TALLAHASSEE— Rick Scott, the Republican frontrunner for Florida governor, said Tuesday that a video deposition he gave in a lawsuit over a health care company is none of the public's business.
"It's a private matter and I will not release the deposition," Scott said.
Scott made the comments at a hastily called press conference in which he unexpectedly flew to Tallahassee to accuse his Republican rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, of abusing his power by attempting to sic state investigators on the company involved in the lawsuit, Solantic Urgent Care, which Scott founded in 2001.
He said the attorney general's campaign staff were also phoning and knocking on the doors of current and former employees, and customers of Solantic's to trash the chain of walk-in clinics.
"This is a clear abuse of power. This is exactly what thugs do in third-world countries to keep power," Scott said. "Bill McCollum is the Tonya Harding of Florida politics," he said, referring to the figure skater linked to a brutal attack on a rival in 1994.
Earlier in the day, McCollum savaged Scott. He said his rival "ripped off … senior citizens, veterans and sick people," a reference to the $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine that Scott's former company, Columbia/HCA hospital chain, paid about a decade ago.
McCollum said his campaign staff — not him — asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement two weeks ago to investigate a former Solantic doctor's claims of billing improprieties, a maneuver that officials with the Jacksonville-based chain of walk-in clinics said was an unfair "political stunt."
His lips curling and blue eyes flaring intensely, Scott was already angry before he walked into the Florida Press Center late Tuesday afternoon.
But before he could even start addressing the media, Scott was approached at the podium by a process server who hit him with a subpoena in a new lawsuit filed the day before by Tallahassee trial lawyer Steve Andrews, a contributor to both McCollum and Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer who's also running for governor. Andrews' subpoena seeks to take Scott's deposition Aug. 20 at the press center, home of the Capitol press corps.
"I'm doing God's work. I'm not doing this for any campaign," Andrews said. "This guy Scott is the corporate spawn of Satan."
Andrews' lawsuit seeks to obtain the video deposition that Scott gave in a separate lawsuit against Solantic. In that case, Dr. P. Mark Glencross said Solantic unlawfully used his name in 2004 when it filed state paperwork designed to ensure that clinics have a medical director in charge.
Glencross, saying he was unaware the clinic was designating him as a medical director, waited until 2008 to file his lawsuit and was only able to depose Scott six days before April 13, when the candidate announced his bid for governor.
Within a month, the case was settled and the parties signed a confidentiality agreement, shielding the settlement terms and the deposition. The licensing issue was cleared up, and the state's Agency for Health Care Administration has no current or former investigations into Solantic, which submitted the proper paperwork within a year.
Just what Scott said in the deposition is anyone's guess. But because it was captured on video, the deposition's release could become fodder for an attack ad — this race's signature, with both sides spending upward of $40 million-and-counting on negative commercials.
The lawsuits, accusations and mean-spirited ads reveal the vicious inner workings of campaigns that stand behind the smiling faces of the candidates. Tuesday's verbal slugfest was the clearest sign that the Republican race was tightening with the Aug. 24 primary just two weeks away. Scott has put McCollum on the ropes for weeks, but it wasn't until Tuesday that the political newcomer seemed on the defensive.
The new 46-page lawsuit filed by Andrews actually seeks to declare Scott and Solantic ''public hazards'' and reads like one long attack ad against Scott. The suit rehashes the Columbia/HCA story, suggests Solantic broke the law and mentioned the allegations of yet another doctor, Randy Prokes, who said in an e-mail that Solantic committed a number of questionable billing practices that distantly echo the Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud case.
Prokes hasn't returned Times-Herald calls to his cell, home and office for more than a week.
McCollum's staff turned his e-mail over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.
Scott and Solantic officials said Prokes was fired from the clinic for writing prescriptions for opiates without following proper guidelines, though the matter was never referred to authorities.
"The allegations made by Dr. Prokes are untrue and unfounded," Nathan Newman, Solantic's chief medical officer said in a conference call just before Scott's press conference. "Solantic is being unfairly and wrongly used by the McCollum campaign as a political stunt."
Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com