NOVEMBER 1999: An Escambia County School Board member who spent seven days in jail for Public Records Law violations before being acquitted by an appellate judge sued the school board to recover $188,000 in legal fees. In May, Vanette Webb was convicted of knowingly withholding public records from a parent, Susan Watson, who had been critical of Webb. (See also May 1999, October 1999, March 2001, July 2003)
OCTOBER 1999: Gov. Jeb Bush reinstated suspended Escambia School Board member Vanette Webb to her position on the board after a new judge reversed her conviction for violating the state Public Records Law. On appeal, Judge William White, 1st Judicial Circuit, reversed Webb's conviction, saying prosecutors failed to admit into evidence any public record she allegedly withheld from parent Susan Watson, who had been critical of Webb. The school district was ordered to pay Webb's legal fees, estimated at $30,000. After her conviction in May, Webb spent seven days in jail. (See also May 1999, November 1999, March 2001, July 2003)
JUNE 1999: A circuit court in Martin County sentenced Paul Curry to three years in prison for using public records to harass his former neighbor. A jury convicted Curry of stalking Jacqueline DiCarlo by performing multiple public document searches and filing complaints on her with various state agencies. Curry has appealed the decision.
MAY 1999: An Escambia County School Board member spent seven days in jail for violating Florida’s Public Records Law. Gov. Jeb Bush suspended Vanette Webb indefinitely from her position as board member, and Webb could face trial before the state Senate if she does not resign. Webb had argued that she could not turn over the requested documents because they contained confidential student information. Following Webb’s May 14 conviction, 1st Judicial Circuit Judge Pat Kinsey sentenced Webb to 11 months and 15 days in jail and ordered her to pay a $1,000 fine for knowingly withholding public records from a parent who had been critical of Webb and her politics. However, Judge Kinsey suspended all but 30 days of the sentence. Judge William White, who took over the case, released Webb on a $2,000 bond pending her appeal and suspended the rest of her sentence. (See also October 1999, November 1999, March 2001, July 2003)
MAY 1999: Non-criminal charges against three Tallahassee state Department of Health officials were dropped in exchange for the health department revising its grievance policy. Phil Reeves, Sharon Heber and William Reinhold were charged with violating Florida’s Open Meetings Law when they conducted a grievance hearing for a Collier County employee. The state agency admitted no wrongdoing.
OCTOBER 1998: A St. Lucie County commissioner was arrested after allegedly directing employees to illegally obtain computerized voter rolls, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Former County Commissioner Ken Sattler was charged with computer theft, a felony, and violating state election codes, a misdemeanor. The two employees he directed to get the voter rolls were also charged. Bob Searl, director of automated services, and William Klimovich, a systems analyst, got the names and addresses of all voters in St. Lucie County for Sattler. Sattler admitted to the FDLE that he had asked the county employees to get the records, bypassing the records custodian, because it was taking too long for the custodian to fill his records request. Sattler, who resigned his position as county commissioner after his arrest, and Klimovich admitted to illegally accessing the records, according to the FDLE. Klimovich told the FDLE in an affidavit that he accessed and copied the records out of friendship and the possibility of career advancement. Sattler used the voter rolls to send political fliers to Republicans in his failed bid for re-election in October.
MARCH 1998: An administrator for the Department of Environmental Protection has been charged with violating Florida’s Open Records Law. Bobby Cooley, regional director for the DEP in Pensacola, is accused of violating the law by requiring records requesters to surrender driver’s licenses or other forms of identification while viewing public records. State Attorney Curtis Golden’s office filed the civil complaint against Cooley because according to Florida law and attorney general opinions, a records custodian may not require identification as a condition of access to public records.
SEPTEMBER 1997: Lee County Judge Edward Volz fined former Estero Fire Commissioner Vernon Conly $500 after a jury convicted Conly of violating the Open Meetings Law. Judge Volz fined three other members of the Fire Commission $250 after the three -- Georgia Gates, George Horne and John Kelley -- pleaded no contest to a similar criminal misdemeanor charge. Volz withheld formal adjudication of guilt for all four commissioners, who in return promised not to seek reinstatement to the Fire Commission. Gov. Lawton Chiles suspended the four from office after they were charged with violating the Open Meetings Law in connection with an April meeting. Members of the public filed complaints against the commissioners after a public meeting that lasted only a few minutes. Spectators at the meeting said the commissioners called the meeting to order, voted to purchase two vehicles, and adjourned before most members of the public could get into the meeting room and get seated. The room was locked until just before the meeting was called to order.
JUNE 1997: The City of Opa-Locka paid a $500 fine, $108 in court costs and made a $500 donation to United Way after former City Manager Earnie Neal pleaded guilty to violating the state's Public Records Law. Neal said he ignored 35 records requests from his predecessor as city manager, Dennis Whitt, because the requests were frivolous and amounted to harassment. Whitt, who was suing the city for wrongful termination, wanted Neal's cellular telephone records and copies of any ethics complaints against Neal. Neal resigned in May after state investigators said he withheld the records and sexually harassed employees.
MAY 1997: The Florida Supreme Court removed a Broward County judge from office for falsifying public records. In a 5-2 vote, the justices removed County Judge LaRan Johnson for back-dating records in 42 to 57 DUI cases in order to reduce her caseload. The court said the falsification of the records affected mandatory driver's license suspensions. In some cases, the records of guilty pleas were back-dated so far that the suspensions would have ended before the actual hearing date, giving some drivers no actual suspensions at all, said the court. Judge Johnson said she had an otherwise unblemished judicial record. She sought a public reprimand instead of removal and admitted she erred in falsifying the records.
MAY 1997: Gov. Lawton Chiles removed four members of the Estero Fire Commission from office after the State Attorney's Office charged them with misdemeanor violations of the Open Meetings Law. The board members allegedly failed to allow the public into the meeting room in time to take their seats before an April board meeting began. The board took one vote and adjourned before many of the spectators could enter the room, witnesses said. A judge issued an injunction requiring the board to obey the Open Meetings Law. The commissioners pleaded not guilty to the charges.
MARCH 1996: Dade Metro Commission Chairman Arthur Teele Jr. agreed not to contest a civil Open Meetings Law charge and to pay a $250 fine. The State Attorney's Office alleged that Teele met secretly in 1994 with commissioners Bruce Kaplan and Maurice Ferre, who paid fines in 1995 to settle similar charges against them. (See also August 1995)
JANUARY 1996: The State Attorney's Office charged Bartow County Supervisor Emily Burgner with an unintentional Public Records Law violation after a former county employee claimed that the county took three months to produce public records he requested. The violation carries a fine of up to $500, but no jail time.
AUGUST 1995: Two Dade County commissioners agreed to pay fines stemming from civil charges of Open Meetings Law violations. Bruce Kaplan agreed to pay $500 and Maurice Ferre agreed to pay $250 to settle charges that they met secretly in December to discuss the selection of a new county manager. Ferre offered an apology for meeting with Kaplan. Kaplan denied that the meeting with Ferre and commission Chair Arthur Teele Jr. constituted a violation. However, he acknowledged a lack of judgment and agreed to pay the fine so that he could put the matter behind him. (See also June 1996)
MARCH 1995: On the eve of his scheduled trial, Kenneth City Mayor Harold Paxton pleaded no contest to violations of the Open Meetings Law. Paxton was fined $400 in court costs. The charges stemmed from six closed meetings that Paxton allegedly attended in 1991 and 1992 regarding city construction projects. Paxton attended six of a dozen meetings that were neither advertised nor open to the public where council members approved about $8,000 in improvements to the town hall and police department building.