Former House Speaker Ray Sansom wants Florida to pay nearly $1 million in legal fees he owes

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Attorneys for former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom argued Thursday that taxpayers should pay his legal fees of nearly $1 million from corruption charges dating back to 2009.

The Destin Republican's lawyers argued that because the charges stemmed from his work as a legislator and were dismissed, Samson is entitled to have the public pay his fees. They're seeking $817,518 plus interest, $970,187 in all, for some 2,700 hours of legal work and costs.

Sansom was accused of scheming with wealthy co-defendant and political supporter, Ray Odom, and former president of the Northwest Florida State College Bob Richburg to add $6 million to the state budget for an airplane hangar at the Destin airport to benefit Odom. The defendants maintained the building was actually an emergency operations facility and training center for the school. Only $309,000 of the money was spent.

Richburg accepted a deal to pay a third of that amount and testify against the other two. But the case collapsed when a judge ruled Richburg couldn't testify as a co-conspirator.

Lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office argued that Sansom tacitly agreed for Odom to pay $206,000 in restitution for both men in return for a dismissal of the charges, meaning they weren't truly exonerated.

Stephen Dobson, a white collar crime specialist who represented Sansom in the 2011 trial, is now suing for the fees along with Sansom, and his firm stands to collect the money if they succeed.

A former Associated Press reporter, Jim Rosica, also testified Thursday under subpoena concerning a story he wrote on the 2011 trial. Rosica quoted Dobson as saying Sansom might have to borrow money to pay his share of the restitution payment, which attorneys for the state interpreted as an admission that Sansom accepted the restitution deal.

"I had an agreement with his lawyer ... that the case would not go forward any further and I would be getting a check for the restitution," Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said of Sansom.

But Dobson testified that Sansom rejected the only proposal he received from Meggs -- that Sansom agree to the restitution and agree not to seek public payment of his legal fees -- and wasn't responsible for Odom's restitution payment.

The trial amounted to "a successful defense that entitles payment" of the fees under the law, contended Stephen Turner, representing Odom and Sansom in the fee case.

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