Bad draw: Florida judge sides with House speaker in lawsuit

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In a move that could escalate tensions further among Florida’s Republican leaders, a Tallahassee judge on Tuesday sided with House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a lawsuit that contends the administration of Gov. Rick Scott approved an illegal contract.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers on Tuesday ruled the Florida Lottery lacked the legal authority to sign off on more than $700 million contract with IGT Global Solutions to run lottery games. Gievers declared the contract, which is supposed to run until 2031, “void and unenforceable.”

Scott sent out a statement that he strongly disagreed with the decision and would appeal it.

“The Florida Lottery continues to make record contributions to our public schools and today’s ruling jeopardizes billions of dollars for Florida students,” Scott said.

Corcoran sued the state’s lottery secretary last month, arguing that the contract approved last fall exceeds the Florida Lottery’s authorized budget.

During a daylong hearing on the lawsuit held this week, top aides who work for the Florida House also testified that the contract also was structured in a way to sidestep legislative oversight. They noted that lottery officials last fall asked legislators for more money to pay for the contract.

Barry Richard, an outside attorney hired by the Florida Lottery, argued to Gievers that the contract was legal since it includes a provision that states it is contingent on money from the Florida Legislature. He also said that Corcoran was “micromanaging” contracts — a role that belongs to the governor and the executive branch.

But in her ruling, Gievers said the Florida Lottery did not follow state law and that the contingency clause did not give lottery officials the authority to approve the contract.

In a joint statement, top House Republicans, including Corcoran, called the ruling “a victory for the taxpayer and the rule of law” and added that it “reinforces the idea that respecting the separation of powers is not an arcane idea or an out of date philosophy.”

The disputed contract increases from 2,000 to 5,500 the number of automated ticket machines capable of selling both scratch-off tickets and tickets for games such as Powerball. It also calls for a new smartphone application that will let players check their tickets and allow them to enter second chance sweepstakes that the lottery also offers.

Florida had a contract with Gtech, one of the world’s leading lottery operators. It merged with International Game Technology and changed its name, and IGT Global Solutions is a subsidiary. State records show the old contract — which started in 2005 — was worth roughly $387 million. The new contract is worth as much as $717 million.

Since becoming speaker in November, Corcoran has clashed with Scott over the state’s tourism marketing and economic development agencies. Late last year Corcoran filed a lawsuit against Visit Florida to force the agency to disclose details of a secret deal it signed with rap star Pitbull. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez, used Twitter to release the full $1 million contract.

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