April 29, 2016

Judge suggests Martin County Commission refused to follow law

By Mark Miller Senior Attorney

ineptitudeYesterday, the trial court in Martin County, Florida, let the infamous, anti-property-rights Martin County Commission members know that they can’t hide public emails behind private email addresses and think they will get away with it. One of those commission members—a former judge, of all things—failed to turn over emails regarding public matters to a property owner who requested them. The commissioner held the emails for years without turning them over, despite a legal requirement to do so.

The local court skewered the Martin County Commission in its order on the matter. The court’s words are more damning than anything PLF could write:

The newly discovered emails from a heretofore unrevealed private email account of Commissioner Scott are direct evidence of an unlawful refusal to disclose public records.

(emphasis added). And while unlawfully refusing to disclose public records, the Commission wasted tax payer money on litigation it could have avoided if it simply followed the law and respected private property rights, as enshrined in the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.

You can read the trial court’s entire order here. Because of the Commission’s failures, the trial court found it had no choice but to re-open the case, a case that was on appeal before the appeals court asked the trial court to consider this latest failing of the Martin County Commission.

My PLF Atlantic Center colleague, Christina Martin, summarized the appeal a few weeks ago after submitting an amicus brief in support of the private property owners and open government. You can read her summary of the appeal here. Now that the trial judge has re-opened the case, that appeal has become moot. But nevertheless, Christina’s insights bear repeating:

Seemingly everyone values government transparency, but some government officials’ actions speak otherwise–and not just high-profile officials with presidential aspirations. Local governments, too, can undermine the accountability offered by public records laws by neglecting the duty to retain records.  A lawsuit against Martin County, Florida, revealed that the County flouted its responsibility to retain and timely release access to public records.

And Christina’s coup-de-grace rings even more true now, in light of the Commission’s latest failures, than it did when she first wrote it:

 Government should not be excused from its duties simply because it is inept.

Too bad for the Martin County Commission—because other than ineptitude, what excuse does it have?

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