We The People: Penalties for Not Following Public Records Law

By: John Rogers Email
By: John Rogers Email

Florida law allows anyone to access documents from a public agency without proof of identity or even a reason, but what are the punishments if an agency doesn't follow the rules?

Eyewitness News Reporter John Rogers explores that in this final part of the series, 'We the People'.

Everything in the dark shall be brought to light.

Florida law makes it easy for citizens to get a hold of public records, but if a public agency refuses to follow this law... there could be punishments.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum says, "There's no excuse today for not making your records available."

Florida statutes says if a member of a governmental agency knowingly violates the sunshine law, he could be guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

This means up to a year in jail and up to a one-thousand dollar fine.

ACLU Attorney Larry Spalding says, "Business and government like to do a lot of their activities behind closed doors."

But the sunshine law keeps these activities in the open.

All documents and materials made in connection with any state agency become public records.

If a public official knowingly violates this law, the person could be subject to removal from office.

But the Attorney General's office says public agencies in Florida have done a good job following the law.

Florida Sunshine Law and Public Records Attorney Alexis Lambert says, "Sometimes all we have to do is provide agencies with a friendly reminder about the statutory limits on pricing. And little problems tend to resolve themselves rather quickly."

When faced with problems in requesting public records, the first line of defense is the Attorney General's office.

The office says an individual can also file a civil suit.

"or file a criminal complaint in cases of particularly egregious conduct with the State attorney's office in your individual judicial circuit," says Lambert.

Some warning signs you can look for is if a public agency demands identification or charges an unreasonable price for your request.

Florida's public records law is meant to be available to everyone without restraint....but if the law is not followed, citizens should not hold back in speaking out.

To find out more information about public records in Florida, click on the link below.

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Patricia Location: Naples on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:32 PM
    Our HOA Board is about to have a vote for new members. One of the current board members is trying to do a takeover he has submitted 5 of his employees who work for him to serve on the board. We are 264 homes this member owns 101 on these homes. But none of the people he has put forth live on property or own any of the properties. We believe he is trying to find a way to get renters in without following any of the rules in the docs. Can he do this without violating the sunshine laws since all the board will then be his employees? They would be able to have meeting everyday.
  • by John Location: North Miami Beach on May 31, 2011 at 08:37 PM
    I know of a situation in North Miami Beach where a citizen activist has had a trespass warning put against them and is being threatened with arrest if they go to city hall or the police department for any reason. this individual has done nothing but tell the truth about what has been done and being done in the city.As time has shown and proven. The police made up stories to try and justify those actions.
  • by Nicki Location: Tampa on Mar 5, 2011 at 03:52 AM
    There is a huge news story here and part of it concerns a local non-profit that is refusing to provide information to a reporter under the Sunshine Law and has been for months. According to the news story the non profit has over $3 million in federal and state grant money. Doesn't that mean they have to comply with the Sunshine Law?
  • by Samuel Chesser Location: Tavares, Fl on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:28 AM
    Our Board of Directors uses telephone conferences to vote on issues without posting notice of the time or subject. Also no minutes are taken and no record of how the directors voted or of any debate. The chair person claims these to be emergency sessions and they do not have to be open to the owners of the HOA. Our governing documents and Roberts rules do not specifficately allow telephone votes. I don't think we are afforded any protection under the "sunshine Law" but is there an agency who has jurisdiction in this matter?
  • by Hope This Location: Is Helpful on Dec 12, 2009 at 02:19 PM
    NSNP wrote (in part): " If they won't give you documents, why would they mediate?" Because if you file a suit under F.S. 119.11 to get a judge to compel them to obey they law, under F.S. 119.12 they will be responsible for all of YOUR legal fees unless they can prove to the judge that everything you asked for was in fact exempt from disclosure per state law. In other words, confronted with a lawsuit, the agency knows it would have to WIN at trial or it will be paying your legal expenses. The Legislature very deliberately stacked the deck for the public on this one. In contrast, Mediation is a way for the state agency to not pay your legal fees and gain some time before agreeing, with some mild persuasion from the Attorney General's office, that actually on second thought they will cough up the public records.
  • by NSNP Location: Broward on Dec 3, 2009 at 06:50 PM
    We just contacted our Attorney General since we have been delayed for 6 weeks in our attempts to obtain public records from an agency in Broward. Our response was essentially it is not their job. Why bother to contact him? He says go to the States Atty. The mediation program has to be agreed to by all parties. If they won't give you documents, why would they mediate?
  • by Dana Matlock Location: Flagler Beach, FL on Oct 26, 2009 at 11:44 AM
    Does the "Sunshine Law" pertain to JUST government agencies or does it also apply to Boards of Directors for Homeowners' Associations, or their State Association's Board of Directors?
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