Recently re-elected Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott agreed to terms with Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews regarding a dispute over public records disclosure involving a property close to the governor’s mansion. Andrews sued Scott in 2012 after the governor stated his intent to use state funds to buy a building near a property known as “The Grove,” in which Andrew’s office was located. Andrews accused Scott of using Google Gmail to correspond with staff about the deal, sidestepping Florida’s public-records laws. Suspecting missing correspondence between Scott and his staff during the records-gathering process, Andrews filed a lawsuit in California in order to obtain IP addresses from Google associated with Scott’s office. In April, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Arand ruled in favor of Andrews, essentially bringing the case to finality. A trial in the case was set to begin in June; however parties began negotiating terms of a settlement following the April ruling.
According to the Miami Herald, the parties agreed to a $700,000 settlement, with all of the money coming from state coffers. $445,000 of the settlement will come from the Department of Environmental Protection, with the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and the Department of State contributing to the penalty as well. Nondescriptly, Scott spokesperson Jackie Schutz responded to the news by saying, “We settled, and it was the right thing to do for the state.” On the same day as the settlement was agreed upon, Scott and Andrews also agreed to end the contract dispute over the property. According to that settlement, Andrews is given the option to purchase the building; however the state has been granted the first option if he decides to sell it. The state will be able to purchase a parking easement adjacent to the building. Scott intends to turn The Grove into a museum; however the property does not have any available parking.
The settlement marks the first time a sitting governor and sitting attorney general have been successfully sued involving Florida’s public-records law, although it is not the first legal woe for Scott this summer alone. It marks the second time a lawsuit against Scott’s office will require the use of state funds. Scott and members of his cabinet agreed in June to a $55,000 settlement with St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner, along with several media and open-government groups, to settle another transparency lawsuit. In that case, the groups accused Scott and his staff of using similar email backchannels to arrange for the ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. The Herald reports that at least $225,000 of state funds were used, not including non-disclosed governor’s office expenditures used to resolve litigation in that case.
Flagler Live/News Service of Florida – Jim Turner
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas
Wall Street Journal Law Blog – Jacob Gershman