The Report of the Special Investigatory Committee on JEA Matters presented Jan. 4 to City Council represented a different type of work for the Smith Hulsey & Busey law firm.
It also helped Kevin Blodgett, the 36-year-old associate attorney who led the investigation and prepared the first draft of the report, to become a shareholder in the firm three days before the document was delivered.
The 132-page report and the accompanying 242-page event chronology details what happened beginning Dec. 20, 2017, when JEA issued a request for proposals for financial services related to the possible sale of the publicly owned utility.
It concludes with events on Dec. 24, 2019, when JEA’s board of directors called an emergency meeting and voted unanimously to end the effort to sell the city’s provider of electric, water and sewer services.
The fallout included the termination of Aaron Zahn, JEA’s CEO during the halted sale process, along with JEA’s senior leadership team, and suspicion that Mayor Lenny Curry’s staff and one of his campaign advisers may have been involved behind the scenes.
“We’re not a political law firm,” said Steve Busey, chairman of the practice.
“I was apprehensive about getting involved. It was so political and so divisive and had such possibility for a bad outcome.”
Despite his concerns, Busey accepted the job and assigned Blodgett to be the lead finder of fact.
A graduate of Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans, Blodgett was working in a Tallahassee law firm when he gained Smith Hulsey’s interest.
In 2018, Busey said, some of the firm’s litigators were working on a case with Blodgett and were impressed by his work ethic.
“John Thomas said he called Kevin at all hours of the evening. Invariably, he found Kevin in his office at night, working. He said we ought to get that guy here if we can,” Busey said.
Busey wasn’t sure whether Blodgett would consider an offer to make the move, but that turned out to be unfounded.
“I was told that Kevin said, ‘all I need is a place to work, a gym and a movie theater. If you’ve got that, I’ll be happy.’
“Because of his apparent capability and work ethic, we persuaded him to come over and join us. It turned out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Busey said.
Blodgett settled in.
“I feel at home. I’m lucky to be here and it’s a really good fit,” he said.
On Dec. 10, 2019, when the law firm became special counsel to the committee, Busey assigned Blodgett to the case.
“That project involved a lot of factual digging, looking at thousands and thousands of documents and, over the course of a year, transforming that work into writing a report,” Busey said.
He describes Blodgett as the principal “scrivener,” the legal term for someone who writes a document for another.
After reviewing documents for nearly nine months, writing the report was “my waking life for 2½ months,” Blodgett said.
“Doing something new and writing a narrative about what we felt happened and how it happened was a good opportunity for me to develop my skills in a way I hadn’t done before,” Blodgett said.
“ I definitely became a better writer because of the breadth of the report.”
Being the committee’s special counsel also benefits Smith Hulsey & Busey.
“We’ve gotten a lot of favorable feedback on the report from all corners of the community. It’s good exposure for the firm and the talents of the firm,” Busey said.