Legal Ethics

FL County Fires Attorney Over Land Deal

A longtime attorney for a county on Florida’s Gulf Coast has lost her job over her involvement as a legal adviser in a controversial land deal between Pinellas County and its property appraiser.

Susan Churuti, 52, admitted at a meeting today that she could have better handled the matter—in which Pinellas officials paid an above-market price for land owned by the county’s appraiser. (The transaction was prompted by his claims that the land had been damaged by county flood-control efforts.) However, she said she had neither represented the property appraiser, Jim Smith, nor personally benefited from the transaction. A grand jury investigating the land sale apparently faulted her only for failing to steer clear of a situation that could be perceived as creating a conflict, reports a St. Petersburg Times blog.

The grand jury concluded that Churuti’s role created a lack of confidence in her ability to provide “unbiased legal advice free from disclosed or undisclosed conflict,” the newspaper writes.

Churuti, who has served as the county’s attorney for 20 years, made a little over $193,000 annually. Its board of commissioners fired her today, and reprimanded the county administrator for his work concerning the land-sale matter.

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