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Judge Wants Proof Lt Gov Carroll Needs To Testify In Case Involving Ex-Aide

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Ryan Benk
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An effort by Governor Rick Scott’s administration, to block Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll from getting involved in a criminal case dealing with her former aide, may have failed Thursday. A Leon County Circuit Judge told lawyers on the other side if they can prove why they need to question Carroll, he will reject Scott’s lawyers request to protect Carroll testifying in the case.

An illegal taping of a conversation between two staffers working in Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll’s office is what got one of the staffers, Carletha Cole, arrested in 2011.She’s accused of the making the secret recording and giving it to a reporter at the Florida Times-Union.

The criminal case has since spiraled into a series of scandals involving the Lieutenant Governor’s office, including recent documents filed on behalf of Cole claiming, that Carroll and her travel aide, Beatriz Ramos, were caught in “a compromising position.”

Now, the situation has landed the lawyers for both Cole and the Governor’s office in court, which Leon Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield says is getting out of hand:

“This case is out of control. Well, I intend to reign it into control. We’re going to get this case done. We’re going to get this case to trial, and we’re going to get it resolved," said Sheffield. "I'm a believer in full discovery, I don’t have a problem with depositions, but I won’t let you go on a fishing expedition.”

Sheffield admonished the lawyers at a hearing held Thursday, but that still did not stop the lawyers from both sides from trying to make their case. Lawyer for the Scott administration, Jesse Panuccio, says if the judge quashes the Governor’s request to block Carroll from testifying as part of this case, it will set a bad precedent:

“So, we are just asking that the court consider the precedent we would be setting if we allowed the free range depositions of top level executive branch officials in this case," said Panuccio. "The precedent would be if you commit a crime in a high Government office, the people around you will have a disincentive to report that crime because they know their whole lives are going to exposed to the newspaper and they’ll be subject to scurrilous accusations by the defendant. And, so we would ask the court to consider our motion for this protective order at this time, your honor.”

But, Lawyer for Carroll’s ex-aide, Stephen Webster, says questioning Carroll is necessary because he says it helps his case, in which he points out, Carroll is heavily involved.

“She’s directly involved in this case, whether she likes it or not," said Webster. "And, to try to suggest that the entire Government would come screeching to a halt, if high-ranking officials were deposed in criminal case, every time they were listed on the state’s discovery exhibit, I would submit to the court that it’s probably one of the few times that a high-ranking official in the state of Florida has been listed on the state’s discovery exhibit. So, it’s disingenuous. And, the Lieutenant Governor does have knowledge about the acts in this case.”

Still, Judge Sheffield asked Cole’s lawyers to submit, in writing, why it is necessary for Carroll to testify in the case. If he finds their argument sound, he says he will reject the request by the Governor’s office to protect Carroll from getting questioned by Cole’s lawyers.

Sheffield is also set to decide on a related matter, after hearing arguments Thursday morning. In that case, prosecutors involved in the criminal case are requesting a judge allow them to question the reporter who was given the recordings.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.