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Gov and Cabinet declare legal war over mansion expansion, lose first round

A Leon County circuit judge Tuesday rejected accusations by Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet that challenged the integrity of John K. Aurell, a prominent North Florida lawyer and son-in-law of former Gov. LeRoy Collins.

"I see no breach of contract and no violation of ethics on the part of Mr. Aurell,'' Judge John C. Cooper declared as he heard arguments from 14 lawyers who are battling over whether the state can buy land near the Governor's Mansion and The Grove, a neighboring estate once owned by the Collins family.

Aurell is married to Jane Collins, daughter of the late governor and a member of a commission that oversees the mansion. The family sold the house and surrounding grounds to the state in 1985 but retained several nearby lots. Last year the family donated papers, furnishing and memorabilia valued at more than $400,000 to the state.

The original lawsuit against Scott and 15 other state officials was filed last year by lawyer Steven Andrews after the state interceded and claimed the right to buy lots owned by the Collins estate. Andrews has a law office on one of the lots and contract to buy the lot from the estate.

Story by Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan here.

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