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Fla. Attorney General ends bid to force testimony

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is dropping her effort to force a newspaper reporter to testify in a criminal case involving a former aide to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Bondi last week asked an appeals court to let prosecutors interview Matt Dixon, a reporter with the Florida Times-Union.

But late Wednesday Bondi's office withdrew the appeal.

A spokeswoman for Bondi acknowledged the withdrawal but said she could not comment on the decision since it involves an ongoing criminal case.

Carletha Cole, a former aide to Carroll, was arrested in 2011. She was accused of giving Dixon a secret recording containing a conversation between Cole and John Konkus, Carroll's chief of staff.

The appeal filed by Bondi contended that the criminal case against Cole could fall apart if prosecutors could not interview Dixon.

The case against Cole has yet to go to trial. But it has led to a swirl of allegations, including one in which Cole said she found Carroll in a "compromising position" with another female aide in the office. Carroll has called the allegations "false and absurd."

Prosecutors first tried to subpoena Dixon in October, but the Florida Times-Union fought the request. A circuit judge in November ruled against prosecutors, saying they did not show a compelling reason for Dixon to testify.

In her appeal last Friday, Bondi said prosecutors wanted to ask Dixon if Cole ever told him she recorded Konkus without his knowledge. The appeal stated that without Dixon's testimony the criminal case could become "no more than a swearing contest between workplace rivals if the defendant denies making the recording without Mr. Konkus' permission."

Under Florida law, journalists have limited protection from testifying in cases they are involved with professionally.

The newspaper in 2011 placed on its website the recording between Cole and Konkus. Konkus can be heard saying that Gov. Rick Scott's then-chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, is afraid of Carroll. Konkus also complained that Scott "is not leading."

Cole, who was fired last year, is charged with a third-degree felony — disclosure of intercepted oral or electronic communication — and could face up to five years in prison. It is illegal in Florida to record someone without the person's consent, although there have been legal questions about whether the law applies in public buildings.