TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Saying it wants to end a “public campaign of harassment,'' the administration of Gov. Rick Scott is asking a judge to shield Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll from a criminal case involving one of her former aides.
Scott's top lawyer wants a Leon County judge to issue a protective order to keep lawyers for the former aide, Carletha Cole, from questioning either Carroll or her travel aide Beatriz Ramos. A hearing on the request is set for next month.
Cole is charged with violating state law for allegedly giving a recording of a conversation with Carroll's chief of staff to a newspaper reporter.
Cole's lawyers subsequently filed court documents in which Cole claimed to have found Carroll in a “compromising position'' with Ramos inside's Carroll's office. The former aide also alleged that Carroll's chief of staff secretly recorded conversations routinely at the direction of those working for Scott and that the trash can at Cole's desk might have been deliberately set ablaze following an argument between her and Ramos.
Carroll, a former Navy officer who is also married and a mother of three, has called the allegations “false and absurd.''
But last month lawyers for Cole served subpoenas on both Carroll and Ramos and asked them to sit down for a deposition. That prompted the governor's general counsel to file a motion for a protective order and ask Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield to quash the subpoenas.
“The lieutenant governor and her staff are easy targets for litigants who want to divert attention from the relevant issues,'' states the motion filed by general counsel Jesse Panuccio. The motion states that neither Carroll or Ramos were present at the time of recording.
Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for the governor, called the decision to fight the depositions “standard procedure'' that is followed when governor's office employees are “subpoenaed to testify about matters occurring in the course of official business.''
Stephen Webster, one of the attorneys representing Cole, would not talk about the decision to subpoena Carroll or Ramos. But in the past he has stated that Carroll, Ramos and Carroll's chief of staff, John Konkus, have reasons to make Cole look bad because they could be witnesses at her trial.
In a previous court filing, Cole went into lengthy allegations regarding Carroll and Ramos, including saying that she was ordered by Ramos to find adjoining hotel rooms for Carroll and Ramos when they traveled. Carroll has said previously the allegations are an attempt by Cole and her attorney to get the criminal charges against Cole dropped. Cole is charged with a third-degree felony and could get up to five years in prison.
Cole's attorneys are also seeking additional information that could be used in the trial, asking if there are surveillance tapes of Carroll's office. They are also seeking calendars, telephone logs and hotel billing information for both Carroll and Ramos.
State Attorney Willie Meggs's office is fighting the request, saying that it “may only be characterized as oppressive and designed to both inflame the public and to harass senior members of Florida government'' and that the criminal case is “not a license to wage a personal vendetta.'' That request will be taken up at the same hearing scheduled for Oct. 11.
Cole was arrested nearly a year ago and her case does not appear headed to trial anytime soon.
It is against Florida law to record someone without consent, but there have been legal questions about recordings made in public buildings. The Florida Times-Union obtained a copy of the conversation between Konkus and Cole, a senior program analyst who also acted as a spokeswoman for Carroll.
The Times-Union placed the recording on its website. Konkus can be heard saying that the governor's then-chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, is afraid of Carroll.
Konkus also complained that Scott “is not leading.'' Cole was fired after publicly speaking out about infighting in Carroll's office.