Days after Jacksonville resident Curtis Lee submitted a public records request to the office of State Attorney Angela Corey, SAO investigators showed up at his home. They told Curtis he should stop contacting Angela Corey and her public records designees.
Circuit Court Judge Karen R. Cole ruled on August 1 that Angela Corey and two assistant state attorneys violated the state's public record laws in response to Lee's requests for information about the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund. Judge Cole awarded Lee attorneys fees and costs. She also ordered the SAO to change its policy of requiring a money order or cashier's check from the public for records, saying the SAO should accept cash and other forms of payment. And she slammed Corey's office for sending investigators to Lee's home.
"Plainly, a visit by two SAO investigators to a citizen only days after that citizen had made a public records request directed to the SAO, couple with the advice that the citizen should ‘stop clling the SAO,’ would have a chilling effect on the willingness of the citizen (or most citizens) to pursue production of the public records to which he or she is entitled under Florida law," Judge Cole wrote.
Lee said he objected to the SAO requirement that he pay for records by money order. He lives 18 miles away from the SAO, and he said, picking up records required him to take money out of a bank and buy a money order, which he argued added to the cost of the records he sought. Judge Cole agreed.
"It was really aggravating to me for several reasons," Lee told me. “It was really inconvenient. I'm 57 years old now. What if I was 78? Why don't they take personal checks? What if I didn't have a car. What if I was in a wheelchair. What is the justification for not taking personal checks?"
Judge Cole awarded Lee attorneys fees and cost. The ruling will also make it somewhat easier for a regular person to obtain records. Judge Cole told the SAO to accept cash and other forms of payment.
"In my view it's pretty clear-cut,” Lee says. “The state attorney and individuals in her office were violating the law. They made me wait over a year for several documents. In that sense I'm glad that I'm vindicated.
I first wrote about Curtis Lee and his investigation into the Jacksonville Fire and Pension Fund in 2010. A retired lawyer, Lee had worked in pension funds for 18 1/2 years as legal counsel and was interested in how Jacksonville's fund operated.
Earlier this year, on May 14, Lee was awarded $75,000 in attorneys’ fees in another case he filed against the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund and its executive director and fund administrator, John Keane, for public records violations. Lee asked for records in 2009. He balked when Keane said it would cost him $326.40. The pension fund spent $300,000 defending the case that Lee filed, according to media reports.
Judge Cole has not yet determined the amount of attorneys’ fees and costs in the State Attorney Office Case, and Corey's office may appeal the ruling.