State Politics

Gov. Rick Scott, Cabinet settle lawsuit over the firing of former FDLE commissioner

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, and other media organizations over the behind-the-scenes firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

The proposed agreement, if approved by the Cabinet at its June 23 meeting, provides for the governor and Cabinet to revise their email policies, refrain from using aides as conduits, pay attorneys fees and change other policies, including:

▪ Revised procedures that are Sunshine-compliant for any appointment made by the governor and Cabinet;

▪ A re-do of the interim appointment of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen in accordance with the revised procedures;

▪ A policy requiring the governor, Cabinet members and identified senior staff to promptly forward all public records sent or received on a private account to a government e-mail account;

▪ Recording and broadcasting on the Internet any meeting of the Cabinet aides;

▪ Mandatory Sunshine Law training for all employees of the governor and Cabinet members; and

▪ Recognition that Cabinet aides cannot be used as conduits to skirt the Sunshine Law. The agreement also calls for the entry of a final judgment with a judge having continuing jurisdiction to enforce the agreement on a permanent basis.

In addition, the governor and Cabinet will be required to pay $55,000.00 in attorneys’ fees and costs to Sarasota attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen, who represented the plaintiffs in the case.

“My clients hope this proposal will keep Florida as the Sunshine State and as the leader in transparency,” Mogensen said in a statement. “My clients expect the agreement to be followed. What happened to Commissioner Bailey should never occur again.”

The case was brought by Matt Weidner, Citizens for Sunshine and numerous statewide media organizations after Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, told Commissioner Bailey to pack up his office within hours as the Cabinet had agreed to the governor’s unilateral decision to replace him withRick Swearingen. Florida’s Sunshine law requires such decisions to be made by the governor and Cabinet at a public meeting, not behind closed doors.

“While the settlement marks the end of this case, the terms of the agreement represent a powerful new beginning for the citizens of Florida,” said Weidner, the lead plaintiff in the case.

Andrew Swain, a board member of plaintiff Citizens for Sunshine, an open-government advocacy group, called the agreement “a real victory for the citizen and media organizations."

He said his organization "will keep a close eye on the governor and Cabinet to ensure full adherence to the terms of the agreement.”

The settlement also calls for a change in policy that requires elected officials to move their email correspondence from their private email accounts to their public accounts. Scott has drawn a lawsuit over his practice of allowing staff to use private email accounts to conduct public business.

The burden now shifts to individual citizens who should exercise their constitutional right to request these records, to become informed and hold their elected officials and staff accountable,” Swain said.

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