Sean Shaw is not shy about speaking his mind. Shortly before the Democratic candidate for Florida attorney general caught up with the Daily Business Review to discuss his candidacy, news broke that Brett Kavanaugh — who had been plagued by accusations of sexual assault during his confirmation hearings — had secured enough Senate votes to be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shaw did not mince words when discussing the development.
“It’s clear now that these seats are being used for political points, and it’s really unfortunate,” Shaw said. “This is just awful, awful news for the United States Supreme Court. And Congress is supposed to be political, the presidency is obviously political, but you sure hope the court — other than some flare ups in nomination hearings — would be free from this.”
Shaw’s readiness to speak out against perceived injustices has been consistent throughout both his time on the campaign trail and his professional career. After graduating from the University Of Florida Levin College Of Law in 2003, Shaw joined the Tallahassee office of law firm Akerman, followed by a three-year stint with Messer Caparello. In 2008, he was appointed state insurance consumer advocate by Florida’s chief financial officer at the time, Alex Sink.
“People are always saying ‘We want a consumer advocate in the attorney general’s office!’ I am literally the former consumer advocate of the state of Florida,” Shaw said. “I will put my record of consumer advocacy, consumer protection, civil rights and criminal justice reform and fighting for people against big corporate interests against anybody running for any office in Florida.”
Upon the conclusion of his two-year stint as Florida’s insurance consumer advocate, Shaw joined the Merlin Law Group, a Tampa-based firm that advocates on behalf of policyholders against insurance carriers nationwide. In addition to his career as a litigator, Shaw has also worked to champion the rights of consumers and workers as a member of the Florida House of Representatives since being elected in 2016.
Shaw says his record of “helping insurance consumers, responding to the BP oil crisis, working for affordable housing, working for the rights of workers” speaks to the distinct break he would make from Pam Bondi’s tenure as attorney general.
“I represent change in the attorney general’s office — I can’t really be plainer than that,” Shaw said. “I am someone that is going to be 180 degrees different than Pam Bondi. We are going to leave the lawsuit to invalidate the Affordable Care Act; we are going to drop the appeals that get in the way of sick patients getting access to medicinal cannabis.
“I’m not going to run the office like I’m the general counsel of the Republican Party,” he added. “I’m going to run it as an independent watchdog.”
Additionally, Shaw said he has no qualms about challenging the Trump administration’s more controversial and divisive policies.
“Attorneys general around the country are the ones who are able to uphold the rule of law and make sure that stuff that is bad that is coming from D.C. is attacked,” he said. “When the president was elected and he instituted the Muslim travel ban, it wasn’t Congress that all of a sudden decided to grow a political spine and stand up to him, it was attorneys general around the country who filed lawsuits.”
Among the issues Shaw would concern himself with as attorney general, Shaw cited weakened EPA standards, the Trump administration’s use of immigrant detention centers, gun control and civil rights as top priorities.
“The Civil Rights Division of the attorney general’s office will be busy under Sean Shaw,” he said. “I’ve always been someone who has been in favor of the little person versus the big person. I went to law school not to fight for the big person but to fight for the little person against the big person; that’s why I went to law school, that’s why I became a lawyer.”
Shaw readily admits that his passion for justice is due in large part to his father Leander Shaw Jr., the first African-American chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Like the change his father helped to bring about, Shaw sees November’s election as a referendum on the way things are as opposed to what’s possible.
“I think Floridians are going to vote this election and they’re going to vote about change … up and down the ticket,” he said. “Do you want change from what’s been going on in Tallahassee for the last 20-something years, or do you want it to remain the same? And I have a strong suspicion on Nov. 6 … they’re going to hire some new people to mind the store up in Tallahassee.”
Born: 1978, Jacksonville, Florida
Education: JD, University of Florida Levin College Of Law, J.D., 2003; Princeton University, B.A., 2000
Experience: Florida House Representative, 2016-present; Attorney, Merlin Law Group, 2010-present; Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate, 2008-2010; Associate, Messer Caparello and Self 2005-2008; Appellate Associate, Akerman, 2003-2005