In Florida access to public records and public meetings is a constitutionally protected civil right. See Article 1, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution.
I’m a civil rights advocate; so much of my time is spent auditing public agencies for their compliance with Florida’s open government laws. Those include Section 119 (The Public Records Act), and Section 286 (The Sunshine Law).
Recently I visited your agency and made a public records request. Things did not go well because someone in your agency refused to allow me to inspect or photograph non-exempt public records. The details of your particular case are spelled-out in the Verified Complaint that I filed with the Clerk of Court and which will be served on you shortly.
Unfortunately, under Florida law a requestor who has been unlawfully denied access to public records has no other recourse than to seek judicial intervention. I have, therefore, filed a lawsuit against your agency in order to vindicate the public’s “Right To Know.” See State ex rel. Veale v. City of Boca Raton, 353 So.2d 1194 (Fla.App. 4 Dist., 1977).
Because my goal is compliance with Florida’s Public Records Act, I have no desire to be punitive. Perhaps, through this litigation your agency will become aware of its shortcomings with respect to Florida’s exceedingly broad open government laws, and will take some remedial action. Think of this as a teaching moment.
I realize that some folks don’t like what I do. They feel that I engage in some kind of “gotcha” litigation. That is, of course, illogical. What I do is much like the activity of a Highway Trooper who uses a radar gun to document the fact that some motorists are exceeding the speed limit. The Trooper does not cause anyone to break the law. Nor do I. I am reminded of the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”
We now find ourselves at a fork in the road. On the one hand, you may chose to dig-in your heels and fight. You certainly have that option. I think, however, you will find that approach will create an unnecessary expense to the taxpayers and serve to validate the allegations in my lawsuit. I would not have filed my lawsuit against your agency if I were not certain of the law and the facts and committed to seeing this through to the bitter end. Although I’ve started Pro Se, I have reserved the right to retain counsel and once that happens economy will no longer be a consideration.
On the other hand, we can recognize that there is a problem and take immediate action to correct it. I don’t expect an admission, of course. But producing the records would be a great start.
Once the records have been produced, the only hurtle to settlement left is the payment of my expenses. At this point in the process my expenses are still quite low, especially in comparison to what they will be if I retain counsel. By the way, I’m only asking for the expenses that will be awarded by the courts if we continue. See Weeks v. Golden, 846 So.2d 1247 (Fla. App., 2003). In fact, once liability is established you will also become responsible for all fees that have been waived pursuant to Section 57.081 and Section 57.082 of the Florida Statutes plus any additional expenses that I may incur moving forward. The cost of settlement will never be lower than it is right now.
So I’d like to invite you to work with me to correct the problem. Let’s agree to resolve this matter with as much economy as possible. Let’s see if we can find a way to improve access to public records in the custody and control of your agency. Once this is over I hope that you will consider me a resource and not an adversary.
If you’d like to talk about this, please feel free to call or write.