Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s disclosure of nearly 200 pages of emails from a private Google account could become key evidence in an ongoing lawsuit that charges that the governor flouted the state’s public records law.
The Scott administration released documents late last month that showed Scott, using a private account, exchanged emails with top aides and others on topics including vetoes, the state budget and his speeches. Scott has previously said he used a Google email account to communicate with his family and not for state business.
During a Monday hearing, a circuit judge agreed to let Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews amend an existing public records lawsuit he is pursuing against Scott. Andrews’ lawsuit contended that the governor’s office either did not give him records connected to a dispute over land near the governor’s mansion or needlessly delayed, giving him the records.
Andrews said the sudden decision to turn over the emails came after state officials previously denied to him that any such emails existed.
“It’s a violation of the public records laws (that) when you ask for the email accounts of the governor, they don’t give you the email accounts and then two years after we ask for the emails they suddenly provide them to us,” Andrews told Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis.
It is not a violation of law to have a private email account, but it would be a violation if someone asked for emails and the governor’s office failed to turn them over. Andrews has cited past letters from the Scott administration and from Scott’s attorney contending that they had previously turned over all records.
Thomas Bishop, a private attorney hired by the Scott administration, argued unsuccessfully that Andrews should not be allowed to amend his ongoing lawsuit to include new charges against the governor. He maintained that the governor’s office has turned over all records requested by Andrews.
“Whatever beef this petitioner has with the production is a matter for the ballot box, it is not a matter for this court, it is not a matter of law, it’s a matter of politics,” said Bishop, whose firm has gotten two state contracts worth $115,000 to defend the Scott administration.
Francis instead gave Andrews 20 days to amend his lawsuit – and then 20 days for the Scott administration to respond. A hearing on the case could come early next year. The judge did tell Andrews to refrain from making arguments that voice opinions about Scott’s motives or reasons for failing to turn over the records.
Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, predicted the court would ultimately throw out Andrews’ lawsuit.
“Steve Andrews makes his living by suing the state and launching personal attacks and we are confident the courts will ultimately ignore his baseless arguments,” Schutz said in an email.
Andrews is suing over records related to a dispute about land near the governor’s mansion that Andrews wants to buy. During the course of the ongoing legal tussle Andrews got permission from a Florida judge to ask Google about email accounts set up by Scott and other Scott aides. But the governor has privately hired lawyers in California to fight the request.