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Scott wrong to boot appointee for 'malfeasance,' judge rules

Gov. Rick Scott had no authority to suspend a political appointee from office without providing any evidence of “malfeasance,” a circuit judge ruled Monday.

The decision by Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips represents a defeat for Scott and for a top adviser, Melinda Miguel, who had urged the governor to suspend David Di Pietro and Darryl Wright, a second member of the board of the North Broward Hospital District. The system operates under the business name Broward Health and is one of the largest tax-supported health systems in the U.S.

The judge quashed Scott's executive order and demanded that the suspended official be returned to office. Di Pietro, 36, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and Republican fund-raiser, said Scott had no authority to suspend him without providing a factual basis.

“I am pleased and gratified at the judge’s ruling,” Di Pietro said in a statement. “The order is vindication of my service at Broward Health ... I am proud of my record of fighting corruption at Broward Health, and with my reinstatement, I intend to continue to champion multiple transparency and accountability reforms.”

In her seven-page order, the judge wote: “The Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes demand that a suspension of any elected or appointed official ‘shall specify facts sufficient to advise both the officer and the Senate as to the charges made or the basis of the suspension.’”

Miguel had accused Di Pietro of malfeasance by supporting the hiring of an outside law firm to represent the board during Miguel's review of the hospital district's operations. That review began six days after the district's chief executive officer committed suicide on Jan. 23. Miguel sent Scott a  letter on March 18 in which she said the suspensions “would send a strong message to the Broward Health employees that interference, retaliation and malfeasance will not be tolerated.”