Fla. Governor & Attorney General Sued Over Public Records
TALLAHASSEE (AP) —A persistent critic of Gov. Rick Scott filed lawsuits on Monday accusing top Florida officials of flouting the state's public records laws by failing to turn over emails and other documents.
The lawsuits contend the Scott administration altered calendars of one top aide, relied on private email accounts and waited more than a year to hand over text messages of another aide.
The lawsuit against Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says her office refused to hand over notes from meetings Bondi kept on her iPad and didn't provide emails from private accounts that deal with state business.
Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews, who is embroiled in a land dispute with the governor and members of the Cabinet, said he decided to file the lawsuits after failing to get records he has been seeking for months.
"We finally got tired of them violating the Florida Constitution and not producing public records," said Andrews.
Jennifer Meale, a spokeswoman for Bondi, maintained that "every public records request received by this office is fulfilled in compliance with applicable law." Meale said that Bondi's office has already given Andrews information related to 12 separate requests.
Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Scott, did not address the allegations in the lawsuit directly. But she said that the Scott administration had turned over information related to 78 separate requests that Andrews had made of the governor's office and other state agencies.
"We worked diligently to fulfill all 78 records requests and amendments to those requests with thousands of pages of records, many produced at taxpayer expense," Sellers said in an emailed statement.
Colleen Andrews, a legal assistant at the Andrews law firm, said in response that the firm has spent $48,000 in expenses related to obtaining public records from state agencies.
This isn't the first time there have been questions about the handling of public records by Scott and his administration. Scott ordered an investigation back in 2011 after media reports revealed that emails sent and received by members of his transition team were missing.
In the end authorities concluded Scott and his transition team did not willingly delete public records shortly before Scott was sworn into office. But the investigation ended without "absolute certainty" that authorities were able to recover all the emails that were written or sent to Scott and those helping him before his inauguration in January 2011.
Florida has a broad public records law and requires emails and other documents to be made public although there are exemptions if the documents cover items such as open criminal investigations
Andrews is currently involved in a lawsuit in which he is seeking to purchase land near the governor's mansion where his law offices are located. The state is also trying to buy the property and insists it has the right to acquire the property first. A circuit court sided with Andrews but the state is trying to appeal the decision.
As part of the lawsuit over the property Andrews has sought detailed public records regarding why state officials initially said they did not want the property but then changed their minds. He has asked for emails and text messages and other data.
On Monday Andrews filed three separate lawsuits against Scott, Bondi and the Department of State asking for a court to force the officials to hand over the records and to pay his attorney fees.
The lawsuit against Scott includes several allegations, including that the one-time chief of staff for former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and Scott's former chief of staff Steve MacNamara testified under oath that they used private accounts to conduct state business. The lawsuit contends that Scott himself sent or received emails that were never turned over.
Another part of the lawsuit contends that public records were altered by the Scott administration.
Andrews said in the lawsuit that he received two sets of calendars for John Konkus, who worked under Carroll until she abruptly resigned, that were different. The lawsuit said one set, which was produced for a public records request, did not list any meetings, which was different from one that was handed over to state prosecutors.
Prosecutors obtained the calendars as part of a criminal investigation into another Carroll aide. Andrews was one of the lawyers who represented Carletha Cole. She was arrested in 2011 and accused of giving a reporter a secret recording containing a conversation between herself and Konkus.
Cole's attorneys asserted their client was being set up because she witnessed unprofessional behavior by Carroll and other employees, including walking in on Carroll and a female aide in a "compromising position." Carroll firmly denied the allegations.
This past August prosecutors reached an agreement that will result in the charges dropped against Cole next year if she stays out of legal trouble.
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