TALLAHASSEE — A judge told lawyers Thursday that former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll can provide information in a case against an ex-employee charged with illegally releasing taped conversations from the lieutenant governor's office.
Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield released Carroll from his previous order giving her some protection from answering questions from defense attorneys.
"That was because you were concerned about them asking questions that would somehow impinge upon her office as lieutenant governor of the state of Florida," he told prosecutor John Hutchins. "Well, she's not anymore. So she's subject to (questioning) the same as anybody else."
The defendant, Carletha Cole, was arrested in 2011 and accused of giving a reporter a surreptitiously recorded conversation between Cole and Carroll's chief of staff. She was later fired.
Carroll stepped down Tuesday in the wake of an investigation into an alleged gambling operation that netted nearly 60 arrests. Carroll provided public relations work to the company before being elected.
The recording at the center of the criminal case was placed on the website of the Florida Times-Union. On it John Konkus, the chief of staff for Carroll, can be heard saying that Steve MacNamara, Gov. Rick Scott's former chief of staff, is afraid of Carroll. Konkus also complained that Scott "is not leading."
Cole's attorneys have asserted that their client was being set up because she witnessed unprofessional behavior by Carroll and other employees, including walking in on Carroll and a female aide in a "compromising position." Carroll, a former Navy officer who is married, has denied the allegations.
It is against Florida law to record someone without consent, but there have been questions about recordings made in public buildings. Cole is charged with a third-degree felony and faces a maximum five-year sentence if convicted.
Steve Andrews, Cole's lawyer, also complained to Sheffield about evidence against his client, particularly the metadata on the recording.
Metadata are descriptions of digital information — akin to a label on a jar — in this case, the date, time and duration of a recording and where it was variously stored. Andrews said the metadata is contradictory.
"I think we're entitled to better answers," Andrews said. "The court should consider disposing the case because it's impossible to defend." Sheffield declined the request.
Andrews also submitted copies of emails that he said suggested other tampered evidence.
One email from the information technology section of the governor's office referred to "final manicure" of Cole's email records in response to a reporter's public records request.
The email's author, Bob O'Lary, then in charge of fulfilling record requests for the governor's office, said it was just a reference to how to filter records for specific requests out of a massive amount of data.
"There was nothing nefarious about it," he said.
In an email purportedly from Carroll, she responded to Cole about a reporter's phone call.
"What does he want to interview me about?" Carroll wrote. "Always get details about what any reporter wants … This determines if I call them back or not.
"We always need our guards up with any Times-Union reporter," she wrote.