Rick Scott stepped to the podium to start a Tallahassee press conference when a man approached him with a handshake.
“Mr. Scott,” the man said. “I have a subpoena here for you.”
Scott’s brief smile fell from his face as he grabbed the subpoena.
Scott didn’t know it at the time, but he had indirectly just come in contact with a man who would become a persistent thorn in his side for the next four years: Steven R. Andrews, a Republican Tallahassee trial lawyer with mad-scientist hair and a flair for headline-grabbing.
Andrews had sent the process server at the time — Aug. 10, 2010, to be exact — to deliver a lawsuit that sought to force Scott to disclose a sealed deposition he gave in a healthcare lawsuit six days before announcing his bid for governor. Andrews lost that suit, which sought to declare Scott a “public hazard.”
Now, almost four years later to the day, Andrews is still vexing Scott over public disclosure.
On Wednesday, Andrews won a battle in a public-records lawsuit against Scott’s administration when a Tallahassee judge ruled that Google and Yahoo must disclose information about private email accounts held by Scott as well as his current and former employees.
Asked later by reporters if he or his staffers used the accounts to discuss public business privately, Scott issued a blanket denial.
“Absolutely not. We follow the law,” Scott said. “This is just an individual that sues the state, tries to cause problems”
Brace yourself for more “problems,” governor.
Andrews has unearthed evidence indicating the private email accounts might have been used for public business — despite Scott’s much-ballyhooed “Project Sunburst,” which was supposed to provide unprecedented transparency in Florida government.
In March 2013, Scott’s former chief of staff emailed the governor’s private account, firstname.lastname@example.org, to urge the governor to appoint state Sen. John Thrasher as lieutenant governor. Scott sent the email to Sunburst — but he waited more than a month to do it.
Before that, in January 2012, a deputy chief of staff sent a text message to the Department of Education’s secretary that said, “Gov just shot me an email that you called. Did you need more clarification from our end?”
Neither of these emails, however, appeared in records requests fulfilled by the governor’s office when Andrews requested them as he pressed a separate lawsuit concerning the sale of a parcel of land near the Governor’s Mansion where Andrews office sits.
In the property dispute, Andrews and state officials sued and countersued each other. Andrews is prevailing so far in that case and has since filed his public-records action to obtain more emails from the governor.
Andrews said the land dispute was likely rooted in personal spite by Scott, still bitter about Andrews’ involvement in the 2010 “public hazard” suit over the deposition Scott gave regarding his healthcare company at the time, Solantic.
Andrews said the state, which had declined for years to exercise an option to buy the land he wanted, suddenly changed course under Scott.
“They can turn off this light switch anytime,” Andrews said. “We didn’t pick this fight. They did. They can end it.”
But Andrews acknowledges he hasn’t made life easier for himself.
In 2012, Andrews successfully represented a former state employee, Carletha Cole, accused of disseminating a secret recording of then-Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll’s chief of staff criticizing Scott’s chief of staff. As the case intensified, it grew more bizarre and Cole alleged that she was fired after witnessing Carroll in a lesbian relationship.
Carroll denied it, but then garnered unflattering headlines by saying “usually black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”
That case came just two years after Andrews sued Scott over the Solantic deposition. Scott is “the corporate spawn of Satan,” Andrews said then.
“I liked the alliteration,” Andrews says nowadays.
At the time, Andrews was affiliated with Scott’s rivals, Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum and Democratic state CFO Alex Sink. Andrews takes credit for unearthing an old deposition in which Scott pleaded the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination 75 times.
Scott’s refusal to release the separate Solantic deposition — and his press conference where he was subpoenaed and continually called the deposition a “private matter” — damaged his candidacy. Internal Scott tracking polls indicated he lost double-digit support.
In the prior governor’s race, in 2006, Andrews was affiliated with a shadowy political committee that alternately tried to show then-Republican Charlie Crist was either gay or had fathered a child out of wedlock, perhaps due to a rape.
Crist called the allegations “scurrilous.”
Today, Crist is a Democrat and he’s running against Scott.
But Andrews is doing the same old thing: shining a light on Scott that’s giving him political heat.