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Offer begins FAMU drive

TECO's $1-million donation is aimed at persuading Florida A&M to build its new law school in Tampa.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000


TAMPA -- Local players in business and politics on Thursday celebrated the first big donation to lure Florida A&M's law school to Tampa, a $1-million gift from Tampa Electric Co.

The news nearly was overshadowed by fallout from County Commissioner Ronda Storms' comments a day earlier that the historically black university's new law school wouldn't necessarily increase the number of minority lawyers and judges.

"We can get them through law school, but we can't get them to seem to pass the Bar," she said, citing statistics that white people pass the exam at a higher rate than black people in Florida.

Her comments buzzed around FAMU's Tallahassee campus Thursday and won't help Tampa compete for the law school against Orlando, Lakeland and Daytona Beach, said university spokesman Eddie Jackson.

"Her remarks are offensive, inappropriate and inaccurate," he said.

The state closed FAMU's law school in 1968 and effectively shifted it to Florida State University.

School boosters and black legislators battled to re-establish the school for years. They prevailed this year when the Legislature approved law schools for FAMU and Florida International University in Miami-Dade County.

Although the state is 30 percent black and Hispanic, those minorities make up only about 8 percent of Florida Bar membership. Legislators and Gov. Jeb Bush said the new schools should ease the disparity, although admission will not be based on race or gender.

Tampa and other cities must submit proposals by July 24 to get FAMU's law school, with a final decision due in September.

Bids should include a donation of a site up to 10 acres and contributions of at least $12.5-million for construction, Jackson said. The state is expected to match construction funds dollar for dollar.

On Thursday, former Gov. Bob Martinez called the contribution "screaming money."

"I haven't seen anyone else screaming around the state," said Martinez, who is leading the effort with Bill McBride, managing partner for the state's largest law firm, Holland & Knight. "I think this is a statewide statement ... that Tampa wants the law school here."

Tampa Electric president John Ramil said the donation is in addition to TECO's $2-million annual charitable giving.

Orlando has identified a 3.5-acre parking lot west of downtown for the law school. Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood soon will name a fundraising committee.

FAMU alumni made a plea to county commissioners Wednesday for a $1-million pledge.

Former state Education Commissioner Doug Jamerson told commissioners the school would boost the number of minority lawyers and judges. But Storms disagreed.

She pointed to a legal brief filed this year with the Florida Supreme Court by the NAACP. It cited a study showing that in one test cycle, white people passed at a rate of 74 percent compared with 39 percent for black people. In a second cycle, the disparity was 76 percent to 46 percent.

Storms said Thursday that she simply was rebutting Jamerson's statement and that he was nodding his head in agreement.

Jamerson acknowledged he had been nodding -- but not in support.

"If I was shaking my head, it was probably in disbelief," he said. "I found her remarks intemperate, insensitive and illogical in some cases."

Times staff writers David Karp and Barry Klein contributed to this report.

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