UPDATE: Appeals court orders ousted prisons chief to give deposition in privatization lawsuitby Dara Kam | September 22nd, 2011
UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott has appealed the appellate ruling ordering former DOC Secretary Ed Buss to give a deposition in the prison privatization lawsuit. Scott’s lawyers are asking that the full First District Court of Appeals reconsider yesterday’s three-judge panel’s ruling.
Scott spokesman Lane Wright said the governor’s office is appealing the decision about the deposition on principle because state law gives high-ranking officials immunity from testifying in lawsuits.
“It’s not about this specific case. It’s about all cases. The doctrine protecting high-ranking officials from being deposed is a bedrock principle of Florida law. It’s about the principle of the thing,” Wright said.
An appeals court ordered former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss, ousted by Gov. Rick Scott last month, to testify in a lawsuit over prison privatization filed by the union that represents correctional officers.
The First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee had temporarily halted Buss’s deposition last week, overturning a lower court ruling ordering him to be deposed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit.
But yesterday the appellate court agreed that Buss must give his deposition. Scott’s administration tried to block Buss’s testimony because Florida law protects high-ranking officials from having to testify in most court cases.
On Sept. 15, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ordered Buss to give his deposition, agreeing with the union in her ruling that the former secretary is “reasonably likely to have unique discoverable knowledge of potentially relevant subject matter.”
Scott forced Buss to resign late last month citing “differences in philosophy and management styles arose which made the separation in the best interests of the state.” One of the reasons for Buss’s ouster was his apparently less-than-enthusiastic support of the privatization of the 30 prisons from Manatee County to Indian River County south to the Keys.
Lawmakers ordered all of the prisons in the 18-county region south of Polk County to the Florida Keys to be taken over by a private vendor in the budget passed this spring. The PBA is objecting that including the policy change in the must-pass spending plan is unconstitutional.
Two prisons in the region – Hendry Correctional Institution and Glades Correctional Institution – were excluded from privatization in the budget. HCI in Immokalee was already in the process of being closed. Lawmakers targeted GCI because the aging facility is one of the oldest in the state and one of the most costly to operate.
This week, Scott’s new corrections chief Ken Tucker revealed that the Belle Glade prison would shut down on Dec. 1, killing 250 jobs in the economically-ravaged region where unemployment in some areas is 40 percent.
When asked about the impact of closing the prison on the community, Scott said yesterday that he wants the prison system to run more efficiently.
“I think our job is to help build communities. But I personally don’t believe government creates these jobs. I believe government’s job is to watch how it spends its money, fulfill its purposes well but help build private sector jobs,” Scott said.