Internet giants Google and Yahoo must disclose who established several email accounts held by Gov. Rick Scott and his current and former employees as part of a lawsuit pending in Tallahassee that claims the governor routinely circumvented the state’s open records law, a court ruled Wednesday.
Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Charles A. Francis ordered the companies to respond to a limited request by lawyer Steven A. Andrews to explain who created the Gmail and Yahoo accounts and when they were established.
The governor’s lawyers called the exercise a “fishing expedition” because the email accounts used by senior staff and the governor are private and not used for public business.
But Andrews argued that there is no way to verify whether the email accounts did not contain government business unless the court knows who created them and the owners of the accounts are put under oath. Andrews is claiming in court filings that the g-mail and Yahoo accounts are used to circumvent the state’s email system for government business.
Andrews has produced evidence that Scott and his staff have used the Google and Yahoo accounts to conduct some government business but, when asked to produce the documents, the governor’s office has replied that no emails exist. Florida law requires emails used for state business to be retained and not destroyed.
Andrews produced a document that shows that Scott has used at least one account, email@example.com, to conduct public business outside of the sunshine.
He has also found evidence that members of the executive office staff have forwarded documents to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas Bishop, a Jacksonville-based attorney hired by Scott to represent the governor’s office, argued that it is not relevant who created the website and when because the governor’s office has produced all the relevant records required under the state’s public records law.