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State prepared to spend $800,000 to defend itself in pension appeal

Florida legislators say they haven't decided if the state will appeal the pension ruling against them today by Judge Jackie Fulford but they're already ready to spend $800,000 in taxpayer money to do it.

Fulford ruled that the state unconstitutionally breached its contract with state employees when legislators cut salaries 3 percent last year in an effort to have employees pay into their pensions without renegotiating their contracts.

But after spending $500,000 to hire the Atlanta-based law firm of Alston and Bird last year, the Department of Management Services in December entered into a second contract to spend up to $300,000 on defense of the case.

The firm, which has ties to Gov. Rick Scott, exhausted the $500,000 retainer the state paid for the initial defense, said Kris Purcell, spokesman for the Department of Management Services. 

The contract says that the state "agrees to provide legal advice and representation to the agency for the duration of one appeal, and the fees to the agency will not exceed $300,000 even if the contractor spends time on the appeal that would result in charges over $300,000."

The Scott administration and Attorney General Pam Bondi have defended hiring the firm, saying that because of the complexity of pension law, the state hired outside counsel.

The contract allows the state to pay eight attorneys in the firm $475 an hour, about $300 more per hour than contracts with other outside lawyers.

The firm was hired at the urging of the Scott administration, whose roster includes a onetime business associate of the governor's, Thomas Scully. Scully is also a general partner with the New York investment firm of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. In June, that firm purchased Scott's shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics the governor started back in 2001.

The governor has said, however, that he did not know that Scully also worked with Alston and Bird. Download A and B Contract 3% Retirement appeal

-- Mary Ellen Klas and Brittany Davis