Pointing to “a series of unfortunate incidents,” media companies and other open-government backers filed an emergency motion Monday seeking to assure that Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet will preserve electronic information about the ouster of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
The motion came in a lawsuit filed earlier this month alleging that Scott and Cabinet members violated the state’s Sunshine Law by communicating through aides about the removal of Bailey in December and the appointment of new FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.
In the document filed Monday in Leon County circuit court, the plaintiffs in the case alleged that Scott and his staff got rid of public records in the past without properly storing them. It pointed to lost emails from Scott’s transition team after the 2010 election and “multiple anomalies” about preserving public records that have been an issue in an otherwise unrelated lawsuit filed by Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews against Scott.
The motion asks Circuit Judge George Reynolds III to issue a “preservation order” to properly maintain electronic data and to ensure that computer equipment will not be altered or destroyed. The order, if granted, would apply to Scott and the other defendants, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Nevertheless, the document only took issue with the Scott administration’s handling of public records, saying the governor “has had what can best be described as a series of unfortunate incidents when it comes to preserving records that he was required by law to preserve.”
The media organizations and other plaintiffs allege in the overall lawsuit that the Sunshine Law was violated because Scott and Cabinet members used aides as “conduits” to communicate about the Bailey ouster. Cabinet decisions are supposed to be made in public.
Scott’s office has denied that discussions about Bailey violated the Sunshine Law.
“It has been a longstanding convention for governor’s staff to provide information to Cabinet staff,” the governor’s office said in an email to reporters in late January. “This was the same process the Cabinet staff followed in respect to Gerald Bailey.”