Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Law Firm Insurance Flap Brews Senator Denies Seeking Contracts

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Law Firm Insurance Flap Brews Senator Denies Seeking Contracts

Article excerpt

A state Senate leader tried to drum up business for his law firm

from the Florida insurance commissioner while chairman of the

Senate committee regulating the insurance industry, an insurance

department official said.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Insurance Commissioner Bill

Nelson, said Sen. John Grant, a Tampa Republican who headed the

Senate's Banking and Insurance Committee from 1994 through 1996,

asked Nelson last year to direct more legal work to his firm,

Harris, Barrett, Mann & Drew.

Nelson, a Democrat, replied that "as long as Grant was chairman

of the insurance committee, it would be improper," said

McLaughlin, recalling a conversation with his boss.

Grant, who now heads the Education Committee, said he never

asked Nelson for contracts.

He said he approached Nelson to find out why the Insurance

Department had stopped assigning cases to his St.

Petersburg-based firm, which had been handling workers

compensation and liability lawsuits for the agency since 1989.

Grant said Nelson responded, "I have my political friends. I'm

sending the business to them."

Nelson, through his spokesman, denied he made that statement

and declined further comment.

There is no law barring elected officials from doing business

with the state.

But politicians are prohibited from using their offices to

benefit themselves. Enforcement of the law is up to the Florida

Commission on Ethics, which only investigates after a sworn

complaint is filed.

McLaughlin said Nelson did not discuss filing a complaint after

his discussion with Grant last summer.

The issue came up after the Times-Union inquired about business

dealings Grant's firm had with Nelson's department.

The Banking and Insurance Committee controls and advances bills

regulating the insurance industry. Nelson, also an elected

official, enforces the insurance laws.

Records show that Grant's law firm has made $508,000 in legal

work from the Insurance Department since 1989. Documents

alsoshow that Grant is listed as the lawyer to call at the Tampa

branch of the firm if there are questions about the lawsuits.

The business arrangement between the law firm and the Insurance

Department began when Nelson's predecessor, Tom Gallagher, made

an offer, Grant said. …

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