Did Gov. Scott Withhold Records On Purpose?

Did Gov. Scott purposely withhold emails that were public record? (Photo courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott.)

Did Gov. Scott purposely withhold emails that were public record? (Photo courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott.)

By Tristram Korten
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Did Gov. Rick Scott intentionally break the law by withholding emails in a personal account from which he conducted state business? That question will now be raised in court.

A Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled this week that an ongoing lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott can be amended to include the complaint that Scott purposely withheld information he was required to make public, or that he purposely delayed releasing that information.

Tallahassee lawyer Steve Andrews sued the governor last year in a property dispute. During the course of the lawsuit he requested emails that the governor’s staff said didn’t exist. A lengthy legal fight ensued, and nearly 200 emails were released.

According to WLRN public radio:

The ruling follows last month’s release of nearly 200 pages of emails that Scott’s lawyer said didn’t exist. The documents show the governor used a private account to discuss government business like the state budget and possible vetoes.

Scott previously said his private email was not used for matters involving the state.

The AP reports:

Andrews said the sudden decision to turn over the emails came after state officials previously denied to him that any such emails existed.

“It’s a violation of the public records laws (that) when you ask for the email accounts of the governor, they don’t give you the email accounts and then two years after we ask for the emails they suddenly provide them to us,” Andrews told Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis.

It is not a violation of law to have a private email account, but it would be a violation if someone asked for emails and the governor’s office failed to turn them over. Andrews has cited past letters from the Scott administration and from Scott’s attorney contending that they had previously turned over all records.

Scott’s attorney argued that the case should not allowed to be amended, but lost, according to the AP:

Francis instead gave Andrews 20 days to amend his lawsuit — and then 20 days for the Scott administration to respond. A hearing on the case could come early next year. The judge did tell Andrews to refrain from making arguments that voice opinions about Scott’s motives or reasons for failing to turn over the records.

Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, predicted the court would ultimately throw out Andrews’ lawsuit.

“Steve Andrews makes his living by suing the state and launching personal attacks and we are confident the courts will ultimately ignore his baseless arguments,” Schutz said in an email.