Palm Beach Post…two sides, one story!

I don’t know why I’m surprised when the Palm Beach Post lives up to expectations.

It’s propensity for focusing on one side of insurance issues is reasonably established. In this instance, it’s editors not only wouldn’t publish my side of Chip Merlin’s piece unfairly criticizing banker Bette Brown’s appointment to the board of Citizens, but…when I asked editorial page editor, Rick Christie, “why not”, the courtesy of a reply was not forthcoming.

I sincerely doubt keeping his subscribers from reading my piece was based solely on naiveté about trial lawyers. My suspicion should’ve sparked when he attempted to bestow credibility to Merlin’s attack with an  “Editors Note” declaring him “… a policyholder advocate.”

The Post’s motives crystallize when you consider that, a few weeks back, it published my entire no-fault piece. Word for word. But then, of course, I was agreeing with the Post.  Not, as in this case, revealing the hypocrisy of a trial lawyer who, like the Post, disdains anything Rick Scott does to fix the mess Charlie Crist left behind.

You can read Merlin’s piece.  He hints that Bette Brown is untrustworthy merely because she’s in the banking business. No other reason was given; except that he (Merlin) “fights” banks and they are involved in “dozens” of cases, which according to Merlin, involve “ripped off” consumers of  force-placed insurance.

Merlin touted Alex Sink as the only banker to be a true consumer advocate. I supported Alex Sink, personally & financially, when she ran for CFO and again when she ran for Governor against Rick Scott.  She’s smart and honest.

But Merlin’s approach, that of guilt by association for Bette Brown with a carve out for Alex Sink, is strained at best.  Sink headed Bank of America Florida until 2000.  It’s one of the “dozen” Merlin said are involved in lawsuits for force-placed insurance. In fact, while it maintains it did nothing illegal, Bank of America is settling for $228 million and the actions it’s paying for are identical to those performed while Alex Sink was in charge. (See Note #1, below)

I must ask Mr. Merlin to connect the dots on this one. Not for me.  But, for all the Post readers its editors wish to keep in the dark.

I promise to print any response either Merlin or the Post care to offer to the following.

Opinion; Citizens Board Appointment–by Scott Johnson, AAI, CAE.

On April Fool’s day the Post published an opinion from trial lawyer Chip Merlin critical of the appointment of banker Bette Brown to the board of Citizens. For this particular appointment Florida law requires the appointee to advocate solely on behalf of consumers. But, before Brown could attend her first meeting, Merlin pounced.

“How much can we trust a banker…?” he asked.

Merlin pushed instead for an advocate he said needed a “track record” perhaps because an advocate with a track record works for him. Sean Shaw was appointed by Alex Sink as Insurance Consumer Advocate and resigned to help Merlin’s firm sue insurers like state run Citizens.

He also wrote “…the only real consumer advocate to come from the banking industry in Florida was Alex Sink.”  News, I’m sure, to CFO Jeff Atwater, a former banker (one we can trust), who once worked for Alex Sink and who now appoints the State Insurance Consumer Advocate.

I’ve just requested public records updating those on my blog site showing the Merlin Law Group as one of the top firms responsible for 2/3rds of Citizens total sinkhole claims.  Separate regulatory reports confirmed that over 70% of such claimants didn’t spend their payout on the sinkhole they alleged they had–the money went for other purposes, to pay down their mortgage, take vacations or maybe buy a new car. Some had filed multiple claims for the same purposes.

Merlin’s employee, Sean Shaw, is identified with the so-called consumer organization Policyholder of Florida (POF). The home page claims POF is “8 million strong”, which would be virtually every homeowner. But, my previous research with the Division of Corporations showed POF to be a “for profit” corporation with no consumer running the show. Chip Merlin was listed as its head and his firm hosted and paid for the website.

Merlin shows little compassion for Citizens policyholders on the hook for the largesse of his clients via a first tier 15% assessment. He showed even less concern for Florida’s remaining homeowners, the 85% not insured in Citizens and zero concern for those who can’t even afford property forced to pay assessments on their auto policies.

I hope Bette Brown’s appointment to the Citizens board is a good one. She certainly deserves a fair chance. But, if it turns out to be, as Merlin said…”the fox guarding the hen house”,  then his opinion piece would be the epitome of “the pot calling the kettle black.”


NOTE #1: US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, according to Reuters (4/7/14)–The proposed Force-Place  class action was filed in 2012 and covers Bank of America clients who were dealt lenders insurance between January 2008 and February of this year. Class members are expected to recover hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars from the settlement.   The case is: Cheryl Hall et al v Bank of America N.A. et al, US District Court, Southern District of Florida, Case No. 12-cv-22700

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