After two months of behind-the-scenes legal combat, the attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott, all three Cabinet members and most major Florida news outlets will try to mediate their differences in a lawsuit that accuses the four state officials of violating the Sunshine Law.
The April 22 mediation session in Tallahassee will mean that a scheduled videotaped deposition of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey will be rescheduled. Bailey was forced to retire in December by Scott's general counsel, with no public vote or discussion, even though by law the FDLE chief also reports to all three elected Cabinet members.
Michael Barfield, a paralegal for Sarasota attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen, who represents the news organizations, said the plaintiffs agreed to mediation after repeated efforts by lawyers for Scott and the Cabinet to delay or limit the scope of Bailey's sworn statements.
Barfield said the news outlets are seeking, among other things, a new public two-step process for the hiring of Cabinet agency heads; an executive order from Scott prohibiting state officials from using private email accounts for public business; a requirement that high-level state officials must post text messages and emails on the Project Sunburst web site within 24 hours; and a voiding of the Jan. 13 vote that made Rick Swearingen the new commissioner of FDLE (Swearingen could be reappointed).
In conversations, Barfield said state officials, through their lawyers, have been receptive to the requests. "We'll go to mediation and see if they're serious," he said.
The Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and Associated Press are among the news organizations that have sued Scott and Cabinet members.
Barfield said he and Mogensen met for three hours with Bailey last week. He said news outlets also are insisting that Bailey's deposition must take place before any settlement can occur.
"There will be no settlement absent some discovery," he said. "Even if we go to mediation, we're still taking Bailey's deposition."
The two sides have selected former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding as mediator. In his last similar role as a hearing officer, Harding ruled in December that former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston did not violate the university's code of student conduct.