State Politics

Scott’s lawyers ask California judge to rule on Gmail records after election

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott Miami Herald

Gov. Rick Scott’s lawyers have asked a judge in California to wait until after the election to decide whether Google can release details about the Gmail accounts used by the governor and two former members of his staff.

Lawyers for the governor filed notice for a Nov. 7 hearing, three days after the election, in which they are asking a judge to quash a subpoena sought by Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews.

Andrews is suing the governor to get access to emails in Scott’s private account, alleging that he and his staff created the accounts to circumvent Florida’s open records law when conducting sensitive public business. The hearing date was set without his input.

Last month, a Florida judge ordered the governor to stop fighting the subpoena, but the governor took the battle across the country and hired a California lawyer to fight it in Google’s hometown. On Monday, the governor's office announced that he will no longer have taxpayers pay for the legal expenses to fight this in California but would not say who is paying the bill.

“Andrews’ tactics in the Florida action are a ploy to force the revelation of irrelevant private material so that it can be introduced into a public court file, and later, widely disseminated,’’ wrote Daniel J. Leahy, attorney for Scott, in a memo to the court.

Andrews is pushing back. On Monday, he served the governor with notice to appear in a Santa Clara County courtroom for the Nov. 7 hearing and called for the governor to appear in a videotape deposition in Tallahassee on Oct. 28 about his gov.rls@gmail.com account.

Scott spokesman John Tupps called it a “fishing expedition” for information “that is not a public record” and he accused Andrews of “seeking out revenge for his personal grudge against the Cabinet and state government.”

Leahy is representing Scott and two of his former staff assistants, Brad Piepenbink and Sarah Hansford. He contends that Google may not release the information about who set up the Gmail accounts, and when, without their permission unless Andrews puts a Google executive under oath.

Andrews said he considers the latest legal move another stalling tactic in his two-year fight to get access to the governor’s records.

“He’s flouting the public records laws by using taxpayer money to defend his own misconduct,’’ Andrews said Monday “If he would sign an affidavit that he never used any private emails for public business then that assertion will ring more true.”

Andrews accused Scott of using the same “corporate legal tactics” he used as head of the hospital corporation he started when he was accused of Medicaid fraud — “file lawsuits to quash subpoenas in other jurisdictions, scorched earth tactics to avoid producing documents and endless delays.”

Scott’s company was fined $1.7 billion after whistleblowers reported he used two sets of books — one for the public and one for insiders — to shield its fraudulent billing habits; Scott was not prosecuted.

Scott’s lawyers say Andrews is harassing the governor in retribution for a property dispute he has with the state. They argue he is not entitled to know the IP addresses of the Gmail accounts held by the governor and his aides because they could reveal “identifying information and location of any computer used to log in to the email accounts, regardless of who owns the computer.”

Leahy said that if Google reveals who set up the Gmail accounts, and when they were set up, it would be an invasion of privacy. The governor has said that the Gmail account he opened after he became governor is not used for public business.

“Although Andrews couched the Florida action as a pursuit of a legal right, the Florida action is little more than a manifestation of Andrews’ animus for the [Executive Office of the Governor] and state government, expressed in part through a pattern of hectoring public records demands,’’ Leahy wrote.

Although Scott’s lawyers have claimed the governor does not use the Gmail account for public purposes, Andrews says there is evidence to the contradict the governor’s claims.

He has found at least three emails to Scott from his former chief of staff Steve MacNamara sent to the governor’s private email address. In each of them, MacNamara offers Scott advice about how to do his job.

Scott’s staff said he forwarded those emails to his public account because they related to public business but Andrews is skeptical, since there are other text messages that refer to emails from the governor.

“The question is, has he only had three emails involving public business on his private account?’’ Andrews asked. “The burden is on him to show if he uses his private email for public business. It’s hard to believe there were only three.”

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas.

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