JULY 2001: Judge L. Haldane Taylor ruled that Nassau County officials did not violate the state’s Open Meetings and Public Records laws when making decisions concerning building a new courthouse in Yulee at meetings of which the public was not made aware. However, the judge did rule that the commissioners violated the Open Meetings Law when allowing Clerk of the Circuit Court J.M. Oxley Jr. to attend closed meetings.
JUNE 2001: Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal reinstated a Public Records Law conviction against former Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb. Webb was fined $1,000 for withholding records, and sentenced to 11 months and 15 days in jail, which was suspended to 30 days. Gov. Jeb Bush removed Webb from office. Escambia County Judge William White Jr. then reversed Webb’s conviction, released her from jail, and allowed her to be reinstated to the school board. An appeals court panel has since reinstated the conviction and remanded the case back to Escambia County, saying that Webb admitted that the files she withheld were public records.
MAY 2001: Chief Judge Sandra Taylor ruled that a Key Largo panel of wastewater experts, which helped select a company to build sewers in Key Largo, violated the state’s Open Meetings Law. Advertisements for the teleconferences were not made, and the $60 million project was discussed outside of a public meeting. The ruling voided the contract between Monroe County’s Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Ogden Water Systems. Monroe County and Ogden appealed the ruling. Ten months later, Chief Circuit Judge Richard Payne ordered Monroe County to pay $26,285 to the local citizens group that successfully fought the Sunshine lawsuit.
APRIL 2001: A Lee County judge found County Planning Director Paul O’Connor not guilty of failing to disclose meetings with lobbyists. Prosecutors were unable to prove that O’Connor illegally spoke with a lobbyist. O’Connor reportedly ignored the county’s disclosure law repeatedly during the six years that he served as planning director.
APRIL 2001: The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office filed a civil action against Golden Beach town councilman Adalberto Paruas for violating Florida’s Open Meetings Law. The councilman had resident Oded Meltzer rejected from a committee meeting, during which the committee reviewed applications for the town clerk and manager positions. Paruas claimed he was not aware that the meeting was public. Meltzer sued Paruas for breaking the Sunshine Law. Beyond being responsible for $7,000 in legal fees, Paruas also settled to pay $500 in fines. Both sums will be paid by the town.
MARCH 2001: Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals reinstated a Public Records Law conviction against Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb. Webb had originally been fined $1,000 for withholding records and sentenced to 11 months and 15 days in jail, which was suspended to 30 days. Escambia County Judge William White Jr. reversed Webb’s conviction after seven days in jail and allowed her to be reinstated to the school board. The 1st District Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Escambia County, saying that Webb admitted that the files she withheld were public records. (See also May 1999, October 1999, November 1999, July 2003)
FEBRUARY 2001: A circuit judge ruled that a Martin County elections supervisor violated election and public records laws when she allowed Republican Party members to take absentee ballot applications from her office. Elections Supervisor Peggy Robbins allowed the Republican Party members to fill in missing information, which is against Florida Statutes.
JANUARY 2001: A judge ruled that Martin County commissioners violated the Sunshine law by meeting in closed-door sessions to discuss possible legal action pending against the county. The Palm Beach Post filed the suit against the county, due to the fact that the commissioners met to discuss legal notices threatening potential lawsuits. The commissioners violated the law because the county was not a party to a lawsuit. The judge ordered the county to release written transcripts of the meetings and to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees.
JANUARY 2001: Tampa Palms, a community development group, agreed to pay $40,000 in legal fees after deciding not to appeal a judge’s decision that the group violated the Open Meetings Law.
JANUARY 2001: State Investigators have determined that state attorney Harry Coe attempted to destroy public records and filed false campaign reports. Coe’s attempts to destroy records on his laptop computer were violations of the state’s Public Records Law. The investigation began in July under the requests of Gov. Jeb Bush, before Coe took his own life.