Mr. Butterworth Earns His Salt without Crying over Spilled Milk

Article excerpt

Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth spoke to members of NCEW and the Florida Conference of Editorial Writers in Miami on April 16. Here's what he had to say.

LET ME SAY how pleased I am to be here and how much I appreciate your kind invitation. I feel like a fourth grader who has just been given 20 minutes to talk back to Sister Mary Josephine.

Before I go any further, I would like to set the record straight. I don't have a beef with any of you. You have been very kind to me. When we have done well, you have told us. When have taken a misstep, we have gotten one of your darts.

In fact, I would characterize our experience with editorial writers and editorial boards as ... well, as something mystical.

Take our milk case, for example.

Some years ago, we completed a very complex and intensive antitrust investigation. This case was so complex that we needed the very latest in computers and software to bring it home.

And we did.

The result was an unprecedented antitrust action against some of the nation's largest milk producers. We charged them with fixing prices in the sale of milk to public schools.

Ultimately, these firms agreed to pay, as a group, some $32 million. This set a national record for a single-state antitrust action.

Furthermore, antitrust experts told us they had never before seen a settlement in which the defendants agreed to pay treble damages plus legal fees -- the maximum they would have had to pay had they gone to trial and lost.

We felt pretty good about ourselves. Then we read an editorial in the Key West Citizen.

The headline read: "Is Butterworth worth his salt?"

It went on to say: "It's a lot easier to make rules about milk than to produce milk.... How much longer are dairy farmers going to get up at dawn and sterilize milking machines to earn 17[cents] a cup, only to be sued by politicians who apparently have nothing better to do?

"When was the last time Bob Butterworth milked a cow?"

I sent that one to my mother.

After our milk case, we met with the U.S. Justice Department and turned over every scrap of evidence we had. We sent attorneys to several other states to brief investigators there on what we had found.

As a result of our groundwork, federal and state antitrust investigations were opened in dozens of states. In the years since, hardly a month goes by the another indictment is announced in one state or another. And AP does a story.

One day, our phone rang. It was an editorial writer. She had been watching the wires for a couple of years, she said, and all these states were busy doing something about milk companies that had fixed prices. She hadn't seen a word about Florida.

Then she asked: What's the matter with Butterworth?

I sent her a copy of the Key West Citizen.

Mid-summer's nightmare

As I said, our relationship with editorial writers has been somewhat mystical. I even dream about them.

One night, I saw an older man with long, white hair tied into a pony tail. He had funny shoes, too.

"General Butterworth," he said, "I need your help in crafting some legislation."

"Fine," I said. "We'd be glad to help."

He handed me a piece of paper containing a summary of what he had in mind. This is what it said:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

I took his notes back to the office and gave them to the best legal brains on my staff. After several days, we decided there was not much we could do to improve upon what this man had written. I contacted him and told him that -- and suggested that he simply proceed with his proposal as written.

He did. Then came the editorials.

Said the Orlando Sentinel: "A simplistic, quick-fix approach that dodges the real issue of raising taxes on tea. …