Case

Agency and law firm entangled (Enterprise Florida and Holland & Knight)

In 1 on January 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm

The hiring of Enterprise Florida CEO Darrell Kelley by legal giant
Holland & Knight is the latest in a list of close, lucrative
connections.
By SYDNEY P. FREEDBERG and SCOTT BARANCIK
 
While Darrell Kelley was chief executive of Florida’s top economic
development agency, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal
and consulting fees to the Holland & Knight law firm.
 
Now he’s joining the giant law firm as a top executive.
 
Kelley, 63, starts his job as chief operating officer at Holland &
Knight on Nov. 15. His appointment is the latest example of the close
and lucrative ties between the law firm and Enterprise Florida, a
tax-exempt, nonprofit arm of state government that received
$16.7-million in taxpayer funds last year to lure high-wage jobs to
Florida.
 
Among the more conspicuous examples:
 
–Since 2001, Holland & Knight has held an open-ended, apparently
no-bid contract to serve as general counsel to Enterprise Florida at
rates as high as $425 an hour. Fees paid to date total $588,600,
according to agency spokeswoman Erin Heston. Kelley joined Enterprise
Florida in June 2002.
 
–In 2003, Holland & Knight won an additional $475,000 contract from
Enterprise Florida to assess the state’s vulnerability in the coming
round of military base closures. Only one other company submitted a
bid.
 
–This year, Holland & Knight began serving as Enterprise Florida’s
official representative in China. Though the law firm is providing its
services largely for free, the role affords it entree to the world’s
fastest-growing economy as well as many potential clients.
 
The ties go both ways.
 
Howell Melton Jr., Holland & Knight’s managing partner, sits on
Enterprise Florida’s board of directors, as did his predecessors at
the 1,250-lawyer firm. Melton also is chairman of the three-person
committee that sets salaries for agency executives like Kelley, who
earned nearly $350,000 in total compensation during the 2004-05 fiscal
year.
 
This won’t be the first time Kelley has called Melton “boss.” Melton
served as chairman of the Orlando area’s economic development
commission several years ago when Kelley was the not-for-profit’s
president and chief executive officer.
 
On Monday, both men declined to be interviewed. But in a news release
issued by Holland & Knight after inquiries from the St. Petersburg
Times , each warmly praised the other.
 
Said Melton: “Darrell’s exceptional reputation for client service,
relationship building and commitment to high values make him a perfect
fit for our firm. He brings with him significant expertise in business
generation and client service, which will complement Holland &
Knight’s approach to the delivery of legal services.”
 
Said Kelley: “Having worked with Howell Melton as a committee chair
and member of the (Enterprise Florida board) and during his term as
Chairman of the Metro Orlando EDC, I know him to be an exceptional
leader with whom I share common values. I look forward to joining
Howell at Holland & Knight, a firm whose national platform offers many
great business opportunities.”
 
Kelley’s role at the law firm, one of the nation’s largest, is not
clear. Holland & Knight created the chief operating partner slot last
year for Douglas A. Wright, a Tampa lawyer who quickly resigned after
the Times reported he had been reprimanded for harassing young, female
colleagues.
 
The position, which ranked third on the firm’s corporate ladder and
put Wright atop all business operations, including the firm’s human
resources department, has remained vacant.
 
Kelley, a longtime Sprint Corp. executive, is not a lawyer. But thanks
to his three-year tenure at Enterprise Florida, whose board includes
executives representing many of the state’s top businesses, he has the
potential to give an already powerful firm an extra edge in securing
clients.
 
Under then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, the Legislature created Enterprise
Florida in 1992 as a tax-exempt partnership between the public sector
and private businesses. Today it gets 82 percent of its funding from
taxpayers. Holland & Knight has contributed more than $200,000 since
2000, assuring the law firm a seat on Enterprise Florida’s 63-member
board of directors, which is chaired by Gov. Jeb Bush.
 
The board approved Holland & Knight as its general counsel at a
November 2000 meeting. Other than former managing partner Bill
McBride, who abstained, the vote was unanimous. The agency is
permitted to award contracts to companies represented on its board so
long as two-thirds of the board approves.
 
Since then, Orlando partner Jonathan Rich and others have provided
Enterprise Florida with hundreds of hours of legal advice.
 
Among other things, they have advised the group on how to tailor its
lobbying activities so as not to jeopardize its tax-exempt status.
They have briefed board members on their financial disclosure
requirements. They have researched the agency’s legal obligations
under Florida’s Open Meetings Law. And they have drafted or reviewed
numerous agency contracts.
 
Ben Wilcox, executive director of the public interest group Common
Cause Florida, said Holland & Knight’s close relationship with
Enterprise Florida raises its own ethical concerns.
 
“The fact that (Kelley) is moving in and out of public service and
taking a position with someone that (Enterprise Florida) had a
contractual relationship with, and now stands to personally benefit
from being employed by that law firm, is troubling,” he said.
 
Last week Enterprise Florida said it was negotiating with John Adams
Jr., a Laredo, Texas, economic development official, to replace
Kelley.
 
–Times computer-assisted reporting specialist Connie Humburg and
staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.
http://www.sptimes.com/2005/11/08/Business/Agency_and_law_firm_e.shtml.

Posted via email from HKLaw Investigation

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