Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are settling a lawsuit filed by media organizations and others over the firing of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Gerald Bailey.
The lawsuit contended that Scott and Cabinet members sidestepped the state’s Sunshine Law in the way they handled Bailey’s dismissal last year. The groups that sued Scott, which include The Associated Press, asserted that the firing should have been voted on during a public meeting, but instead the firing and the search for his replacement were handled behind the scenes through aides.
The two sides held closed mediation sessions that resulted in an agreement to end the lawsuit.
The agreement calls for Scott and Cabinet to change the procedures for handling public records and appointments. Senior staff as well as Scott and Cabinet members will be required to promptly forward any public records they receive on private email accounts. All communication regarding any items to be voted on by the Cabinet must be done either in writing or verbally in a public meeting.
“My clients hope this proposal will keep Florida as the Sunshine State and as the leader in transparency,” said Andrea Flynn Mogensen, the attorney who handled the lawsuit. “My clients expect the agreement to be followed. What happened to Commissioner Bailey should never occur again.”
The governor and Cabinet are expected to approve a mediation agreement next week. The agreement requires the state to pay $55,000 in attorney fees.
Bailey had been commissioner of the FDLE from 2006 until his ouster in December. He reported to both the Republican governor and the three GOP members of the Cabinet.
Scott’s staff pushed for Bailey’s resignation. But after his forced resignation, Bailey made a series of allegations that he had refused questionable and unethical requests from the Scott administration and from the governor’s campaign staff. Scott has denied most of the allegations, including that Bailey was asked to falsely name a county court clerk as the target of an investigation.
The governor and Cabinet appointed Scott’s hand-picked successor to head up FDLE in January. But the Florida Senate refused to confirm the selection of Richard Swearingen so Scott and the Cabinet have undertaken a national search for the next commissioner. Swearingen is one of more than 60 candidates who have applied for the job.
The lawsuit was filed by St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner, Citizens for Sunshine and nine media organizations.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.