Lawyered up? A look at what Florida has spent money on
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The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Associated Press has documented that since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, agencies under his control as well as the Florida Legislature and Cabinet officials have spent more than $250 million on private attorneys. Here’s a look at some of the spending on outside lawyering Florida taxpayers have had to pay for under Republican leadership:
—More than $100 million in fees paid to lawyers by state agencies, including an expensive water rights struggle with Georgia. The water wars have been waged for nearly 20 years, but costs soared after Scott pushed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This total also includes money billed by lawyers defending the actions of the Legislature and governor. For example, the Department of State paid more than $200,000 to defend a plan initiated by Scott to remove non-U.S. citizens from the voting rolls. Election supervisors said that effort was flawed, and it was eventually halted after being challenged by voting rights groups.
The Scott administration successfully defended a state law that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state pension fund. But the state spent nearly $533,000 with an Atlanta firm on the litigation.
Some of the agency legal expenses are for routine work that is farmed out to outside attorneys.
For example, the Florida Department of Citrus uses a private firm to act as its general counsel while the Department of Education uses private attorneys to assist in cases alleging teachers of misconduct. The Department of Revenue hires private attorneys to work on child support cases, and the Department of Transportation hires firms to handle some of its eminent domain lawsuits associated with road projects.
— Nearly $16 million paid to opposing lawyers after losing battles over voting rights, gay marriage, drug testing and other controversial policies. This includes $12 million to attorneys who represented pediatricians who contended Florida violated federal mandates by failing to deliver critical health services to 2 million children on Medicaid; more than $800,000 to lawyers working for the American Civil Liberties Union; and nearly $513,000 to lawyers who defeated a state law targeting businesses doing business in Cuba.
— Nearly $20 million spent by the Legislature defending budgets that advocates say shortchange public schools and Republican-drawn legislative and congressional districts. The state won the education lawsuit at its first turn, but the courts sided against them on districts and approved changes that upended the state’s political landscape.
— About $111 million since 2011 through its risk management division. These are cases where someone sued the state over auto accidents, employment disputes and worker’s compensation claims. The annual cost was $19.7 million back in 2012 but it has been rising each year.
Sources: Budget documents, state correspondence and information from Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office.