Tallahassee. . .Governor Jeb Bush last week denied a request for a special prosecutor in Bay and Gulf counties. In June, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a 22-page petition for a special prosecutor citing alleged conflicts of interest between State Attorney Jim Appleman and the legal associates of a prominent Bush supporter. PEER claims that the rejection raises serious questions about the Governor’s commitment to enforcing environmental laws.
The petition states that Appleman, the statutory Grand Jury Counsel who decides whether and how to investigate alleged environmental violators, has close ties to members of the legal defense team employed by many of the same violators. Appleman employs two attorneys from the law firm of Bush supporter William Harrison, and his daughter is also an attorney with the firm.
In a six-sentence letter signed by his acting general counsel, Bush summarily denied PEER’s request, claiming that in the absence of a request from Appleman himself, he had no authority to appoint a special prosecutor. PEER’s petition claims that statutes specifically endow Bush with this authority ” . . . if, for any other good and sufficient reason, the Governor determines that the ends of justice would be best served. . . .”
After PEER filed its petition, Appleman said that he would step aside if a special prosecutor were appointed. He was quoted in the Panama City News Herald on June 15, saying “That certainly would be a decision of the governor’s office.”
Bush’s move comes just weeks after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced a new logo, “More Protection, Less Process” touting the Bush Administration’s commitment to bring environmental criminals to justice. PEER’s petition cited several major environmental issues in Bay and Gulf counties that PEER says need to be investigated by a special prosecutor, including an illegal raw sewage pipeline installation across St. Andrew Bay that the local newspaper have dubbed “Wastewater-gate.” A grand jury under Appleman’s office reportedly decided not to indict accused participants in Wastewater-gate.
“The Governor is sending a message to victims of environmental crimes that there will be no justice on his watch,” said Steve Medina, PEER’s Florida Counsel. “The public has a right to a prosecutor without the appearance of ethical conflicts.”