Judge upbraids lawyers in Cole case; Jennifer Carroll could testify

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A visibly irritated Leon County judge upbraided both sides in a criminal trial of one of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll’s former aides and suggested he might compel Carroll to testify in the case — if the defense can prove there’s a reason for it, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

After a day in which he held two separate hearings on whether people connected to the case against Carletha Cole would testify, Circuit Court Judge Frank Sheffield vented his frustrations with the media firestorm surrounding the trial.

“This case is out of control,” Sheffield said. “Well, I intend to rein it into control.”

Sheffield canceled all depositions and subpoenas in the case and said he would wait for a list of names from Cole’s defense team explaining whom they want to depose and why. But he made it clear that Carroll was fair game.

“If he can give me a reason to depose the lieutenant governor, I’m going to let him depose her,” Sheffield said. “I’m not going to let people hide behind their office if they are involved in case.”

Sheffield brushed off a federal criminal case that Jesse Panuccio, general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott, said bolstered the case for allowing Carroll to avoid testifying.

“There is not a person on the face of this earth that can’t be a witness in some case if they have relevant information,” Sheffield responded.

Cole is charged with illegally sharing with a reporter the recording of a conversation with Carroll’s chief of staff. The case gained new attention when Cole’s attorney made allegations that Carroll and a female aide had an improper relationship, which the lieutenant governor has strongly denied.

Cole’s lawyer, Stephen Webster, made it clear he wants to try to rope into the case a wider portrait of Carroll’s involvement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and paint Carroll’s office as a dysfunctional operation where secretive taping was widespread.

“She’s directly involved in this case whether she likes it or not,” Webster said.

But Panuccio said Cole has been harassing Carroll and her employees through the criminal case.

“Now they are trying to put these people under oath to ask them about all kinds of irrelevant things,” he said.

Sheffield is also considering whether prosecutors can talk to Florida Times-Union reporter Matt Dixon about what he received from Cole, who shared the recording with the paper after she was fired.

“He obviously has information,” assistant state attorney John Hutchins told Sheffield. “He obviously has knowledge about the facts surrounding it.”

But George Gabel, the attorney representing the Times-Union, said there are other ways for the state to try to prove that Cole sent an email including the recording to Dixon, and that forcing Dixon to testify would break the privilege for journalists provided by Florida law.

Hutchins countered that the recording is essentially physical evidence in the case against Cole, meaning that it falls under an exemption to the privilege.

Sheffield said he wanted to read the case law submitted to him by both sides but would try to rule quickly on whether Dixon must testify.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.