Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Officials Refuse to Testify before Senate Committee

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Officials Refuse to Testify before Senate Committee

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Attorney General Bob Butterworth refused to

testify before a committee investigating the state's anti-tobacco

lawsuit yesterday and the governor's former general counsel

declined to answer some questions.

Members of the Senate Executive Business, Ethics and Elections

Committee said they might seek legal action to force the two to

testify fully.

Butterworth sent a letter to the committee saying his

testifying might jeopardize the state's position in a court

battle over legal fees for private lawyers who represented it in

its $11.3 billion settlement from the tobacco industry.

Dexter Douglass, who is now in private legal practice and

serving as chairman of the Constitution Revision Commission,

invoked attorney-client privilege in refusing to answer

questions about the involvement of Gov. Lawton Chiles and his

aides in the suit.

Douglass said Chiles had not released him from the prohibition

against discussing confidential matters between a lawyer and

client.

Sen. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Republican who is chairman

of the Executive Business, Ethics and Elections Committee,

questioned whether Douglass could hide behind attorney-client

privilege when one government body was trying to get information

about another.

The real clients, Crist suggested, are the people of Florida.

Crist cited a federal court ruling involving Hillary Rodham

Clinton and Whitewater that held the privilege did not apply in

cases involving two government agencies. He said he might seek

legal action to compel Douglass to answer the questions about

the state's contract with private lawyers who represented it in

the suit.

"You can sue me or sue the governor," Douglass told Crist.

"We may have to do that," Crist replied.

The state won $11.3 billion over the next 25 years from the

tobacco industry, but is involved in a court fight with some of

its "dream team" of private lawyers who want 25 percent of the

winnings as called for in their contract. …

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