A Tallahassee judge this week ordered Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to stop fighting attempts to allow Google to turn over basic information about the private email accounts used by the governor and his staff to conduct state business.
Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis last month ordered the company to disclose when the email accounts held by the governor and his staff were established and by whom. The action is part of a pending public records lawsuit filed against Scott and Bondi by Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews.
But the Jacksonville attorney hired by the governor to fight the effort refused to agree on the language of the subpoena, delaying it for weeks. Andrews then asked the judge to intervene and Francis overruled Scott’s attorney, Thomas Bishop, on Thursday.
The two-page order allows Andrews to seek subscriber information for the gmail accounts used by the governor and two of his former staff members, Sarah Hansford and Brad Pipenbrink.
Andrews alleges that the governor’s office encouraged staff to use gmail accounts to circumvent the public records law. He believes that determining when the accounts were established will help determine who was involved.
Scott has said that his account, email@example.com, was used to communicate with his family members, not public business, and that he has “followed the law.”
However, emails to Scott’s gmail account have surfaced from his former chief of staff Steve MacNamara after MacNamara left the governor’s office.
Scott’s attorney, Thomas Bishop, objected to having Andrews seek the IP addresses of those who created the accounts. The judge’s ruling does not allow Andrews to seek access to the content of the emails between these accounts and others.
In May, Andrews first asked the governor’s office to turn over information about the Google account, as well as a Yahoo account used by the governor’s office, but Scott’s lawyers refused.
Colleen Andrews, a paralegal in the firm and Andrews’ wife, said that the governor has effectively delayed the subpoena for months by hiring Bishop, whose schedule interfered with the ability to get a hearing on the case until late in August.
“Is the governor afraid these records will lead to ‘secret state business’ not meant for access by Florida voters until after the election in November?” she asked. “Does ‘open government’ apply to everyone else but the governor, and if so, why is he not accountable?”
For the past two years, the Andrews firm has been aggressively seeking access to public records from the Scott administration and has forced the administration to turn over records of text messages and emails on private accounts that it initially said did not exist.
Only after Colleen Andrews found an email from an agency secretary to Scott’s deputy chief of staff did they learn of the emails and text messages. They subsequently asked for and received thousands of messages from several of the governor’s senior advisors.
The governor’s “code of conduct” states that employees should not use personal email accounts “unless such use is necessary upon a reasonable evaluation of the circumstances at hand” and then must forward the public record to his or her state account. But the emails and text messages indicate that the governor’s staff may have violated that policy, especially when dealing with communication about politically-sensitive information.
Scott acknowledged for the first time last month that he used a private email account but denied he used it for public business. He said Andrews was “just an individual that sues the state, tries to cause problems.”