order and were lucky to have jobs. This is heresay presented as unvarished truth, and the unsupported (and as we will discuss later, often obviously untrue or at best misleading) charges extend to two Florida foreclosure fraud investigators, Lisa Epstein and Lynn Szymoniak. [..]
For clarity and overview of just how the Florida Attorney General’s office has become so corrupt, David Dayen at FDL explains how the departure of the an old school Republican as AG and, at the same time, the resignation of economic crimes division led to the whitewash of the firings:
(Bill) McCollum left the AGs office in January, replaced by a different Republican, Pam Bondi. At the same time, the longtime director of the economic crimes division left, and Richard Lawson, a former defense attorney for white collar criminals – mainly bank officials – came in. As Lawson acknowledges in his statement to the IG report (more on that in a minute), he received complaints from the lawyers of several of the defendants in Clarkson and Edwards’ cases, in particular Lender Processing Services (LPS), which was part of a multistate investigation at the time.
Lawson immediately went to work criticizing Clarkson and Edwards’ conduct, disputing their claims, savaging the work of their office, and micromanaging their investigations (but only the foreclosure fraud investigations, not their other work). By May they were out, fired by Lawson and Bondi. They were given 90 minutes to pack up their things and leave the office, and lost access to all their files and emails. [..]
The most potentially damning part of the IG report concerns a draft subpoena that was part of a multistate investigation against LPS. Lawson claims that Clarkson leaked the subpoena to Epstein, which Epstein contends was part of a public records request. Those can be done verbally in the state of Florida, but Lawson claims that there’s no record of it. Epstein added that she has received receipt of previous public records requests from the AGs office. In the case of the LPS subpoena, Lawson contends that it would not fall under a public records request. But Epstein says she never published a draft LPS subpoena, or circulate it to the media, and so it’s impossible for other state AGs to complain that “the subpoena came up on the blog.” Because Clarkson and Edwards have no access to their emails anymore, “it’s difficult to respond to the report.” Days after the alleged leak of the subpoena, Clarkson and Edwards were fired.
And the deeper that you look into the IG’s report the worse it gets. More from Yves:
Abigail Field’s post on how the Florida attorney general’s office befriends foreclosure fraudsters is an important, if nausea-inducing read. One of the striking sections that makes the extent of the corruption clear is a snippet toward the end. It show how the AG’s office acted to help Lender Processing Services do damage control, when it had LPS under investigation for foreclosure frauds.
Field points out that the investigation of LPS was launched under the previous AG, Bill McCollum, and is supposedly still active. [..]
Field goes through the current AG Pam Bondi’s fraudster-favoring conduct, which is less surprising than it ought to be, since the AG’s Economic Crimes Division has a proud history of being more in bed with probable criminals than against them. Here Field relies on the report of a former seven year staffer in the AG’s office, attorney Andrew Spark, who wrote after Bondi took office about the long standing considerable obstacles to serving the public interest, such as the all too predictable revolving door (with former employees going to foreclosure mills). While Spark made it clear that he was not a supporter of the aggressive Clarkson/Edwards position (these were the two employees we wrote about yesterday who were fired under suspicious circumstances), he nevertheless presents damning evidence in the section of his letter titled “Powerful interests have influence.”
The message, as Yves states, is very clear, doing your job efficiently in Florida will get you fired and your reputation destroyed because it’s more important to protect the banks than the homeowners they defrauded.