By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Just when you thought that Gov. Rick Scott and his miserly band of tea partiers could no longer shock and repulse comes this news:
Scott’s lawyer lied to the Florida Supreme Court.
Oops. Did I say lie? Make that misrepresented. Misled. Inaccurately represented. I sincerely regret the error.
It happened during a hearing earlier this year to determine if Scott had the power to unilaterally shut down a high-speed rail project that had been more than a decade in planning, and that had been authorized — and funded — by the 2009 legislature.
That funding of $130 million was a key part of the argument by two state legislators who asked the court to stop Scott.
“Their attorney, Clifton McClelland Jr., told the justices the project is already underway with a contract and appropriations,” Tampa public radio station WUSF reported.
“What this constitutes is an effective impoundment,” McClelland told the court.
Scott’s lawyer, Charles Trippe Jr., countered that $110 million had already been spent. In effect, the legislature’s funds had almost all been used. But the truth was that only $31 million of the appropriated money had been spent, and McClelland was indeed right: Scott had basically “impounded” most of the money that a previous legislature had appropriated for the project.
John Kennedy of The Palm Beach Post does a good job of explaining the impact of Trippe’s misrepresentation:
Justice Barbara Pariente responded to Trippe’s claim during the hearing that Scott’s move against high-speed rail seemed to involve little remaining money. If so, Pariente suggested, the governor was likely empowered to stop the project.
“So the issue (as) to whether his actions affect the $130 million, you would argue — and of course we have very limited to no factual record here — but that is de minimis right now?” Pariente asked.
Trippe agreed, suggesting lawmakers were arguing over a trifling amount of cash.
Trippe now claims that the reason he gave wrong numbers was due to “miscommunication” between him and the Florida Department of Transportation.
Now, this is a man who was the lawyer for the railroad giant CSX, a company that operates 21,000 miles of rail in 23 states and Canada. In 2010, CSX had operating revenues of $10.6 billion.
He is the governor’s hand-picked representative. And this uber-lawyer with extensive experience in rail projects couldn’t get the right numbers from one of the governor’s agencies? And the bad numbers he got just happened to help the governor win the case?
It’s like a bank robber claiming he was only taking out a loan.
A mere state senator, Thad Altman, didn’t have any problems getting the right numbers.
“We knew (Trippe) was wrong when he said it in court,” Altman, one of the legislators who tried to stop Scott, told The Post. “But we couldn’t stop him from saying it.”
Altman calls it “a material misrepresentation of the facts in this case.”
Justices eventually ruled in Scott’s favor, writing: “Based on the limited record before the Court and a review of the federal and state law relied on by the parties, the Court has determined that the petitioners have not clearly demonstrated entitlement to quo warranto, mandamus, or any other relief.”
Notice the part that says “relied on by the parties.”
So now, with the project already derailed, Trippe tells the Supreme Court: Oops. I didn’t get the right numbers. “I sincerely regret the error.”
So who is this guy who hoodwinked the Supreme Court and helped Scott deep-six a high-speed rail project more than a decade in the making by both Democrats and Republicans?
Looking for information about Trippe, I came across an article he wrote for the conservative James Madison Institute’s journal in 2002, in which he self-righteously ripped trial lawyers for their money-grubbing ways.
In it, Trippe wrote:
… [L]awyers and the way that they behave are the day-to-day manifestation of the rule of law. There is a very thin line between contempt for lawyers and contempt for the rule of law.
Yep. Well said, counselor.
And then there was this tasty morsel:
In short, it is true that, without a strong and confident legal profession and a strong and independent judiciary, the Constitution of the United States would be no more an object of admiration and respect than the Constitution of Bolivia. But it is equally true that lawyers in their daily practice of the law must show restraint in pursuing their interests and those of their clients, lest the rule of law be threatened not from without the legal profession but from within.
For this reason, the legal profession for most of the history of this country has been more a calling than a business.
…must show restraint in pursuing their interests and those of their clients.
If his father’s name were Geppetto, Trippe’s nose would be a Sequoia redwood today.
More a calling than a business…
That was obviously written before his relationship with CEO Scott.
And finally, Trippe offered this beaut of a closing:
Now more than ever, lawyers need to set an example for their fellow citizens and to redouble their dedication to the rule of law.
Save it for the Bolivians, Mr. Trippe.