TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A television producer for one of chef Emeril Lagasse’s cooking shows caught in an escalating legal battle with the Florida House of Representatives won a temporary reprieve Tuesday.
The House demanded last week that producer Pat Roberts and his company turn over records in five days or risk hefty fines and even jail. Instead of complying by the deadline, Roberts filed a lawsuit in federal court that contends his constitutional rights are being violated by the Republican-controlled House.
During an emergency hearing, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker agreed to consider the case. But that move came only after Adam Tanenbaum, the general counsel for the House, promised that the chamber would not attempt to punish Roberts before the judge holds another hearing Friday.
“We are pleased the federal court will finally give Mr. Roberts due process by allowing a court to review the House’s actions,” said Tim Jansen, one of the attorneys representing the Tallahassee producer. “This is the first, but necessary, step to protect Mr. Roberts’ rights.”
Legislators are asking for years of records detailing how the show “Emeril’s Florida” spent millions of dollars it received from the state’s tourism agency. Those documents include tax records from Roberts’ company MAT Media as well as information on how much Lagasse was paid.
Visit Florida paid at least $10 million over a five-year period for the show that aired on The Cooking Channel. A House committee last October issued its own subpoena asking for the records, but Roberts refused to turn them over and instead filed a lawsuit in state court.
Attorneys for Roberts have argued that some of the information the House is requesting is confidential business information that will trigger lawsuits if it is revealed
House Speaker Richard Corcoran blasted the ongoing court battle, saying that “these attempts at delay are a slap in the face to hard working Floridians.”
“Mr. Roberts will do anything to hide his actions from public view,” Corcoran said. “Most Americans believe that if you take taxpayer money, you are accountable to the taxpayer.”
House leaders, worried the legal battle could be dragged out, took the extraordinary step of having the entire House vote on the subpoena request during the opening week of this year’s legislative session. Corcoran signed the subpoena in front of the entire chamber and had it delivered within minutes of approval.
Jansen said the House can’t threaten to punish his client without giving him a chance to challenge the request in court.
“Pat Roberts and MAT Media are not below the law and Speaker Corcoran and the House are not above the law,” Jansen said.
Corcoran responded by saying that “today’s tactics only strengthen our resolve to do what’s in the best interest of those we serve.”