TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Several current and former employees in the administration of Gov. Rick Scott are being ordered by a judge to testify in a sensational criminal case that centers on allegations of illegal taping.
It is still unclear after Friday's hearing whether Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will be forced to answer questions in the criminal case against her former aide that has also included allegations of improper relationships in Carroll's office.
Carletha Cole, who was fired last year, was arrested in 2011 and accused of giving a reporter a secret recording containing a conversation between Cole and Carroll's chief of staff. Cole has not been charged with making the recording - nor have prosecutors said exactly when the recording was made.
Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield initially ruled that Carroll must answer questions from lawyers representing Cole. But then he changed his mind at the urging of Scott's top lawyer. Sheffield said Carroll would be questioned last and only if Cole's lawyers could show her testimony was needed.
Sheffield, however, made it clear that questions of Scott administration employees will be limited to illegal taping and whether or not top officials working for the governor had ordered widespread taping as alleged by Cole.
The judge said lawyers could not ask Carroll or anyone else about the lieutenant governor's sexual preference or whether or not her office was the "absolute worst place in the world to work."
"We are not going to try the lieutenant governor's office," Sheffield said.
Cole's attorneys have asserted that their client was being set up because she witnessed unprofessional behavior by Carroll and other employees, including walking in on Carroll and a female aide in a "compromising position." Carroll, who is a former Navy officer and married, has called the allegations "false and absurd."
Attorney Stephen Webster suggested other employees in Carroll's office placed recordings on Cole's computer and she assumed they were public records. A spokesman for the governor's office has previously denied that there was a widespread policy of taping people.
It is against Florida law to record someone without consent, but there have been legal questions about recordings made in public buildings. Cole is charged with a third-degree felony and could face up to five years in prison.
The current and former employees who were ordered to answer questions include Carroll's travel aide Beatriz Ramos, former chief of staff Steve MacNamara, and former chief of staff Mike Prendergast.
The Scott administration last year had tried to get the judge to shield both Ramos and Carroll from answering any questions but Sheffield denied the request.
Pete Antonacci, a former prosecutor and now general counsel for Scott, repeated the request on Friday and said that as an elected official that Carroll was "special" and she should not be subjected to questioning.
"It's very clear from what the prosecutors said that she had no role," Antonacci told the judge.
Sheffield shot back that she "is not special" and that she and anyone else should be subject to questioning since the criminal case could result in Cole going to prison. But the judge then agreed to Antonacci's request that Carroll's deposition be delayed.
Sheffield on Friday also turned down requests for a long list of records and documents sought by Cole's attorneys, including surveillance tapes, emails, calendars and phone logs of various administration employees. He did agree to allow some travel records and calendars of Carroll's chief of staff to be turned over.
The tape recording at the center of the criminal case was placed on the website of The Florida Times-Union. On it John Konkus, the chief of staff for Carroll, can be heard saying that MacNamara, is afraid of Carroll. Konkus also complained that Scott "is not leading."
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