A Tallahassee judge is ordering Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to prove her office didn't act inappropriately when it allegedly directed companies to pay millions in restitution payments to unregistered charities.
Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson gave Bondi 40 days to respond after the order was filed on April 10. The decision came after an Orlando businessman filed a petition for a "writ of quo warranto" against Bondi earlier this month.
John D. Smith, who owns the storm window protection company Storm Stoppers, alleges in his lawsuit that Bondi abused her authority when she forced 14 businesses her office was looking into unfair trade practices to settle by donating more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities from 2011 to 2016. In the state of Florida, charities that raise money must be registered with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The lawsuit alleges that in total, Bondi's office collected $20.2 million from 55 companies in "forced contributions" to registered and unregistered charities. The petition says the group of unregistered charities includes Bondi’s own "Florida Law Enforcement Officer of the Year," which was given four contributions totaling $40,000.
Smith is asking the court to stop the attorney general's office from directing any contributions it imposes on businesses alleged to have violated fair trade practices to go to unregistered charities and to prevent the office from directing payments to charities with ties to her office. So far, Bondi has denied the allegations and accused Smith of "abuse."
"For two years, my attorneys have been dealing with harassment from the petitioner in this case for looking into his 'business' of selling hurricane-resistant plastic panels that Velcro to windows," Bondi says in a statement. "Throughout that process, Mr. Smith has heaped abuse on my attorneys and continues to target my office. His attacks are completely unfounded. What my attorneys are doing is designed to benefit Florida’s citizens while conserving taxpayer resources. "