Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to pay a Tallahassee lawyer $700,000 in taxpayer money to settle seven public records lawsuits alleging the governor, and several members of his staff, violated state law when they created email accounts to shield their communications from state public records laws and then withheld the documents.
The lawsuits were filed by Steven R. Andrews, who has been embroiled in litigation with Scott since 2012, when the governor wanted the state to buy a building in which Andrews’ firm is located near the governor’s mansion.
The settlement, first obtained by the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau, is precedent-setting in that it is the first time in state history that a sitting governor and attorney general have been sued successfully for violations of Florida’s public records laws. It is also the third legal defeat in recent months for the governor, and the second time he has agreed to use state dollars to end a lawsuit against him. Also signing the agreement is Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Scott and the Cabinet in June agreed to pay $55,000 to St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner, open government advocacy groups and several media organizations, including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who accused Scott and the Cabinet of violating the state’s open meeting laws when they allowed staff to use back channels to oust former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey with no public discussion or vote.
“We settled, and it was the right thing to do for the state,” said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.
Andrews would not comment.
“It is clear this governor has made a calculated decision that violating the constitutional rights is the cost of doing business — a cost he doesn’t have to bear,” said Weidner, whose case against the governor and Cabinet was settled in July. “While these numbers are shocking, you can’t calculate the cost to citizens of the state for government that is operating in darkness. The real costs will be borne in years to come for a government that operates in contempt for fundamental right to records.” Story here.