In a remarkable admission, Rick Scott’s legal counsel Thursday told the Florida Supreme Court that he misled justices on the amount of money already spent on the state’s high-speed rail project — a key detail that may have helped cinch the governor’s victory in a constitutional tug-of-war.
In a two-page letter to Chief Justice Charles Canady, Scott’s general counsel, Charles Trippe, acknowledged that last month he misrepresented a central fact in arguments supporting the governor’s rejection of $2.4 billion in federal funds for the project linking Tampa with Orlando.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, one of two senators who sued Scott saying he had exceeded his constitutional authority in killing the project, said Thursday evening that Trippe’s letter is a “huge admission.”
“It’s a material misrepresentation of the facts in this case,” Altman said. “We knew (Trippe) was wrong when he said it in court. But we couldn’t stop him from saying it.”
In the letter, Trippe admitted he was wrong when he told justices that $110 million of the $130 million authorized by the Florida Legislature for the project approved in 2009 had already been spent.
Instead, Trippe said only $31 million had actually been spent — a major gap that appears to have shaped the court’s decision that sided with Scott.
Indeed, Justice Barbara Pariente responded to Trippe’s claim during the hearing that Scott’s move against high-speed rail seemed to involve little remaining money. If so, Pariente suggested, the governor was likely empowered to stop the project.
“So the issue (as) to whether his actions affect the $130 million, you would argue — and of course we have very limited to no factual record here — but that is de minimis right now?” Pariente asked.
Trippe agreed, suggesting lawmakers were arguing over a trifling amount of cash.
“It is not only de minimis, but the statute itself provides for a carryover of it by the end of the year if the money hasn’t been spent. So he is not in violation…of this appropriation,” Trippe told the court.