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Watchdog City reporter files public records lawsuit against Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock

City Desk Naples-Marco Island, Florida
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Gina Edwards
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URGENT Breaking News:

Watchdog City Press reporter files public records lawsuit against Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock challenging $556 illegal and retaliatory fee

View the lawsuit

Naples, Fla. — Watchdog City Press reporter Gina Edwards filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to defend the public’s right to know by challenging a $556 illegal and retaliatory fee for electronic public records charged to her by Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock following publication of her investigative stories.

“The fees imposed by the Clerk of Court for these county records significantly harms the public’s right to know about government actions in Collier County, and they need to be challenged in court,” said Edwards, who is the owner of Naples City Desk, a digital newspaper that publishes at

“This new fee policy for electronic county records appears to be retaliatory in nature, illegal, and an arbitrary exercise of power by Brock,” Edwards said. “The Clerk can’t impose one rate for citizens and members of the press he likes and another rate for citizens and members of the press who he doesn’t like.”

Naples City Desk is represented by attorney and public records advocate Ryan Witmer of the O’Boyle Law Firm.

“Public records fee issues are at the front lines of the battle to protect citizens’ rights to have fair and equitable access to public records under the law,” Witmer said. “Increasingly, we’re seeing public officials throw up high fees in an effort to deter citizens and journalists and throw off scrutiny of government actions. Brock’s actions clearly violate Edwards’ rights as a citizen and as a journalist seeking to obtain these county records.”

Naples Press Club President Carole Greene offered a statement of support: "Transparency in government is vital to the American system, and journalists play an important part in defending the public's right to know.   The Naples Press Club supports the efforts by Watchdog City journalist Gina Edwards to legally challenge these allegedly illegal public records fees and hold the Clerk of Courts of Collier County accountable."

Brock’s office charged a $556 fee in response to Edwards' Feb. 7 public records request for an electronic scanned copy of Brock’s audit policy and procedures manual, and for a scanned electronic copy of an email attachment referenced in a consultant’s report and the response by Brock’s staff to that document.

The documents sought by Edwards are not judicial records nor are they official records. Rather they are county records created pursuant to the Clerk’s role as ex officio clerk, accountant and auditor to the Board of County Commissioners pursuant to F.S. 125.17.

Brock imposed a $1 per page fee for the non-court and non-official records on Naples City Desk on Feb. 14, following the news organization’s press coverage critical of Brock’s Office published on Feb. 11.

Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Manual, on pages 167 and 168, specifically states that a Clerk of Courts cannot charge $1 a page for non-court and non-official records. The Sunshine Manual further references two Attorney General Opinions that prohibit this fee. The attorney general opinions are AGO 85-80 and AGO 94-60.

The Florida public records law, F.S. 119, sets forth copying charges for paper county documents at 15 cents a page, but it’s questionable whether Brock has the authority to impose even 15 cents per page for the electronic records sought by Naples City Desk.

Previously, Brock’s office communicated that the typical policy for obtaining electronic copies of county public records from his office is that the first two hours of staff time to copy electronic public records is free for members of the public, and the charge for the CD containing the records is $1.

Brock’s Office charged Naples City Desk only $2 for 2 CDs that contained hundreds of pages of audit work papers created by Brock’s Office in the past month — prior to publication of stories about Brock’s audit of the non-profit organization founded by his former political opponent.

(See Edwards’ Naples City Desk stories on “Appraisals reviewed by Brock’s own staff 2 years ago document construction Brock says not proven” and “Elected auditor Brock sics law enforcement on 2012 political challenger over housing grant and Naples City Desk Investigation: Brock allegations false, misleading.”)

Naples City Desk urged Brock to reconsider the fee policy and to publish the audit policy and procedures manual for his office online so that any member of the public can access it for free.

Brock did not respond to Edwards’ Feb. request to reduce the fees.

About Gina Edwards: Gina Edwards is an investigative reporter and co-founder of Watchdog Watchdog City is a cutting edge new journalism platform that supports the creation and production of new voices of journalism by providing journalists with the technology to sell their stories directly to the public via digital subscriptions and single story sales.  

When news consumers buy stories on Watchdog City or subscribe to a journalist’s digital News Hub, the money goes right to the journalist who produced the work. Journalists set their own prices. News consumers’ grassroots subscription support helps put journalists back on the beat.

Watchdog City Press journalists go through a credentialing process and pledge to uphold a strict Code of Ethics to protect the credibility and journalistic integrity of their work.

Watchdog City beta launched its subscription platform in late 2013 that allows journalists to launch News Hubs, or digital publications and video shows. Naples City Desk, owned by Edwards, is the first News Hub to launch. Watchdog City is currently taking applications from journalists to launch additional News Hubs.

A national award-winning investigative reporter, Edwards specializes in reporting on financial crime and public corruption. The Florida Press Club recognized Edwards with a special First Place Freedom of Information Award in November 2013 for Edwards’ for her work to open public records related to Florida’s pension fund investments in on-going investigation, “Secret Deals, Public Money” available at

She received a prestigious Green Eye Shade award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013, competing against online journalists from 11 southern states, for her story on Watchdog City: “Trusting Wall Street’s Wizard’s Behind the Curtain: More than $240 billion in public pension money locked in secretive private deals.”  

Edwards has received honors from numerous journalism organizations including a top national prize from Investigative Reporters and Editors for her public corruption investigation of the Stadium Naples scandal at the Naples Daily News. She has also received awards for investigative and beat coverage from the Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Press Club and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.

About Ryan Witmer and the O’Boyle Law Firm: The O’Boyle Law Firm is an interstate law firm with the Florida Branch in Deerfield Beach, Florida.  The Law Firm specializes in Public Records Law and Free Speech.  Ryan Witmer is one of Florida’s rising stars in the field of public records law.  He attended Drexel Law School and interned with the public defender’s offices of both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey.  Ryan also took an interest in the First Amendment which naturally led him to the area of public records.  His penchant for protecting the rights of others has driven him down the path of advocating for journalists, the citizenry at-large, and the democratic process. 


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Related In-depth Story:

Elected auditor Brock sics law enforcement on 2012 political challenger over housing grant; Naples City Desk investigation: Internal documents show Brock allegations false, misleading 

Appraisals reviewed by Brocks own staff 2 years ago document construction Brock says not proven  

Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock stonewalls Naples City Desk with illegal $536 fee for public records

Dateline: Naples, Fla., Feb. 25, 2014

Contact Gina Edwards at 239-293-3640 or by email at 


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