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A preliminary federal investigation found design flaws in the FIU bridge, which collapsed earlier this year.

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Feds weigh entering lawsuit over FIU bridge records

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for north Florida has told a Tallahassee judge it now “is considering participation” in a lawsuit by The Miami Herald seeking records on March’s bridge collapse at Florida International University that killed six people.

U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova sent a notice dated June 15 to Circuit Judge John Cooper saying federal law authorized him to “attend to the interests of the United States in (any state) lawsuit,” court records show.

The three-page document, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew J. Grogan, says that the Herald “seek(s) to compel disclosure of certain records … (that) are the subject of a pending accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“Thus, the United States may have an interest in setting forth for the court its views with respect to the pending motions and potential disclosure of information,” it says. “The United States, therefore, is actively considering whether to file a statement of interest” in the case.

Canova asked Cooper to “defer (any) rulings” until it determines whether to get involved. The feds said they would let Cooper know by next Wednesday whether they would enter the case or stay on the sidelines.

“The United States appreciates the court’s consideration of its potential interest in the information sought” by The Herald, the filing says.

The newspaper, Capital bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas, and Tallahassee correspondent Elizabeth Koh sued the state’s Department of Transportation in Leon County Circuit Civil court last month, seeking “emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction.”

The March 15 collapse of the recently-erected bridge, spanning Tamiami Trail and meant to connect the campus to student housing in Sweetwater, killed six midday motorists or passengers, and injured nine others. It happened “just days after cracks had been observed in the $14.3 million structure,” The Herald has reported.

In another letter reported last month, NTSB assistant general counsel Benjamin T. Allen explained to Cooper that his agency has “prohibited” FDOT from releasing certain investigative information “absent NTSB approval.”

At a hearing in the suit earlier this month, Cooper called the NTSB an “indispensable party” and declined to dismiss the lawsuit.

“He … ordered FDOT to send (a) letter asking NTSB to join the lawsuit as a party or file an amicus brief to defend its legal reasoning,” The Herald reported. If NTSB declines, Cooper added, the state will tell it “we’re going to continue the party without you.”

Canova, a former assistant prosecutor under then-State Attorney Willie Meggs in Tallahassee and a former Assistant Statewide Prosecutor in Orlando, was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida “on an interim basis in April 2016” under President Barack Obama, according to his official bio.

The Herald is represented by Sandy Bohrer, a partner in the Holland & Knight law firm in Miami and co-chair of the firm’s National Media Team.

Written By

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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