Rick Scott to settle lawsuits over property near Governor’s Mansion

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Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet are going to settle a bitter land dispute that has sparked acrimony and a handful of different lawsuits.

Scott and the Cabinet are expected next week to approve a deal to end three years of litigation with Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews, a persistent critic of Scott.

The battle initially centered on land located near the Governor’s Mansion about a mile north of the state Capitol. The Scott administration wanted the land as part of a plan to turn the adjacent historic home of former Gov. LeRoy Collins into a museum. Records have shown that Scott administration officials at one point discussed redeveloping the entire area into a “mansion park” that would be part of Scott’s legacy.

Andrews contended that state officials were not interested in the property until Scott found out that he was purchasing the land that also includes his law offices. The state insisted it had the rights to acquire the land even though Andrews was already trying to buy the property. He won the first round in circuit court, but the state appealed the case.

Andrews and state officials have now reached a settlement that would allow Andrews to hold onto the property, but he would agree to give parking spots on the land to the state. The state would also have the first rights to purchase the land in the future. The settlement was discussed at a Wednesday meeting of aides to Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet.

But the land tussle has also triggered additional lawsuits where Andrews contended the governor as well as other state agencies flouted the state’s public records law. It’s not yet clear if those lawsuits will also be settled. Efforts to reach Andrews on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

As part of that lawsuit Andrews has sought to obtain information about private email accounts set up by Scott and top aides. He has also sued to get information from several top former aides. Last November The Associated Press reported that Scott exchanged emails dealing with vetoes, the state budget and his speeches from a private email account. The existence of the emails contradicted previous statements where Scott said he had used a Google email account to communicate with his family and not for state business.

The acrimony between Scott and Andrews dates back to the 2010 governor’s race. Right before the Republican primary Andrews sued for release of a deposition Scott gave for a lawsuit against one of his businesses.

The settlement over the property comes shortly before the state is expected to open the former home of Collins, known as “The Grove,” to the public. Built by one of Florida’s early territorial governors with slave labor, the Grove would later serve as home to the governor who shepherded the state through the civil rights era.

The state — at a cost of nearly $6 million — is turning the Greek Revival-style mansion and its 10-acre grounds into a museum designed to document the lives of the state’s governors as well as serve as an architectural classroom for visitors.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.