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FL Sued Once Again Over Handling Of Public Records

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Associated Press
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Two telecommunications companies contend in a new lawsuit that the administration of Gov. Rick Scott is flouting the state’s public records law.

The lawsuit is an outgrowth of a dispute over a nearly $400 million state contract the Scott administration recently awarded to a subsidiary of Florida-based Harris Corp.

AT&T and a contractor working with them allege in the lawsuit filed late Thursday that the state agency handling the contract is refusing to turn over emails and documents provided to the state by the winning bidder.

Instead, the Department of Management Services turned over heavily redacted documents that asserted much of the information was confidential trade secrets.

Some of the information the agency refused to release included corporate information that is filed publicly elsewhere. Marty Richter, a spokesman for AT&T, said they had made “numerous attempts” to obtain public records but have been turned down by the state agency and the winning bidder.

“They’ve been uncooperative and have left us no choice but to seek help from the court,” Richter said.

AT&T and Embarq Florida have asked a judge to force the state to immediately hand over the records they are seeking.

Natalee Singleton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, defended the agency’s handling of record requests.

“The Department of Management Services continues to fully comply with all public records requests,” Singleton said in an email. “It is up for the court to decide what is and what isn’t proprietary information.”

Scott’s administration has been under fire recently for its handling of public records. The state in August paid $700,000 to a Tallahassee attorney to settle seven lawsuits that contended that Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other officials violated the state’s open records law.

The AT&T lawsuit was sparked by the state’s decision to award a seven-year $360 million contract for the state’s main Internet, email and file sharing service to CR MSA.

The service known as MyFlorida.Net provides services to all of state government as well as many cities and counties across the state. AT&T has the current contract, which expires in 2016.

AT&T is challenging the award of the contract to CR MSA in a separate legal process. AT&T’s bid protest contends CR MSA was not qualified for the contract and that the state made “material changes” during the bidding process that provided a competitive advantage to the winning bidder.