A Tallahassee judge on Monday opened the door for a new complaint against Gov. Rick Scott that alleges he intentionally withheld public records in violation of state law, a charge that could result in sanctions against the governor after months of delay in the case.
Leon Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis ruled Monday at a hearing in his chambers that Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews may amend his existing public records lawsuit against the governor because the governor turned over 197-pages from Scott’s private Gmail account after he and his attorneys previously told the court the records did not exist.
“It’s a violation of the public records laws to wait 18 months to produce recordsand then two years after we request them they suddenly produce emails,’’ Andrews told the court.
Since Andrews filed the complaint against the governor in November 2013, the governor’s lawyers and his public records custodian said in legal documents that they could prove the governor had produced all the records. They also claimed that the governor did not use an Ipad to conduct public business and used his Gmail account only for private communictions.
On Nov. 24, the governor's office turned over documents that showed dozens of Gmails in which the governor discussed vetoing legislation, hospital costs and health care policy, university tuition, school testing, luring companies to Florida, choosing a lieutenant governor replacement, and other sensitive issues using his Gmail account and via an Ipad.
"Well, we now we know they can’t prove that,'' Andrews said.
Francis said that Andrews will be allowed to accuse the governor of intentionally withholding public records in his amended complaint, but the judge scolded Andrews for attempting to include in his complaint allegations relating to altering public records in another case involving the chief of staff to former Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and including in the record the FDLE report about the governor’s staff destroying transition emails.
“That’s not necessary,’’ Francis said, then pointed to the stack of Gmails turned over by the governor. “All I’m going to need when you get to proof is I’m going to need the stack of paper you’re going to prove it with.”
Scott’s attorney Thomas Bishop asked the court to strike from the record attempts by Andrews to include what he considered “gratituous, impertinent and scandalous” allegations about the governor’s attempts to shield his Gmail account from the public.
“This is an exercise in serial digression,’’ he said.
When asked after the hearing whether he advised the governor to wait until after the election to release the Gmails, to avoid showing that the governor may have attempted to circumvent the public records law by using his private account, Bishop referred all questions to the governor’s office.