A gag order to silence Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's accuser was denied this week. (Photo by Florida Coastal School of Law.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Yesterday, a judge threw out an attempt to put a gag order on Carletha Cole, the woman accusing Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll of having an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer.

This was an attempt by State Attorney Willie Meggs to silence Cole as she faces criminal charges. Meggs filed a motion on Friday in Leon County Circuit Court to bar Cole and her lawyers from discussing with the press details of Cole’s case.

According to The News Service of Florida:

The gag order request, filed on Friday, comes in response to allegations by Cole that she walked in on Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and another female aid in a sexually compromising position. Meggs said recent actions by Cole and her lawyers is making it difficult to prosecute the case against Cole, a former Carroll aide who was fired and faces charges of illegally leaking tape recorded messages to a Jacksonville reporter. Carroll is not a party in the case.

“The efforts on the part of the defense to try this case in the media include an on camera interviews given by Mr. (Stephen) Webster (Cole’s attorney) to a local news station on at least two separate occasions within the last week,” Meggs wrote in his motion. “The extensive media coverage in this case will effect both the State and the Defense=s respective rights to a fair trial here in Leon County.”

Cole had been reaching out to media outlets claiming that a past incident involving a burning trash can was an example of intimidation from her co-worker, Beatriz Ramos — the woman Cole alleges was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Carroll.

The gag order — aimed at getting Cole to stop talking to the media — was subsequently denied on Tuesday. However, both sides were admonished by the judge for their conduct.

The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reported:

Circuit Court Judge Frank Sheffield declined Assistant State Attorney John Hutchins’ attempt to seal the case file and prevent lawyers representing former aide Carletha Cole from making statements to the media.

But Sheffield did hold a private meeting in his chambers Tuesday where he admonished lawyers on both sides, according to Steve Andrews, an attorney representing Cole.

“He told us that we cannot talk about the evidence in the case,” Andrews said …

“We didn’t have a hearing on the gag order, and I’m not going to enter a gag order, but I am expecting compliance with the rules of professional conduct in regard to extra-judicial statements,” [Sheffield] said.

Both the defense and the state attorney’s office have named the people they may interview as part of the case.

Among potential witnesses for the state: Brian Burgess, Gov. Rick Scott’s director of communications; John Konkus, Carroll’s chief of staff and the person who’s voice is on the illegally taped conversation; Dawn Hanson, Scott’s director of administration; and Matt Dixon, the Times-Union reporter who received the recording.

 Parties on both sides have since agreed to tone down their words at the request of the judge.
So far, Carrolll has been mostly mute on the matter — except to deny the allegations in a comment that insulted the gay community in Florida. She is also not required to take a lie detector test at this point.