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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tallahassee appeals court keeps Rick Scott's records ruling on hold

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 10:49 AM

  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday received a legal ruling that will at least temporarily allow him to keep from turning over his calendar —- including information about fundraising events and where he will reside at night —- to a health-care organization.

A Tallahassee appeals court agreed to extend a hold on a Sept. 5 ruling that mandated Scott provide the requested information to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been wrangling with the Scott administration over a canceled Medicaid contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 1st District Court of Appeal also agreed to expedite Scott’s challenge to Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s Sept. 5 ruling that said Scott should turn over the information.

The order extending a stay on Dodson’s ruling negates a move by attorneys representing the foundation to have Scott found in contempt of court and fined $1,000 for each day he didn’t provide the information. The foundation had filed an emergency motion, arguing that Dodson’s 10-day window for Scott to provide the information had expired.

“This earned him a brief reprieve from the contempt,” said Tallahassee attorney Ryan Andrews who is handling the public-records case for the foundation.

In their emergency filing, attorneys for the foundation said holding Scott in contempt and fining him would be the “least intrusive and most effective” means to ensure the governor complied with the initial court order.

“Imposing contempt sanctions are not only appropriate to accord petitioner relief but also proper as this court has the inherent authority to impose such sanctions when a party —- i.e. EOG (the executive office of governor) —- intentionally or willfully refuses to obey a court order,” the emergency filing said.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation filed the underlying public-records lawsuit in July after the administration did not provide the requested calendar information in response to a public-records request. The request was made after the state Agency for Health Care Administration did not renew a five-year Medicaid contract with the foundation’s subsidiary, Positive Healthcare, to provide Medicaid services in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The Scott administration argued that releasing the information could jeopardize the governor’s safety, but Dodson disagreed, noting it “simply is information regarding the governor’s travel schedule.”

Florida governors and other elected officials have routinely released their schedules to the media outlining commitments for each day. Often, those schedules were released in advance. But the Scott administration has been less forthcoming with the details. And the schedules that get released haven’t always accurately reflected the governor’s meetings.

Andrews, a Tallahassee lawyer, said he recalled seeing former governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist often walk downtown by themselves. “For them (the Scott administration), to say nobody can know where this governor is, is disingenuous and not supported (by law),” Andrews said. “Their argument is that he’s so unliked that people can’t know where he is because his life would be in danger.”

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation also filed a second public-records lawsuit in circuit court alleging that the administration did not provide records of communications with managed-care plans that bid on the Medicaid contract.

The organization also requested any correspondence between the Scott administration and lobbyists for managed-care plans, a list that includes a lengthy list of Tallahassee lobbyists.

That lawsuit is slated to be heard Friday by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

In addition to filing the public records lawsuits in circuit court, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation also has challenged in administrative court the state’s decision not to renew the organization’s Medicaid contract.

The Scott administration has maintained that all the legal wrangling is tied to money. Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis reiterated that argument Tuesday, when he released to the press an e-mail exchange between attorneys for the Scott administration and attorneys for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

In an email, Andrews wrote to Scott’s outside counsel, Barry Richard, and offered a deal to end the litigation. In the exchange, Andrews described a proposed settlement in which the AIDS Healthcare Foundation would withdraw its legal challenges in exchange for a Medicaid contract in Broward, Miami Dade and Monroe counties.

“This vendor offered to drop their two public records lawsuits if they were awarded a state contract —- that’s not in the best interests of taxpayers or the patients who will benefit from enhanced HIV/AIDS services that the state is offering,” Lewis said.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation offered no apologies on Tuesday.

“As a public official, Rick Scott should have to appear publicly and answer questions about his policies,” AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said in a statement. “The court has already ruled that hiding behind a cloak of security is counter to Florida law and the democratic process.”

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