Did Charlie Crist sell judgeships; will he do so again?

Former Florida governor Charlie Crist sold judicial nominations, according to his former fundraiser and confidant Scott Rothstein. Rothstein, who made his accusations against Crist under oath, pleaded guilty several years ago to running a $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme.

According to Rothstein, he had a “quid pro quo” relationship with Crist. In exchange for campaign contributions, Crist named judges to the bench in Broward County who would rule favorably for Rothstein’s law firm.

Even if Rothstein’s allegation is not true, Crist is still a sleaze. As we have noted, the former Republican has changed his position on nearly every important issue in order to run for governor as a Democrat, having been cast aside by the GOP some time ago. You can find a catalogue of Crist’s major reversals here.

Crist denies Rothstein’s allegation and notes that Rothstein is a criminal. But it was Crist who made Rothstein his associate. That lack of judgment alone should give Florida voters pause.

They should also pause because in Crist’s current campaign his chief fundraiser is once again a law firm with a strong interest in judicial appointments. This time around, it is the personal injury firm of Morgan & Morgan.

A reader with strong connections to the Florida legal community tells me the following:

Charlie Crist is bought and paid for by John Morgan, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer who has spent more on advertising than any other lawyer in the history of the state. Charlie has been “working” for Morgan & Morgan for a few years now. His pay is not known, but I am willing to bet my mortgage that he has not tried a case for the firm (Crist flunked the bar twice, did eventually pass and practiced law briefly before running for the state legislature). . . .

Morgan claims that Charlie is a rainmaker, but you have to doubt that: Morgan & Morgan spends millions every year on advertising and there is little chance that Charlie earns his salary bringing in clients. Rather, Morgan hopes that Crist will get elected governor and: a) spearhead “tort reform” to make it easier for plaintiffs to sue; and b) appoint plaintiff-friendly judges.

The “tort reform” is unlikely (the Florida legislature is controlled by Republicans right now), but Morgan will get a significant return on his investment with the judicial appointments. Businesses and insurance companies will be watching the race closely because if Morgan’s puppet is elected, Florida’s legal system will shift profoundly toward the plaintiff’s side of the bar.

Morgan got interested in Crist when Crist ran for governor against Jim Davis, a moderate Democrat with a solid track record in Congress and more than a decade of real legal experience with well-reputed firms. . . . A few years ago, I heard the inside story from a friend who is heavily involved in lobbying and Democratic party politics. Apparently Morgan got very upset with Davis because Jim’s brother Cody, also a real lawyer, had sued Morgan & Morgan for alleged negligent hiring of a private investigator who caused a multi-vehicle auto accident involving serious injuries and one death, which the firm settled for a confidential amount. So, Morgan put his rather substantial fundraising power behind Crist and got him elected in a very close race.

Morgan is now trying to stack the deck further by supporting a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The Tampa Tribune just ran an article suggesting that Morgan is all about the pot proposal in an attempt to increase Democratic voter turnout. The money that Morgan is investing in the medical marijuana initiative and the Crist campaign is a drop in the bucket compared to what Morgan will make if he can appoint two or three Florida Supreme Court judges to rule “for the people” (Morgan’s tag line) on a consistent basis.

(Emphasis added)

We have no personal knowledge of the details of Crist’s practice at Morgan & Morgan or of the circumstances surrounding John Morgan’s support of Crist in his race against Jim Davis. But there is no doubt that in this year’s race, Crist is backed to the hilt by trail lawyers with a massive interest in Florida judicial appointments.

It’s hard to believe that, this time around, the people of Florida will elect a reinvented, transparently phony mediocrity like Crist even apart from questions of corruption. However, in recent polling Crist has led governor Rick Scott by an average of around six points.

Perhaps Rothstein’s allegations will influence the polls, or at least lead to closer scrutiny of the indisputable connection between Crist and Morgan, along with its obvious and troubling implications.

NOTE: Portions of this post have been changed slightly from the original version.

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