The Sunshine State's Sunshine Laws are some of the most robust public records laws on the books.
But according to an ongoing lawsuit, the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is facing off against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist today, used private email accounts to circumvent public records laws.
Here a few interesting tidbits: Scott has spent $100,000 of taxpayer money defending the case, according to the Miami Herald, and recently failed to appear at a mandatory deposition to answer questions under oath about the accounts. Instead, he attended a fundraiser for his re-election campaign in Coral Gables, Fla.
The allegations, and Scott's response, have cast a shadow not just over his campaign, but his current administration.
What are the specifics of the case?
Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, a Republican Tallahassee trial lawyer who has been involved in various lawsuits with Scott over the last four years, brought the lawsuit after he requested various public records from the Governor’s office and obtained evidence that Scott’s office had private email accounts. Andrews alleged those emails accounts had not been searched for records in violation of Florida’s public records law. Two other staffers are known to have created accounts as well. Ironically, Scott created a program called "Project Sunburst" in 2012, which was intended to post emails sent by top officials in real time on a publicly accessible website. Andrews argues Scott and his aides opened the accounts to keep some of their emails out of public view.
Andrews is seeking information about when the accounts were created, which computers were used to access them, who created the accounts, and the details of the emails. Scott originally used state funds in his legal defense, but has since announced he is spending his own money to fight the subpoena for records in California, where Google's offices are located. A Florida circuit court judge ordered Scott to stop fighting the records request from Google, but he has pushed on.
Scott failed to attend an Oct. 24 deposition in Tallahassee and instead attended a fundraiser in South Florida. A California attorney told the Tampa Bay Times that according to California's rules of civil procedure, Scott was required to attend that deposition unless he received the court's permission to change the date.
"A deposition is not scheduled just because Steven Andrews taps his heels and tries to make it so. All sides have to agree to a date before saying it is ‘scheduled,’” Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair told Fusion in an email. The campaign offered no further comment on the lawsuit.
It’s unclear if the judge will hold Scott in contempt for not showing up.
Is Scott kicking the can down the road so he can get re-elected first?
In mid-October, Scott’s lawyers asked for a postponement of a court decision that would decide whether Google can release details about the accounts. They asked for a date of Nov. 7, three days after elections, but it is now scheduled for Nov. 21.
Is this the first time Scott has had legal issues?
Before becoming governor, Scott was the CEO of Columbia/ HCA, a hospital company. Under his leadership, the company was fined a total of $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud, the largest such settlement in U.S. history.
Though Scott was not individually charged, he has stated:"There's no question that mistakes were made and as CEO, I have to accept responsibility for those mistakes."
What is the worst-case scenario for Scott?
The worst-case scenario would be that subpoenaed third party service providers like Google produce records revealing that Scott and some of his staff members established and used private email accounts to discuss state business, and those emails are made public. Any additional political fallout would depend on the details of those email conversations.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.