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Brock seeks to overturn judge, hold trial in journalist’s public records lawsuit, Judge grants trial
Press Release -- Collier Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock is seeking to over turn Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt’s ruling that journalist Gina Edwards owes $2 for public records, not the $556 in fees charged by Brock.
In challenging Hardt’s ruling, Brock wants Naples City Desk journalist Gina Edwards to prove at a trial that a “scanned copy” of a document is an “electronic copy of information contained in a computer database.”
Hardt granted Brock’s request for a trial in a ruling Thursday, and a trial has been set for May 27.
Hardt, in a March 26 ruling, found that Naples City Desk owes $2 for scanned electronic records produced on 2 CDs, as opposed to the $556, or $1 per page Brock said Edwards owed.
"It is extremely disappointing that a citizen or journalist would have to file a costly lawsuit to get affordable access to public records to examine the actions of an elected government official," Edwards said. "Now the clerk wants an even more costly trial. Is this really how the taxpayers of Collier County want the Clerk to spend their money?”
Prior to Edwards publishing critical investigative stories related to an audit Brock conducted of his 2012 political challenger, Brock’s Office charged Edwards $2 for 2 CDs containing hundreds of pages of scanned electronic records.
Naples City Desk lawyers asserted that Brock can only charge the actual cost of duplication for electronic records. Brock asserted that a statute governing court clerks allows him to charge up to $1 per page for any records in his possession.
Hardt found that the same statute requires clerks to charge fees in keeping with the public records law for electronic records stored in a database.
In seeking an evidentiary hearing/trial, Brock asserts that scanned copies of the requested documents did not exist until Edwards made her request and once created, the scanned copies did not exist in the Clerk's computer database.
Brock’s motion by attorney Anthony Pires, of the Woodward, Pires & Lombardo law firm says: “As an additional example, the ‘Clerk's Office Internal Audit policies and procedures manual or similar document’ of which Edwards requested a scanned copy, only existed in hard paper form and not in any electronic format at the time that Edwards made her request. Those documents consisted of 206 pages of hard paper copies in a binder. As requested by Edwards they, along with an additional 36 pages of hard paper documents, were scanned into an electronic format and then copied to a CD.”
Edwards requested a scanned copy of a July 18 email attachment of a draft report submitted to Brock’s office by a consultant in the audit involving Brock’s 2012 political challenger and any mark-ups or written correspondence by Brock’s staff in response. She also requested a scanned copy of Brock’s Audit Policies and Procedures manual or similar document.
Edwards’ attorney, Ryan Witmer of the O’Boyle Law Firm, argued that Brock was acting in his capacity as accountant and clerk to the Board of County Commissioners and that public records produced by Brock in that role are subject to Chapter 119 of the Florida statutes which says a government official can charge a citizen 15 cents a page or the actual cost of duplication, in this case a CD.
Witmer also argued that even under the statute governing clerks, Florida Statute 28.24(28), also requires court clerks to comply with the public records act when providing an "electronic copy of information contained in a computer database."
Witmer also argued that “If the records already existed in an electronic medium when the request was made, the Defendant had a duty to provide the records electronically for the actual cost of duplication. If however, the records did not exist electronically, the Defendant was not required to produce electronic records, but by electing to do so was required to charge a fee in accordance with § 119.”
Edwards public records request of Feb. 7, 2014
Brock motion for re-hearing
Brock motion to set evidentiary hearing/trial
Hardt order to grant trial
Judge Hardt's Order striking $556 fee by Brock
Naples City Desk Reporter Gina Edwards memo of law
Naples City Desk Reporter Gina Edwards memo of law for fees in accordance with F.S. 119
Brock Memo of Law 1
Brock Memo of Law 2
Public Records lawsuit filed by Naples City Desk reporter Gina Edwards
Support for Public Records Lawsuit
The nation’s largest professional association of electronic journalists, the Radio Television Digital News Association, offered a letter in support of the lawsuit filed by Watchdog City journalist Gina Edwards to obtain public records from the Collier Clerk of Courts.
“RTDNA believes in fair and affordable access to public information, as required by Florida statute. We believe the $556 total cost charged for these records by your office is clearly outside both the intent and the actual definition of the law.”
View the RTDNA letter
Naples Daily News Columnist Brent Batten writes about Watchdog City reporter's lawsuit
Background about the lawsuit
Reaction by Edwards & First Amendment Attorney to Winning Lawsuit
See related stories
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"Appraisals reviewed by Brocks own staff 2 years ago document construction Brock says not proven"
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Dateline: Naples, Fla., April 14, 2014
Contact Gina Edwards at 239-293-3640 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org