Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Gov. Crist is Now Citizen Charlie

Charlie Crist says "the horizon is endless" when discussing his role at John Morgan's law firm. [Photo: Mark Wemple]

Steering Clear

After a breakfast meeting at Orlando's Rosen Centre, where John Morgan made the announcement that former Gov. Charlie Crist had joined his firm, Morgan and Crist stood in the valet line, waiting for their cars. "Charlie's car pulls up and I go, 'Are you going to be OK?' " Morgan says. "And he goes, 'You know, it has been a while since I've driven a car except back and forth to the Publix in St. Pete.' He was getting ready to hit I-4 for the first time, so I told him, 'Charlie, I'm going to give you a 10-minute head start so I'm not part of your learning curve.' "

Attorney John Morgan has known Charlie Crist since the early 1990s, when Crist was a state senator and Morgan would visit Tallahassee to lobby legislators about tort reform. Crist, a Republican, and Morgan, a Democrat, often found themselves on opposite sides of the issues. The two lawyers couldn't even agree on tort reform, but Morgan liked Crist personally from the start, he says, because "he was always courteous and he listened." Later, Morgan supported Crist's successful campaigns for attorney general and governor.

After Crist failed to win a U.S. Senate seat last year, Morgan hired him at Morgan & Morgan. Morgan says it was a logical choice to hire Crist, the one-time "people's governor," at his firm, known statewide for its "for the people" advertising slogan on billboards, radio and television.

"We see ourselves as consumer advocates," Morgan says. "When we talk at our firm, we don't talk about representing plaintiffs. We talk about representing consumers, and I don't believe there has ever been an attorney general or governor who stood more for consumer advocacy than Charlie Crist. His values mirror our values."

Within a week of starting, Crist was meeting with representatives of communities affected by last year's BP oil spill. Morgan & Morgan is part of the Oil Spill Litigation Steering Committee, which means the firm is counting on lots of oil spill work and can use Crist's governmental contacts throughout the Gulf Coast region. The firm's representative on the oil spill committee is Mike Espy, another big-name hire for Morgan & Morgan. Espy is a former Mississippi congressman and a U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under former President Bill Clinton.

The former governor plans on getting involved in cases beyond the oil spill, including other mass torts cases. He'll also contribute to the firm's new "commercial contingency" section, which helps settle business disputes. Morgan won't even rule out Crist showing up in the courtroom. "I believe that on the right case that this guy can deliver one of the more powerful closing arguments that a jury would ever see in Florida," Morgan says.

Crist, who says "the horizon is endless" when discussing his role at the firm, will also be asked to contribute to the firm's client development and marketing efforts. For example, Morgan says Crist will likely be featured in Morgan & Morgan advertising, including television commercials and billboards.

"Look, this guy's got a favorable popularity rating right now in Florida of over 60%," Morgan says. "I think even Republicans who may have voted against him still like him. You may disagree with him philosophically and you may disagree with him politically, but he's very popular on a personal level. He's got some natural constituencies out there: Teachers, environmentalists, children, law enforcement. He has built-in constituencies that I think will be very loyal to him and to the firm."

Crist, meanwhile, says there's nothing he misses so far about being governor, not even the state drivers who whisked him through traffic.

"To be honest, it's kind of fun driving again," Crist says. "It really is nice to sort of settle in and be a regular person. I get to spend more time with my family, my wife, Carole, and being able to be located in St. Petersburg is a great joy to me. It's kind of nice to be an observer for a change instead of being in the vortex of it all."