Romano: Rick Scott loves spending your tax dollars to fight his court battles

Florida Gov. Rick Scott talks to the media at the Florida Capital in March after Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed a court ruling to overhaul the state's system of restoring felon rights. (AP Photo)  [Mark Wallheiser]
Florida Gov. Rick Scott talks to the media at the Florida Capital in March after Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed a court ruling to overhaul the state's system of restoring felon rights. (AP Photo) [Mark Wallheiser]
Published Apr. 7, 2018

He promised eight years ago that no one would be more focused on employment opportunities than he would, and for at least one industry, Rick Scott has exceeded expectations.

Florida's governor has been a one-man windfall for lawyers.

Pick an amendment — any amendment — and there's a decent chance Scott has challenged its constitutional boundaries. Scott and Florida have been sued over the First Amendment. Over the Second. The Fourth and the 14th, too.

Time and again, the state has engaged in lengthy, and quite often, fruitless court challenges. It's almost as if Scott doesn't care one bit about the outrageous attorney fees he's piled up.

And maybe that's because you're paying the bills.

A study by the Associated Press in 2017 showed state taxpayers have been coughing up an average of more than $40 million every year in attorney fees and judgments against Scott's administration. And that doesn't include the time wasted in Attorney General Pam Bondi's office.

The state has unsuccessfully fought charges it violated the Sunshine Law. It unsuccessfully fought to defend a law that sought to drug test welfare recipients. It unsuccessfully fought for a law that kept pediatricians from asking parents about gun safety in their homes. It unsuccessfully fought for a law targeting companies doing business with Cuba. It unsuccessfully fought lawsuits involving disabled inmates and Medicaid coverage for children. It unsuccessfully fought a court ruling paving the way for gay marriage.

You might have noticed the key word here is unsuccessful.

And yet, Scott and Bondi are at it again. They are appealing a judge's ruling that Florida's system for restoring the civil rights of felons is, basically, hogwash.

While addressing a request to delay the process, the judge called the state's arguments "disingenuous'' and "astounding'' and said they lacked both common sense and reality.

On the bright side, he didn't criticize the state's use of commas.

The decision to fight the felon voter rights decision is a perfect example of Scott's hubris. Not to mention his penchant for funding attorneys at the expense of taxpayers.

Consider the circumstances around this fight:

The state has a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would overhaul the restoration of felon rights and make this court battle moot.

A new governor will also be elected in November and could change the state's policies just as Scott did in 2011 and Charlie Crist before him.

So Scott is spending your money on a legal fight that, essentially, could be worthless by the end of the year.

And that doesn't even take into consideration that Florida's method of restoring rights (or not restoring, as it turns out) is as extreme as anywhere in the nation. The state won a court case on this topic in 2005, but that was before Scott and the current Cabinet slammed the door on the restoration of rights.

In an amicus brief filed in the current case, the program director for Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights pointed out that about 155,000 felons had their rights restored in Crist's four years in the Governor's Mansion while about 2,800 were restored in the first seven years of Scott's tenure.

"The difference here is the numbers or the lack thereof,'' said Mark Schlakman, who was also a clemency aide to Gov. Lawton Chiles. "The court upheld Florida's scheme in the previous case, but it wasn't contemplating that there would be little or no action or activity because the reality is we are now looking at staggeringly low numbers of restorations.''

The state argued in its motion last week that coming up with a new system by the end of the month, as the judge ordered, was unreasonably fast. Kudos to them for pulling that off with a straight face.

Because Scott managed to revamp the entire system barely two months into his first term as governor. He gave no advance notice that he was changing the policy, and the Cabinet discussed it for a grand total of six minutes before voting unanimously in favor of it on March 9, 2011.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was the only one who even brought up a question. Was there a basis in FBI statistics, or elsewhere, to justify adding a five-year wait before felons could even apply, he wondered.

"What's the thinking behind the numbers?'' Putnam asked Scott.

"It's what seemed reasonable,'' Scott replied.

That's it? It seemed reasonable?

The governor offered no studies, no expert testimony, no statistics to back up this gut feeling. In fact, the few studies that have been conducted show felons are less likely to reoffend if their civil rights have been restored.

With that in mind, do you know what sounds reasonable to me?

Let Scott pay for his own frivolous court cases.