Legal Newsline

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Businessman sues Fla. House of Representatives to block subpoena over Visit Florida investigation

By Dee Thompson | Jan 29, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) – Businessman Pat Roberts has sued the Florida House of Representatives and House Speaker Richard Corcoran after being served with a subpoena for documents that he says are not relevant to the investigation for which he is the subject.

Roberts and his company MAT Media are the subjects of an investigation regarding Visit Florida, a taxpayer-funded entity.

On Jan. 16, Roberts and MAT Media filed suit against the House and Corcoran asking for temporary and permanent injunctive relief, alleging that the subpoena filed on Jan. 11 and served on Roberts requests documents that are not pertinent to the investigation of Roberts and MAT Media. 

The complaint states “The House subpoenas compel production of private documents that include, without limitation, tax returns, trade secret and other proprietary information not available to the general public.” 

The complaint also states that “MAT Media and Roberts have no available avenue to object to the production of the documents and they are subject to imprisonment and/or fine if the documents are not produced by 5 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2018.”

Two days after the complaint was filed, a memorandum in opposition to a preliminary injunction was filed by the defendants. 

The memorandum states “When the House first began looking at the public contracts with MAT Media, it intended to determine whether those contracts were the best and most appropriate use of public funds and the most effective way to obtain tourism marketing services for the state. 

"But based on the House’s review of some public documents it obtained from other sources, it now asks another important question: Did MAT Media and Mr. Roberts benefit financially from undisclosed side deals, kickbacks, and other inappropriate compensation related to the publicly funded contracts with Visit Florida?”

The memorandum points out that the House has been trying to obtain the information and documents from Roberts since April, and in a phone conference on Jan. 16, Roberts agreed to turn over certain of the documents. 

The memorandum also states the House and its speaker are immune to suit and there is no process to get around that. 

The allegations are that MAT Media executed a series of public contracts with Visit Florida, a taxpayer-funded, nonprofit public corporation, and agreed to pay millions of taxpayer dollars to MAT Media for production and delivery of television programming with Florida-based content and hosted by cooking celebrity Emeril Lagasse. 

The memorandum states, “In fact, MAT Media received in excess of $10 million in taxpayer dollars under those contracts, and it received additional public dollars in sponsorships by local tourism development councils and visitor convention bureaus... MAT Media also realized advertising revenue on the programming paid for with public dollars by Visit Florida.”

The complaint concludes with a request for an injunction against the defendants, “prohibiting them from taking any action to enforce the subpoenas or any action purporting to hold the MAT Media and Roberts in contempt, award plaintiffs costs and attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and award any and all further relief this court deems just.” 

Adam S. Tanenbaum, attorney for the House of Representatives, wrote, “There is no need for a preliminary injunction, and the plaintiffs cannot meet their burden for one. The plaintiffs’ claim for relief is based only on speculation, the purported controversy is not ripe, and this court lacks jurisdiction to grant relief on that basis. 

"But separately, the House and the Speaker are immune from this section 1983 suit. The plaintiffs also cannot state a claim under section 1983 because they have not been completely deprived of any procedural remedies. Finally, the court should abstain in favor of the ongoing state court proceedings. Simply put,

the motion for preliminary injunction must be denied.”

Mark Herron, Brennan Donnelly and Robert J. Telfer III of Messer Caparello PA and R. Timothy Jansen and Adam J. Komisar of Jansen & Davis PA represent Roberts.

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Florida House of Representatives