A federal judge in Tallahassee says the Florida House can move forward with a subpoena seeking to obtain financial records for a network cooking show paid for by the state’s tourism marketing agency.
Judge Mark Walker made the ruling from the bench following a two hour hearing that had all the makings for a political stir fry, served up in a federal courtroom just blocks from the state Capitol. The main ingredients: Florida’s House Speaker, Visit Florida, a Tallahassee television producer, celebrity chef Emeril Lagassee and $10 million in state money.
At issue is the $10 million paid by Visit Florida to chef Emeril Lagasse and MAT Media, owned by Pat Roberts, for production of a cooking show called “Emeril’s Florida” that aired on The Cooking Channel for five years. The Florida House wants to know what the state got for its money and has asked Roberts to turn over his financial records for review.
The House has been asking for the records for over a year saying it wants to see how the state’s money was spent. Roberts has refused to turn over the documents. His attorneys says Roberts has nothing to hide and accused House leadership of overreaching its authority.
When lawmakers returned to Tallahassee last week for the start of the legislative session, Speaker Richard Corcoran had the full house vote on a measure issuing to issue a subpoena to Roberts and his production company ordering them to turn over the records in five days or face hefty fines and possible jail time. Corcoran signed the subpoenas in front of the House and had the papers immediately served.
Roberts and his attorneys filed a federal lawsuit challenging the House’s authority to require Roberts turn over certain financial records. They contend some of the documents contain confidential information and trade secrets that could lead to more lawsuits if they are made public.
In making his ruling from the bench, Walker said “if Mr. Roberts was being hauled off and taken into custody, virtually without debate,” an injunction would have been legally justified. “But that’s not what we have here,” he added.
“We did not want to wait until Mr. Roberts was handcuffed, or voted to be in contempt and possibly fined until we stopped this abuse of power,” said Robert’s attorney Tim Jansen.
During the hearing, Adam Tanenbaum, the House general counsel, assured the judge the House would not rush to arrest Roberts if he doesn’t fully comply and turn over all of the records covered by the subpoena. He said Roberts would be given due process before any action is taken.
Even though he lost the request for an injunction, Jansen says his client won due to the concessions made by Tanenbaum.
“I think it was a victory for Mr. Roberts and every citizen of the state of Florida,” Jansen said. “Only in their response to our lawsuit for an injunction did they concede that they will give meaningful opportunity to be heard on these subpoenas. Otherwise, Mr. Roberts will be incarcerated.”