Attorney Nellie L. King firmly believes in the rights set forth by the Constitution and its duty to protect its people. This includes citizens’ right to public information and government proceedings. If you seek to challenge any conditions or denials to access of Florida’s Sunshine Law that establishes this openness of government, it is in your best interest to employ legal counsel. An experienced defense attorney can help you better understand the rules of the Sunshine Law and, as a result, whether you have a case on your hands.
Florida’s “Government-in-the-Sunshine” law provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels. The Sunshine Law requires that:
This law applies to “any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation or political subdivision.” Virtually all state and local collegial public bodies are covered by the open meetings requirements with the exception of the judiciary and the state legislature, which has its own constitutional provision relating to access. Also, note that federal agencies do not come under this law.
The Sunshine Law extends to all discussions or deliberations as well as the formal action taken by a board or commission. In essence, the law is applicable to any gathering, whether formal or casual, of two or more members of the same board or commission to discuss some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by the public board or commission. There is no requirement that a quorum be present for a meeting to be covered under the law.
The Sunshine Law provides for a right of access to inspect and copy existing public records. The Florida Supreme Court defines public records to be all materials made or received by an agency in connection with official business which are used to perpetuate, communicate, or formalize knowledge. They are not limited to traditional written documents, and tapes, photographs, films and sound recordings alike are considered public records subject to inspection. Note that as soon as a document is received by a public agency, it becomes a public record, unless there is a legislatively created exemption that makes it confidential and not subject to disclosure.
Unless otherwise exempted, your request for public records must be accepted, whether you make it in person, over the telephone, or in writing, provided the required fees are paid. In addition, nothing in the law requires you to disclose any reason for your request.
That being said, once you have paid the fee as prescribed by the law, you shall receive a copy of the requested records. If no fee is prescribed, an agency is generally allowed to charge up to 15 cents per one-sided copy for copies that are 14″ x 8 1/2″ or less. A charge of up to $1 per copy may be assessed for a certified copy of a public record. Note that if the nature and volume of the records to be copied requires extensive use of information technology resources and/or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance, the agency may charge a reasonable service charge based on the actual cost incurred.
Arrest reports prepared by a law enforcement agency after the arrest of a subject are generally considered to be open for public inspection. However, be aware that certain information such as the identity of a sexual battery victim is exempt.
As a resident of Florida, you have the right to access state and local government proceedings, as well as request access to public records of the state. If you have been denied such access or would like to better understand the rules surrounding the openness of the Sunshine Law, an experienced attorney can provide important counsel to field your questions. Whether you seek clarification on the terms of access or want to bring forward litigation regarding this law, contact West Palm Beach defense lawyer Nellie L. King for next steps.