Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are in the process of hiring yet another attorney to defend them against a lawsuit filed by media organizations accusing them of Sunshine Law violations.
Florida taxpayers are footing the bill for the state’s defense, which comes after newspapers and open government advocates accused Scott of subverting open meeting laws by using surrogates to communicate with the Cabinet about firing former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
The lawsuit names Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam individually as defendants, as well as “the Florida Cabinet, a joint collegial body.”
Bondi said it didn’t become clear until Friday that the joint body needed its own lawyer, and she said her office wasn’t in a position to take the case since each individual had already hired outside representation. She said emergency action was warranted because the defendants’ responses to the lawsuit are due by April 6 and the next regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting is after that.
Bondi wanted her colleagues to grant her the power to hire the attorney for a contract worth as much as $50,000. But Atwater and Putnam both expressed reservations.
“I’m not interested in letting fast overtake wise or thoughtful,” Putnam said.
The Times-Union and First Coast News are among the plaintiffs, in addition to nearly all of Florida’s largest newspapers. Also named as plaintiffs are the Associated Press, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner, who is considered the lead.
The tab for state taxpayers could surpass $300,000.
Bondi’s contract with the GrayRobinson law firm could be worth as much as $100,000, and Putnam retained the Gunster Yoakley & Stewart firm for a contract worth a maximum $50,000. Atwater has a contract with the Radey Thomas Yon & Clark firm worth an estimated $100,000.
Scott’s office did not fulfill a request for information about his attorneys, but the Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that the governor hired four lawyers who will be paid as much as $400 per hour.
If the court rules against Scott and the Cabinet, taxpayers could also be on the hook to pay the costs for Andrea Flynn Mogensen, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
The case has moved slowly since it was filed Feb. 3. Bailey is scheduled for a deposition April 22, said Mogensen, who is based in Sarasota.
She said Scott and the Cabinet knew all along that they were named individual and as a unit, so she wasn’t sure why the hiring of a lawyer to represent the joint body wasn’t done sooner.
Scott and the Cabinet agreed to hold one or two special meetings next week to pick their joint attorney, and they also plan to ask the court to give them an extension on the April 6 deadline to respond to the allegations.
Mogensen said the plaintiffs would not agree to that, especially since she expects many similarities in their various responses to the lawsuit.
“It’s been somewhat of a strategy on their part to delay it,” she said. “I think that any party should know to retain counsel.”
Original article here.