Judge sides with Florida House instead of Emeril TV producer

January 20, 2018 GMT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge is refusing to step into an ongoing tussle between a television producer for one of chef Emeril Lagasse’s cooking shows and the Florida House of Representatives.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Friday refused to grant an injunction against the Republican-controlled House that had been sought by producer Pat Roberts and his company.

The House last week gave Roberts five days to turn over records detailing how the show “Emeril’s Florida” spent millions it received from the state’s tourism agency. If Roberts and his company MAT Media refused to comply with the subpoena, he could be fined or jailed.

Lawyers for Roberts contended his due process rights were being violated and filed a federal lawsuit earlier this week. They also maintained some of the documents are confidential and could result in Roberts getting sued if they are released.

But Walker said that the House has the power to request the information — and that Roberts was not in “imminent” danger of being punished. That’s because the House in court filings agreed that it would hold additional hearings before deciding whether or not Roberts was in contempt.

“If Mr. Roberts was being hauled off and taken into custody ... I suspect I may have a different view,” Walker said.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Roberts, said that despite getting turned down by Walker that the lawsuit had been a “victory” for his client because the House spelled out that it would not immediately punish Roberts.

“We are in a better place than we were last week,” said Jansen, who has contended that House Speaker Richard Corcoran went after his client because he is expected to run for governor this year.

The battle over the cooking show has been brewing for months, with Corcoran asking what Roberts was hiding from legislators.

“Emeril’s Florida” aired on The Cooking Channel and featured the chef touring the state and visiting some of Florida’s top restaurants. Visit Florida paid at least $10 million over a five year period for the show.

Visit Florida, which relies primarily on state funding, made public the contract it has with MAT Media, but the House last year asked for a long list of other records, including contracts the production company had with cable networks as well as federal tax returns. The House, which first asked the company and Roberts to hand over the information voluntarily, also wanted an accounting of how much money Roberts was paid directly for producing the show.

The two sides wound up battling over the information in a state court, but last week the House took the extraordinary step of having the entire chamber vote to formally issue a subpoena. Adam Tanenbaum, the general counsel for the House, said that as far as he knew, the House had never done that before.

Jansen said that Roberts did turn over some records to the House this week, but not his personal tax returns or some of the contracts.

Visit Florida came under fire in 2016 for a secret contract in which it agreed to pay $1 million to rapper Pitbull. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez, disclosed the contract after Corcoran and the House sued to make it public.

Corcoran initially pushed to slash funding to Visit Florida but relented after a highly contentious battle with Gov. Rick Scott, who argued cuts to the agency would harm the state’s economy.