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Politics

45,000 lawyers get e-mails backing Crist

It's political spam, say some annoyed recipients of the m ass e-mail signed by six former Florida Bar presidents.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published November 1, 2006


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TALLAHASSEE - Six former Florida Bar presidents have written to 45,000 lawyers across the state, endorsing Republican Charlie Crist for governor as a "friend of lawyers" and a "staunch defender of the independence of the judiciary."

The message came in an e-mail, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida. Some lawyers aren't happy about it.

The former Bar presidents who signed it were Alan Bookman, Howard Coker, Kelly Overstreet Johnson, Miles McGrane III, Terrence Russell and Herman Russomanno.

A seventh Crist supporter who signed it, Martha Barnett, is a former president of the American Bar Association.

Some lawyers didn't like the contents. Others wondered how their e-mail address reached a political party or questioned use of taxpayer-funded e-mail accounts for partisan politics.

"Please remove my e-mail address from your list," wrote Robert Strain, an attorney for a state agency. "If you respond, don't call me a colleague - coming from you, based on this message, it's an insult."

The answer is that those e-mail addresses are public record under Florida law. Paul Hill, the Bar's general counsel, said that as the Bar is considered an arm of the Florida Supreme Court, it is subject to Article I, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution, an open-records requirement approved by voters in 1992.

Hill said the Bar's records are available to any organization upon request, and the Bar has no right to ask what they are being used for.

Barnett said she has received about a dozen comments from fellow lawyers. In hindsight, she said, she sympathizes with those who feel the message was another piece of spam.

"There's e-mail pollution out there, I understand that," said Barnett, a Democrat and partner at Holland & Knight. "It's like an unwanted telephone call. But that's part of the society we live in."

St. Petersburg lawyer Peter Rudy Wallace, who supports Crist's opponent Jim Davis, criticized the ex-Bar presidents as "manipulated by the Republican Party."

In response to the e-mail, Wallace wrote back: "When you next decide to offer voting advice from on high to the rest of us attorneys, please ask your handlers at the RPOF Republican Party of Florida to leave my name off the list."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified November 1, 2006, 07:00:09]


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