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Law firms lining up for the lucrative job of representing Florida in its fight to recover $325 million lost when Enron’s stock collapsed include the politically powerful and the politically connected. Most, but not all, maintain ties with the Republican Party. In recent weeks, four groups of competitors, from eight law firms, have pitched the Florida State Board of Administration — which manages the state’s $96 billion in pension funds — about suing the board’s former investment adviser, Alliance Capital Management Holding L.P. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Treasurer Tom Gallagher and Comptroller Robert Milligan — Republicans all — are the trustees of the board. They won’t select the firms that get the work, and the fee windfall, but they can veto the selection made by FSBA Executive Director Tom Herndon and make him come up with another name. Trustees haven’t involved themselves up to now in the informal, no-bid selection procedure, but this time, with all the heat, they’ll be asked to review, says board general counsel Linda Lettera. “As the trustees, they are clearly in the driver’s seat,” said Lettera. “I think you can assume they have the ability to approve or disapprove the lawyers.” The state’s legal strategy for recovering money lost in the Enron debacle remains in a state of flux. Florida was the nation’s biggest institutional loser in the Enron debacle. And since losing its effort this month to lead a huge class action suit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, the pension board is exploring other options. One under consideration is to bring suit against former investment adviser Alliance Capital Management. Alliance Capital is a target because it bought 2.9 million shares of Enron for Florida’s pension fund after it was disclosed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Enron’s overstatement of its assets and partnership liabilities. Some of its officials had potentially conflicting ties to Enron. The headliner firm among those seeking that appointment is Miami’s 37-lawyer Tew Cardenas Rebak Kellogg Lehman DeMaria Tague Raymond & Levine. Unlike the other law firms, Tew Cardenas isn’t teamed with anyone else. The firm has a strong one-two punch. Lead partner Tom Tew, who with family members has contributed more than $3,500 to the campaigns of trustees Bush and Gallagher, is known for successfully handling complex litigation matters. His partner, Alberto Cardenas, is equally known as head of the Florida Republican Party. Tew and Gallagher go back together. In the early 1990s, Gallagher, then Florida insurance commissioner, appointed Tew to investigate the alleged misleading sales practices of Metropolitan Life Insurance. In 1994, MetLife paid $4.6 million to settle Florida claims. Tew Cardenas may have the glitz, but the leading contender for the job at the moment is a cross-state competitor. Johnson Blakely Pope Bokor Ruppel and Burns, of Clearwater, and Thomas R. Grady, of Grady & Associates in Naples, are being recommended for the job by Lettera. How much clout Lettera’s recommendation will have can’t be known. And she says it had nothing to do with politics. Still, the West Coast team’s Republican connections are strong. Not particularly on the Johnson Blakely side, where partner Timothy A. Johnson Jr. has made modest contributions to various Republican candidates, including Jeb Bush ($500 in 1998) and Gallagher ($500 on Dec. 17). Rather, the political juice here flows from Naples securities lawyer Tom Grady. Florida election records show that since 1995, Grady has contributed $14,000 to the Republican Party, plus more than $5,000 to individual Republican candidates, including Gov. Bush and Gallagher. The Bush contribution was posted on Dec. 28. At the national level, Grady contributed $16,000 to the Republican Party and its candidates, including President George W. Bush, according to Federal Election Commission records for the 2000 election cycle. If Lettera’s recommendation holds, and Florida sues Alliance Capital, the also-rans would include the team of Orlando-based Gray Harris & Robinson and New York City’s 16-attorney Abbey Gardy. Gray Harris, whose 130 Florida attorneys include former Florida Statewide Prosecutor and deputy attorney general Peter Antonacci, represented the Republican Party during the Bush-Gore election dispute in 2000. During the 1999-2000 election cycle, the firm’s national political action committee gave $17,000 to Republicans and $7,000 to Democrats, according to the political contribution tracking Web site, Tray.com. That includes $5,000 to Bush for President in 1999, and $2,500 to Tom Gallagher for U.S. Senate, the Florida treasurer’s ill-starred campaign. “Gray Harris & Robinson P.A. is very involved in the political process, and our team understands how state and local government really works,” the firm says on its Web site. The final team at the bottom of the Florida pension board’s list comprises two prominent Pensacola firms, Beggs & Lane and Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor, and Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll, a class action specialty firm based in Washington, D.C. Beggs & Lane, one of Florida’s oldest law firms, is not particularly political. Levin Papantonio, as lead partner Fred Levin will be happy to tell you, is a longtime Democratic firm founded by Fred Levin, his recently deceased brother, David and ex-Gov. Reubin Askew. Levin Papantonio did recently acquire some Republican throw weight with the addition of former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, of Fort Walton Beach. But Levin acknowledges his firm’s chances aren’t great for being chosen to sue Alliance Capital. “It’s gonna be a political decision, everybody knows that,” says Levin, one of Florida’s most successful litigators. “If it’s a question of politics, we’re the odd firm out. If it’s a question of litigation experience, we’re in.” If he should prevail, Levin promises some fireworks. He intends to bring in his new partner, celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran. “If it doesn’t fit, you must give us a lot of money,” says Levin, laughing at his twist on Cochran’s famous line in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

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