Fla. justices approve corruption investigation

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court approved Gov. Charlie Crist’s revised request for a statewide grand jury to investigate public corruption and recommend changes in state law Wednesday, just two days after rejecting his initial petition.

The decision follows the arrests of several public officials and major campaign contributors in South Florida.

“We must remain committed to creating an environment where any crime committed by a public official is exposed and addressed as quickly as possible,” Crist said in a statement. “I encourage the statewide grand jury to swiftly make recommendations so that limitations in current law can be addressed during next year’s legislative session.”

The panel can issue public reports and recommendations as well as hand down indictments for crimes running the gamut from money laundering, official misconduct and bribery to kidnapping, carjacking and murder if they span at least two judicial circuits.

A similar effort a decade ago by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to toughen laws that would make it easier to root out public corruption was largely rejected by the Legislature. Crist has said he hopes the grand jury would revive that effort.

The high court said in a 6-1 ruling Monday that Crist failed to allege general crimes or wrongs to be investigated that cover more than a single judicial circuit as required by state law. Crist immediately filed an amended request that filled in those blanks.

In a unanimous order, the justices appointed Chief Circuit Judge Victor Tobin of Fort Lauderdale to preside over the grand jury that will serve for a year from the time it is impaneled.

The members will be drawn from prospective jurors in four South Florida circuits covering Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Lee counties.