Troubled Counsel at UWF
The Florida Bar has opened an investigation into Lee Gore, who runs the University of West Florida Office of the General Counsel, after receiving a complaint that he had been practicing law without a license.
Gore was hired in October 2011 for the position of general counsel at UWF after the university conducted a search that included four finalists. Gore was one of two finalists who was not a member of the Florida Bar.
A stipulation of employment as general counsel, according to a document pulled from the UWF website and confirmed by Gore in a phone interview, was that he was to become a member of the Florida Bar within 12 months. Prior to UWF, Gore worked as counsel at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Gore’s position has recently been changed to “Special Assistant to the President” on the UWF General Counsel website. Gore declined to comment on what that job title change meant.
Kim Brown, UWF vice president and chief of staff, said that she is aware of the complaint and that Gore sat and passed the Florida Bar in February 2013 after requesting an additional extension on the 12-month deadline.
“When we became aware of the complaint, we thought that it would a good idea so that there wasn’t any confusion in the future,” Brown said, regarding the change in Gore’s job title. “But his duties haven’t changed.”
Brown said that, in her understanding, there are often provisions made for new people coming in and getting their professional certifications. She said that certain types of work have to be supervised by members of the Florida Bar.
According to a document found on the UWF website, the position of general counsel is responsible for “planning, organizing and directing all legal activities” for UWF.
The document sent to Gore from the Florida Bar about the case states that Gore is “not certified as a House Counsel in the State of Florida.” Monica Armster Rainge, Bar Counsel in the Unlicensed Practice of Law Department of The Florida Bar, confirmed in a phone interview that “there is a case that exists,” and that Gore “is not a member of the Florida Bar.”
Gore declined to comment on the investigation.
“Well, I’ve responded to the Bar and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment,” Gore said. “I am sure that they will treat the matter appropriately.”
Gene’s Poker Buddy
At the July 25 Escambia County Commission meeting, Chairman Gene Valentino waved around what he described as letters from jail prisoners complaining about the operation.
Through a public record request, the Independent News discovered that one letter was from John D. Scott that began, “Gene, I know long time since you saw me @ our hangout (Hard Rock Casino)…”
Scott is being held in the Escambia County Jail and has been charged with grand theft over $100,000 and fraud/swindle over $50,000. His docket hearing is scheduled for later this month.
He wrote Valentino that the daily newspaper will need to apologize to him, “I’m sure they will be more than willing to oblige you with a good endorsement, not to mention some major coverage.”
The prisoner told the commissioner to expect his call, “When I call you, it will say ‘John D. Scott, inmate Escambia County Detention Center,’ press #5 to receive… Look forward to talking with you, fine cigar, glass of wine.”
Touart Under Fire
Interim Administrator George Touart came under fire at the July 25 Escambia County Board of Commissioners regular meeting regarding his remarks earlier that morning about a “soft transfer” of the jail to county control.
Commissioner Lumon May expressed his distaste for Touart’s “soft transfer” statement and said that he wanted it to be clear that Sept. 30 would be a hard transition of the jail.
“Commissioner, Oct. 1 is a date,” Touart said. “I told you this morning, and I want to make this very clear, that we are going to try to make this happen by October 1. The budget is going to be adopted Sept. 15. Oct. 1 is a date that is our target date. There’s nothing that’s going to change in the transition of the jail that’s going to just be critical by Oct. 1.”
Touart went on to say that Oct. 1 is still the anticipated date of transfer, but that it may slip. He said that county staff would be entering a “tremendous dialog” starting on Monday with the sheriff’s department.
“It was made clear to this board that we would be ready Sept. 30, and October would be a hard transfer,” May said. “Today is the first I have heard of a soft transfer, and if we’re just now beginning a dialog with the sheriff’s department, that’s a problem.”
“From this seat, I’m going to tell you that I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen,” Touart said, regarding the Oct. 1 deadline. “If you’re going to hold a gun to my head and tell me it has to be ready by Oct. 1, I’m not going to respond to that because I can’t tell you in truth it’s going to be there.”
Touart said that there has been a continual flux about who was going to have the jail and that the BCC did not have clear directions until today.
“Commissioner, I do not control the access to the jail,” Touart said. “Until today, the sheriff controlled the access to a lot of things. I think today we have opened up a dialog that we have all wanted for a few weeks now.”
Touart cited several reasons why the October deadline may not be met, including equipment purchases, insurance plans and other things he “does not control.”
“The reasons why it won’t be done… that’s not acceptable conversation,” Commissioner Steven Barry said. “It’s not going to be Sheriff Morgan’s fault if the transition is not completed at that day. We voted on the pretense that we would be done. I expect us to be done.”
Touart finished his statements by saying that he is certain that all of the “critical” components of the transfer will be completed by Oct. 1, and that if he can’t do it then he would “take full responsibility.”
Another Oops for the City of Pensacola
Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund, the auditors for the Greater Pensacola Chamber, discovered problems with the Port Security Grant Program of which the chamber was the pass-through agent on the City of Pensacola’s behalf.
The finding arose in the CPA firm’s audit of the chamber finances for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012. While the auditors issued an opinion that the consolidated financial statements presented fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the organization, they found that the City of Pensacola hadn’t met its obligations to the federal government under the grant.
Under the terms of the 2009 grant, the chamber was required to ensure that the City of Pensacola provided matching funds of 25 percent of the total cost. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provided the Port of Pensacola $1,479,947 and the city was to put $227,749 toward upgrades at the facility. The grant period ended on March 31, 2013, at which time the city had not met the matching requirement.
At the city’s request, the chamber has applied for an extension of the grant period. According to chamber officials and the auditors in its notes, the city has stated its intent to return any funding related to the unmet match if the extension is not granted.
The auditors also had issues with the internal controls over the chamber’s financial reporting, aside from the much-publicized issues surrounding the BP gift card program. Several accounts were not reconciled appropriately and various adjustments were necessary to correct the accounting records.
The chamber’s chief financial official for the 2011-12 fiscal year was Brian McBroom who left the organization in January 2013. He has since filed a lawsuit claiming damages of more than $3.26 million for breach of contract and defamation. The chamber has subsequently filed a motion to dismiss all claims.