Our position: Lawson Lamar's public corruption unit deserves support
January 14, 2008
Questioning the ethics of Central Florida's politics can be a thankless job. Just ask Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar.
Mr. Lamar didn't win any friends among the politicians and hangers-on when he called for tough ethics reforms, including campaign contribution limits, in 2006. And he was met with skepticism when he joined a handful of other state attorneys by forming what he calls the Government Accountability Unit, a team dedicated to rooting out public corruption.
To be sure, like any team of prosecutors, this team has had its hits and misses. The most recent was the 5th District Court of Appeals' overturning of the unit's conviction of state Sen. Gary Siplin on grand-theft charges.
But Mr. Lamar and his team should be applauded for their efforts. Their successes go beyond the win-loss tally.
Prosecutors won convictions against former Osceola Property Appraiser Bob Day and former Orlando City Commissioner Ernest Page for misusing the power of their offices. Political consultant Doug Guetzloe was convicted of campaign violations in connection with the cowardly circulation of an anonymous campaign flier in the 2006 Winter Park mayor's race.
Easy wins? Small fish? The point here isn't just to pack public officials and political cheap-shot artists to the big house. Mr. Lamar is sending message after message to officials not to violate the public trust. His efforts led to the formation of an ethics task force in Orange County that has recommended a list of important reforms.
Did his team overreach in pursuing Mr. Siplin? The diverse jury that convicted him didn't think so.
Mr. Lamar's investigation into shenanigans at the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority yielded only one set of charges against the agency's former public-relations consultant. But it has also generated what is said to be a highly critical grand-jury report that could uncover a seamy world of good-old-boy politics. Unfortunately, that report is being kept secret at the request of Allan Keen, the expressway authority's former chairman who resigned just ahead of Mr. Lamar's investigation.
That report should be made public. And if its findings shame public officials into enacting ethics reforms, that's more important than any one conviction.
Yes, Mr. Lamar should have known better than to turn to a special prosecutor to investigate a land deal Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty entered into with a developer. The deal stunk, but it clearly wasn't illegal.
So there may be some missteps along the way. But any community should welcome a state attorney on the alert for public corruption.