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  1. Florida Politics

Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet to settle property lawsuit with Tallahassee lawyer

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will settle a lawsuit over access to property the state wants to acquire as part of a project to enhance the Governor's mansion. [Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP]
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will settle a lawsuit over access to property the state wants to acquire as part of a project to enhance the Governor's mansion. [Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP]
Published Jul. 29, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members will settle a three-year-old legal battle next week that will give the state access to property it wants to acquire to build a park near the Governor's Mansion.

The four officials plan to approve a settlement of three separate lawsuits at a Cabinet meeting next Wednesday. But that won't completely end the legal wars between Scott and Steve Andrews, an outspoken and politically active personal injury lawyer who called Scott "the corporate spawn of Satan" when he first ran for governor in 2010.

Scott has proposed a redesign of the land around the mansion, which is shielded from the public's view by a pawn shop, rooming house and electronics store.

Three years ago, Andrews tried to block the state from acquiring three lots and a 1924 two-story house that serves as his Tallahassee office for the park project.

Andrews' office is next to The Grove, a historic home built in the 1820s by Florida Territorial Gov. Richard Keith Call and a key element of the park project. The 10-acre site eventually was acquired by the late Gov. LeRoy Collins and his late wife, Mary Call Collins, a descendant of Gov. Call, and the state acquired it 1985.

Andrews won Round 1 in circuit court, but Scott appealed. As part of the discovery process in his lawsuit, Andrews found that Scott and his staff used private email account for official business. Against the governor's objections, he succeeded in getting a California judge to compel Google to disclose the electronic addresses of computers used to create the accounts.

After the governor's office claimed it was not the custodian of the records of several of his former aides, Andrews sued them individually to obtain access to the public records relating to his dispute. Settlement talks began soon after.

Those legal issue are not part of the proposed settlement and it was unclear if those claims will soon be settled. A state appeals court planned to schedule a trial in the near future.

Andrews declined to comment Wednesday.

Under the settlement, Andrews will keep his office at 822 N. Monroe St. in Tallahassee, but the state has the right of first refusal if he sells it.

Andrews will grant the state a permanent parking easement and each side will pay its own fees.

Craig Varn, general counsel to the Department of Environmental Protection, said Scott's legal costs were handled by state lawyers.

The Cabinet members — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — are not named defendants in the lawsuits, but Andrews sued them and Scott in their roles as trustees of a state board that makes land acquisition decisions at Cabinet meetings.

Times/Herald Staff Writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story online mischaracterized the terms of the proposed settlement.