By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The position of state attorney general is unlike most elected posts.
The Attorney General is supposed to be slightly above the political fray — a person who is, first and foremost, an advocate and protector for Florida and Floridians.
So what happens when the Attorney General’s intentions are questioned? What happens when people begin doubting if they truly have an advocate?
It seems we’re about to find out, according to newspaper reports from across the state.
Little over two weeks ago, Attorney General Pam Bondi forced two of the most successful foreclosure prosecutors to resign. Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson investigated foreclosure law firms, so-called “foreclosure mills.” And they seemed to be successful at it.
In March, they got a $2 million settlement from one Fort Lauderdale law firm. And they were also key in exposing fraudulent practices and questionable shortcuts by the law offices of David J. Stern, one of the largest and busiest foreclosure law firms in the country. Stern eventually got out of the foreclosure business.
An April performance review of Edwards said, “During this interim period, Ms. Edwards has, along with another attorney, achieved what is believed to be the first settlement in the United States relating to law firm foreclosure mills. Her work has been instrumental in triggering a nationwide review of such practices.”
Last September, Clarkson was given “above expectation” or “exceptional” rankings in 14 of 15 categories on her performance review.
Now, both are gone. And many people, including state Rep. Darren Soto (D – Orlando) are wondering why.
Wednesday, Soto sent Bondi a letter saying in part, “public records indicate that these terminations occurred while they were in the midst of successful mortgage fraud litigation and in spite of prior successful reviews. As a member who represents an area ravaged by foreclosure fraud, these terminations present an overwhelming public concern.”
He asked Bondi to provide all public records connected to Edwards and Clarkson.
And Progress Florida, a St. Petersburg liberal activist group, also asked for an investigation of Bondi. The group alleges that Bondi is acting on behalf of groups such as mortgage processing companies Lender Processing Services and ProVest, which have contributed to her political campaigns.
Bondi’s office counters that the two lawyers had issues with judgment, professionalism and analysis of legal issues. And that the cases against Lender Processing Services and ProVest are still ongoing. And that, in fact, there are now more state lawyers working on foreclosure cases than ever before. Bondi’s office says that it has spent more time in the past three months on foreclosure cases than Clarkson and Edwards have in a year.
Edwards asked, if that was truly the case, why weren’t they de-briefed and asked to provide all pertinent information on the cases to the new lawyers?
Which means this is one of those rare political cases where results will matter more than words.
If Bondi’s office is indeed ramping up investigations, and the lawyers are doing a better job than Edwards and Clarkson, then Floridians should see quite a few new prosecutions. And eyes will be on whether those prosecutions involve Lender Processing Services and ProVest.
If not, the questions and doubts will linger.
The proof will be in the prosecutions.