Curtis Lee is a former lawyer residing in Jacksonville. With experience in pension funds, Lee “asked the State Attorney’s Office to investigate the Police and Fire Pension Fund, especially former city councilman Karl ‘Jay’ Jabour and businessman Peter Sleiman” in March 2010. Approximately two years later, Lee filed a lawsuit in Jacksonville against the Duval County State Attorney’s Office. Now, there is a final judgment in the case. The Florida Times Union reported:
“A judge ruled State Attorney Angela Corey’s office broke Florida’s public-records law, scolding the prosecutor’s office for sending investigators to question the citizen in his home and never demonstrating why the unusual visit was ‘necessary and appropriate.’ The investigators told the resident, Curtis Lee, to stop contacting Corey’s office, something that could have a ‘chilling effect’ on similar requests, the judge said…. two State Attorney’s Office investigators came to Lee’s door, according to Judge Karen Cole’s final judgment. ‘One investigator told Mr. Lee that the ‘legal beagles’ had decided that they would not indict Mr. Sleiman and that Mr. Lee should therefore stop contacting the SAO,’ Cole wrote. ‘At trial, the SAO did not deny that the SAO sent its investigators to visit Mr. Lee. Neither did the SAO testify why such visit was necessary and appropriate.’…. Sending investigators to tell someone to stop calling the State Attorney’s Office ‘would have a chilling effect,’ Cole wrote, for most people. Most people might not have continued requesting records after a visit like that, she wrote.”
This was not the only problem that Judge Cole found. “Judge Karen Cole also criticized Corey’s office for refusing to accept Lee’s cash for records and in some cases taking more than a year to provide even an initial response.” The Duval County State Attorney’s Office only accepted certain types of payment. Judge Cole ruled:
“The State Attorney’s Office also violated public records laws by requiring the public to pay for records with business checks, cashier’s checks or money orders. Cash and debit cards were not accepted. To get a money order, Lee and others had to pay a third-party service a fee. That, Cole said, ‘unlawfully burdens’ citizens. From now on, the State Attorney’s Office has to accept cash for records. If the office wants to, the judge said, it can also allow other types of payment.”
Curtis Lee also complained about the length of time that it took the Duval County State Attorney’s Office to comply with his public records requests. Judge Cole “described how the State Attorney’s Office violated the law by taking too long with its response to requests.” For instance, “Lee sent Corey’s office six letters with 27 categories of public records requests in February 2011.” Within a week, the State Attorney’s Office’s investigators paid Lee a visit. “About the same day the investigators came to Lee’s door, the State Attorney’s Office told Lee some documents he requested were exempt from public disclosure.” Judge Cole noted that the Duval County State Attorney’s Office “gave Mr. Lee conflicting responses on this issue, at times saying that there was an open investigation into the conduct of one or both board members, and at other times saying that there was no such investigation.” Over a year later, “the office told him some of the other documents he requested didn’t exist.” With Judge Cole’s final ruling, the State attorney’s office told Lee’s lawyer that “it would have the Sleiman records available by Thursday.” The State Attorney’s Office will also be responsible for Lee’s attorney’s fees.