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Talking with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi about collaboration

Working with other AGs, federal authorities and the private sector is key to an AG's job

Read InsideCounsel's cover story on how to work with attorneys general.

Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general since January 2011, spoke to InsideCounsel about how her office has collaborated with other AGs, federal authorities and the private sector to tackle some of Florida’s most pressing problems:

 

On addressing Florida’s prescription drug problem:

I was a prosecutor from Tampa, an assistant state attorney for 18 years, and I had never run for office before. In my general election I ran against two state senators, and I ended up hiring one of the Democrats to run my pill mills initiative. I didn’t like the direction our state was going. Pill mills were opening up in strip malls everywhere. If you saw one of these doctors, they were just sitting in the back signing prescription pads all day. One of my first priorities when I was elected was to pass legislation to address pill mills.

We brought everybody to the table to pass this legislation: We brought in the pharmacists, the Florida Medical Association, the good pain management doctors. We brought in the lobbyists for all the organizations, including the pharmaceuticals, and we said, “This isn’t what your drugs were meant to do.” We worked together. We didn’t want to hurt cancer patients or surgical patients; we didn’t want to limit legitimate pharmacists. I’m so proud that now we have some of the toughest legislation in the country regarding pill mills. Ninety-eight of the top 100 oxycodone dispensers were located in Florida—now we’re down to zero.

After the legislation passed, the governor and I formed a strike force. We work with the [Drug Enforcement Administration], U.S. attorneys and my statewide prosecutors. We’ve also established the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) [in which pharmacies and practitioners report the administration of controlled substances]. It’s all about working together.

Walgreens alerted us to a case where someone was prescribing a ridiculous amount of drugs. They’ve been really receptive. Pharmaceuticals have been supportive, absolutely. They’re working on tamper-proof pills and time-release pills so people can’t take a bunch of them to get high.

 

On the national mortgage settlement:

We worked long and hard on it. Florida was hit hard in the foreclosure crisis by the five largest mortgage servicers, so we worked at length to receive the best settlement for Floridians. Ultimately we received [more than] $8.3 billion worth of relief for our state, and much of that has gone back to the community in the form of loan modifications, principal reductions, short sales—everything to help this process move forward.

We didn’t use any private lawyers in negotiations; we handled it all in-house. My lawyers working on the settlement were flying up to D.C. constantly to meet with the servicers and processors. We were in constant communication with the banks and with all of their attorneys. There were probably 50 to 60 people in a room sitting and negotiating this for months and months. It was a nail-biter down to the end as to whether we would settle with them. In the end all 50 states reached an agreement. The banks stepped up to the plate. Of course they played hardball, as did the attorneys general. But ultimately we reached a great settlement.

We handled it in-house completely, and I believe every state did. I was on the executive committee that Tom Miller, [the AG] of Iowa chaired. He did a phenomenal job. It was all the AGs working together on that settlement.

 

On Florida’s public-private partnership to tackle human trafficking:

In 2011 Florida ranked third in the country in calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

Now we’re partnering with the private sector, with oil companies and the hospitality industry, and with all the industries in Florida. Sometimes the only contact victims of human trafficking have with the outside world is at a gas station when these traffickers stop to get gas. We’re also partnering with the hotel industry and trucking industry so they know what to look for and are able to report it. They may come into contact with sex trafficking at hotels and truck stops. The National Trucking Association has an amazing campaign.

There is also labor trafficking. We’ve gathered the business communities—the trucking association, the Florida Retail Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Petroleum Council. Terry Coonan, the director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (at Florida State University), will provide training sessions, because in addition to recognizing the signs, we’re asking businesses to look at their own practices to make sure there’s no human trafficking within their own operations.

 

On Florida’s organized retail theft bill:

We are both proactive and reactive—people come to us, and we go to them.

I didn’t know how bad the problem of organized retail theft was. Publix Super Markets came to us and said, look what’s happening. It’s not the old days of grand theft where you shove $300 worth of products in your pocket and run out the door. Now it’s organized crime. I met with Publix and they showed me: There was one case where $100,000 of razor blades was stolen—one person will distract the loss prevention officer, one person will block the camera, and one person will be stealing everything. They have it mapped out and go store to store. Those illegal proceeds go to fund gangs, the drug trade and other illegal activity. Working with the private industry, this session we passed tough legislation, a retail theft bill that provided for increased penalties.

 

On enlisting outside counsel for help:

I have fewer than 400 attorneys in my office. Sometimes you have to partner with outside counsel. I do it as little as possible. As an attorney general I have to be the watchdog of how the state’s money is spent.

Throughout the country, AGs partner with firms in certain huge cases, like tobacco—how could you not partner with plaintiffs attorneys in a situation of that magnitude? On the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I personally interviewed law firms from all over the country. We looked at whether they share our philosophy about the damage the spill caused to this state. They’re co-counsel, basically. They’re working for us. They have to work with us and not take over the case from us.  The firms we hired agreed to take 2.5 percent of the money recovered, capped at $50 million—which sounds like a lot, but we’re asking for almost $5 billion from BP and Halliburton.

 

On working with companies

You treat each other with respect and civility, even if you’re adversaries.

Associate Editor

Melissa Maleske

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