Legal Report, January 2015
General Counsel, Trela J. White
Asst. General Counsel, Jennifer G. Ashton
1. Jeffrey Marcus Gray vs. Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, Inc. (“LSS”); Case No. 2014-CA-4647-XXXXCV-E Circuit Court for the 4th Judicial Circuit in and for Duval County, Florida
A self-described public activist (Gray) who earns part of his livelihood by making public records requests for unwanted documents on unsuspecting private entities which are agents of public agencies and therefore, potentially subject to Chapter 119 requirements, requested public records from LSS, such a private entity. When the LSS representative failed to provide the public records to Gray’s satisfaction, this lawsuit was filed. Gray often utilizes the services of an attorney named Abraham Shakfeh, who has filed approximately thirteen (13) lawsuits seeking public records on behalf of Gray. Joel Chandler is involved in this case, as well, and has identified himself as Shakfeh’s paralegal. Chandler picked up Gray, drove him to LSS and sat at the counsel table next to Shakfeh at the hearing. Shakfeh pays Gray when he recovers attorney’s fees in these cases. The court ruled that the means utilized by Gray (which are more fully described in the court order) constituted a flagrant abuse of Chapter 119 and were designed to ambush unsuspecting private entities. The court further opined that the practices amounted to no more than a scam and denied Gray’s complaint seeking attorney’s fees and costs. The court went on to state that the Public Records Act “…was not designed to create a cottage industry for so-called ‘civil rights activists’ or others who seek to abuse the Act for financial gain.”
2. Proposed Public Records Legislation: In an effort to curb allegedly predatory records requests such as those described above, two (2) Florida Legislators have proposed bills in the State Senate and House that would amend the public records laws to protect private companies doing business with state agencies. The legislation was filed by State Senator Wilton Simpson and Representative Halsey Beshears. Open records advocates say the bills, as written, would impede access to public records. We will follow these bills and monitor their progress.
3. Federal RICO Claim to Curtail Abusive Public Records Requests: An action similar to the Gray v. LSS case described above may be pending soon in Palm Beach County. On October 10, 2014, the Town Commission of the Town of Gulf Stream unanimously voted to authorize their outside counsel, Gerald Richman, Esq., to file a federal RICO case against those who have made more than Fifteen Hundred (1,500) public records requests to the Town. The Town of Gulfstream has spent approximately Three Hundred and Seventy Thousand Dollars ($370,000.00) since January of 2014 in the legal fight against Martin O’Boyle and Christopher O’Hare dealing with their public records requests. By way of background information, O’Boyle founded the “Citizens Awareness Foundation” (CAF) in 2013, and Joel Chandler served as its Executive Director. Recently, however, Chandler became disillusioned with the CAF and stated that the foundation was nothing more than a scheme to generate lawsuits for the O’Boyle Law Firm which is being run by Martin O’Boyle’s son, Jonathan. This case will involve public records being requested from a municipality as opposed to a private entity contracting with a public entity as in the Gray case, but is similar in that it seeks to curb predatory requests and abuses of the Public Records Act. We will monitor this case and report on its progress.
4. Town of Gulf Stream et al vs. Palm Beach County, and Sharon R. Bock, as Clerk and Comptroller of Palm Beach County, Intervenor
Case No. 502011CA017953XXXXMB. Inspector General Funding Lawsuit.
Fourteen municipalities sued Palm Beach County challenging the method of funding for the Inspector General Program (the “OIG Program”). The current funding method authorizes the Board of County Commissioners to set an amount the municipalities must pay for the OIG Program and to bill municipalities for that amount. The municipalities contend that the current funding method is an unlawful tax and invades municipal home rule budgetary authority. A three day non-jury trial regarding this matter commenced Tuesday, August 19, 2014. The parties submitted proposed orders to Judge Brunson on September 2, 2014, and are awaiting a ruling..