The Governor of Florida Really Wants to Keep His Email Secret

by | October 7, 2014

By Mary Ellen Klas

After striking out in Florida court, Gov. Rick Scott has hired a California law firm to fight the subpoena ordering Google to release details about private email accounts believed to be used by the governor and his staff to conduct public business.

California attorney John A. Hartog filed a petition in Santa Clara County court on Friday attempting to quash the release of what could be potentially embarrassing details about the use of Gmail accounts held by the governor and two of his staff.

The decision to carry the fight to California came after Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Charles A. Francis twice ordered the governor and his lawyers to stop fighting the request for basic information from Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews.

Andrews is seeking documents that identify the IP address of the Gmail accounts held by the governor, first lady Ann Scott's former assistant Sarah Hansford, and Scott's former assistant Brad Piepenbrink.

He alleges that the accounts were opened to allow staff to circumvent Florida's public records law and believes the petition filed in California is an "attempt to delay the release until after the election." He is not asking for the content of the emails but wants information that identifies when the accounts were opened and by whom.

"It seems they have something to hide,'' Andrews said. "Why would the governor spend so much money on California lawyers to stop this from getting to court? If I was a cynic, I would say there's a political motive to this."

The governor's office responded with a statement.

"It's no secret that this case, and its multiple companions, is simply Andrews seeking out revenge for his personal grudge against the Cabinet and state government," said Frank Collins, the governor's communications director.

For the past two years, Andrews has been aggressively seeking access to public records from the Scott administration and has forced the administration turn over records of text messages and emails on private accounts that it initially said did not exist.

Andrews said when he issued the subpoena last week, Google told him they had been following the case and were prepared to release the information to him on Wednesday. But the move by the Scott's newly hired lawyers could effectively delay the release of the documents until after the election.

Attempts to reach Scott's outside counsel on the case, California attorney John A. Hartog, and Jacksonville attorney Thomas E. Bishop were unsuccessful.

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. After numerous delays, including a change in lawyers, Andrews persuaded the judge in September to approve a subpoena to order Google to turn over the information.

Scott acknowledged for the first time this summer 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."

However, emails and text messages turned over to Andrews after he filed the lawsuit show that top members of the governor's staff routinely used private email accounts and personal cell phones to conduct public business, even though the governor's office had a written policy that discouraged the use of private accounts.

(c)2014 The Miami Herald