By Tracy M. Evans, Esq., Associate, Saxon, Gilmore, Carraway & Gibbons, P.A.
A judge in Brevard County, Florida recently issued a Final Judgment finding a private entity subject to Florida’s public records laws to the extent that the private entity’s records were generated during the performance of a statutorily authorized function delegated by the county.
The Brevard County Clerk of Court filed a lawsuit against the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, Inc. (“EDC”), a private entity, in order to gain access to documents relating to EDC’s dealings with BlueWare, Inc. (“BlueWare”), an information technology company. These documents were needed as part of an investigation into a bribery scandal where BlueWare was awarded a multi-million dollar contract with the Brevard County Court to digitize court records after BlueWare made financial contributions to the former Clerk of Court’s re-election campaign.
Florida Statutes, Section 125.01 grants a county broad powers to perform actions that are in the common interest of the people of the county that are not inconsistent with the law. This statute also gives a county the authority to “employ personnel” and to “enter into contractual obligations” in order to carry out these statutorily authorized functions.
The Circuit Court Judge determined that Brevard County delegated a “statutorily authorized function” to EDC, pursuant to certain service contracts entered into by EDC with the county. In 1989, EDC first contracted with Brevard County to carry out certain duties related to the economic development of the county, and most recently entered into another service contract with Brevard County in 2012. The scope of services that EDC was to provide to the county under the original 1989 agreement remained largely unchanged in the 2012 agreement, and included duties related to the economic development of the county.
The Circuit Court Judge found that economic development is a “traditional and long-accepted function of government” based on governing case law. As such, the Court determined that EDC was subject to Florida’s public record laws and was required to produce any records generated in carrying out its duties related to the economic development of the county, including any documents related to its dealings with BlueWare.
EDC filed an appeal of the Final Judgment in the Fifth District Court of Appeals on April 21, 2014. We will continue to monitor the status of the appeal and report on any opinion rendered that may serve as precedent for future cases relating to the production of records by private entities under Florida’s public records laws.
A copy of the Final Judgment and Notice of Appeal is available here: http://spacecoastdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Notice-of-Appeal.pdf
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