1. Florida Politics

Florida Gov. Rick Scott defends payout in records lawsuit

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott is defending the use of taxpayer money to pay a hefty legal settlement, but there are questions about whether his administration was transparent in how it got the money.

State officials last week paid $700,000 to Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews to settle seven lawsuits. The lawsuits contended that Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other officials flouted Florida's public records law. The settlement is thought to be one of the larger payments ever approved in an open government case in Florida history.

The Scott administration said it is legitimate to have taxpayers pay to settle the lawsuits because they arose out of the governor's "public duties."

"Steven Andrews sued multiple state agencies in multiple suits," said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott. "Florida law has long recognized that public agencies are entitled to have attorney's fees covered for actions arising from public duties."

But documents obtained by the Associated Press show that the Scott administration paid $120,000 of the settlement out of an account used for office expenses and operations. They got legislative approval for the account weeks before the settlement was finalized, and the paperwork used on a budget amendment submitted to the Legislature does not mention the settlement.

Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chief, said he did not have a problem with using taxpayer money for the settlement. But he said the governor's office should have been clear about what they planned to do with the money.

"It's appropriate for settlement dollars to be paid by the state, but it does appear the proper process was not followed," said Lee, a Brandon Republican.