TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet are suing an attorney who has been a frequent critic of the administration.
The governor and the three other state officials who oversee state lands filed a counterclaim lawsuit Friday against Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews. The move is the latest in an escalating battle between Andrews and the Scott administration over the fate of a piece of property near the governor's mansion.
Andrews wants to buy the land his law office sits on for nearly $600,000. But the state insists it had the right to match his offer under a long-standing agreement with the owners of the property.
The Scott administration wants the land as part of a broader plan to renovate and turn into a museum the adjacent historic home of former Gov. LeRoy Collins. The home known as The Grove was built in the 19th century by a territorial governor before Florida achieved statehood.
Last year, Andrews sued to go ahead with his purchase. He initially contended that state officials were not interested in the property but that changed when Scott found out that he was involved.
Andrews has sparred frequently with the governor, including filing a lawsuit against Scott when he was first running for office back in 2010. Andrews wanted Scott to release testimony he had given in a lawsuit filed against a health care company he helped create. Scott repeatedly refused to release the testimony and called it a private matter.
The latest twist is that the state is now alleging that Andrews interfered with the state's plan to purchase the property and it wants a court to award the state damages.
The decision to sue Andrews was done without a formal vote by the governor and Cabinet members who act as trustees of state lands.
John Lucas, a spokesman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, said the attorney defending the state had the authority to file the lawsuit.
"The attorney assigned to defend the board has an obligation to take whatever legal steps he deems necessary to protect the board's interest," Lucas said.
Court records show the lawsuit was filed Friday, but then the state put a hold on proceeding further on Monday. Those same court records also show that a recent effort to negotiate a settlement failed.
Andrews, in his only response about the lawsuit, took a shot at Scott, saying that "rest assured I will not be taking the 5th 75 times in my deposition." Andrews is referring to Scott's decision in 2000 to invoke his 5th Amendment right in order to refuse to answer questions in an unrelated lawsuit.
This is not the only dispute that involves both Andrews and the Scott administration.
Andrews and his law firm are also representing a former aide to Jennifer Carroll, who resigned last week from her post as lieutenant governor. Carroll's aide was arrested on charges that she handed over a secret recording to a reporter. In court filings last summer, the former aide, Carletha Cole, alleged that she found Carroll and her travel aide in a compromising position.
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