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Lawsuit: Florida attorney general's office deleted emails sought in land dispute

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A Tallahassee attorney embroiled in an ongoing land dispute with the state contends in a new court filing that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office deleted or withheld emails he was seeking.

Steven Andrews, who has been a persistent critic of Gov. Rick Scott, is involved in a lawsuit over attempts by the state to acquire land near the Governor's Mansion. This week he filed documents alleging that Bondi's office failed to promptly turn over 61 emails sent or received by senior staff.

Andrews and his legal team contend that in 19 instances, the emails were deleted altogether. Andrews found the emails only later, by cross-referencing documents from other agencies.

Andrews declined comment on the latest filing, but in it he states that Bondi's office "willfully and in bad faith failed to produce or timely produce public records."

Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Bondi, would only say that the allegations "are completely without merit."

Ray pointed to a March 20 court filing by Bondi's office that says her employees "went to great length" to fulfill numerous requests from Andrews despite what they termed his "lack of clarity as to the records sought and lack of cooperation in framing search parameters."

Andrews says he has turned up internal information that shows Bondi's employees manually decide whether to keep copies of emails. He has an early 2012 email in which an information technology employee warned that the archiving system used by Bondi's office could allow individual employees to delete or fail to archive emails.

Florida has a broad public records law that requires emails and other documents to be made public, with exemptions for documents that cover items such as open criminal investigations

Andrews is currently involved in a lawsuit with the state in which he wants to buy land where his law offices are. The state is also trying to buy the property near the Governor's Mansion and insists it has the right to acquire the property first. A circuit court sided with Andrews, but the state is appealing.

As part of the property lawsuit, Andrews has sought detailed public records regarding why state officials initially said they did not want the property but then changed their minds. He has asked for emails, text messages and other data and spent thousands of dollars in expenses to obtain the records.

In November, Andrews filed three separate lawsuits against Gov. Rick Scott, Bondi and the Department of State asking for a court to force the officials to hand over the records and to pay his attorney fees. His latest filing came in response to Bondi's push to have the case the thrown out.

The filing includes the deleted emails, some of which are labeled "work product" while others appear to involve a 2012 meeting of the governor and Cabinet where the land deal was discussed.

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