Southwest Ranches Prison Opponent Is Suing the Town for $1.25 Over Public Records

Categories: News, News
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Bill Di Scipio, a Southwest Ranches resident who is spearheading the campaign against a proposed ICE detention facility, has bombarded the town with public-records requests for months now. Some of his requests have been successful, yielding emails that provide a glimpse into the otherwise secretive negotiations that have gone on as prison contractor CCA and the town have sweet-talked the final stages of a deal with ICE.

But many have gone unanswered, says Di Scipio, and the town attorney, Keith Poliakoff, is keeping a tight lid on town information. 

Now Di Scipio taken his fight for transparency to the courts: He's suing the town for $1.25.


In the suit, Di Scipio claims that he was denied access to records that weren't exempt under Florida public records law -- when he should have been allowed to come and inspect them for free.

The trouble started when the town clerk, Erika Gonzalez-Santamaria, allegedly told him he wasn't allowed to take pictures of the records with his iPhone and would instead have to fork over 15 cents per page for printed copies. 

That's an all-too-common refrain from records custodians -- we've heard it before too -- but the fact is, it's wrong (as Joel Chandler with the Florida Open Government blog points out). From the Florida Public Records Act:

FS 119.07 (3)(a) Any person shall have the right of access to public records for the purpose of making photographs of the record while such record is in the possession, custody, and control of the custodian of public records.

Di Scipio had only $1.25 in his pocket at the time, so he paid for $1.20 worth of records (the clerk was unable to provide his five cents of change). 

Later, the lawsuit claims, Santamaria contacted Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff and asked if Di Scipio could photograph the records for free. 

"I got back to her and said I would not object to him taking photos of the record," Poliakoff tells the Sun-Sentinel. "He had already left."

Di Scipio's lawyer, Tampa-based John McKnight, says that Santamaria did not send a clear email to his client explaining that the records would be made available for free. So Di Scipio is suing for the $1.25 he says he shouldn't have been asked to pay.

The lawsuit is being picked up by several media outlets, which provides welcome publicity to Di Scipio's case against the prison and the secrecy that surrounds it. Poliakoff told the Huffington Post, "The town will not hesitate to seek full damages and fees against Mr. Di Scipio and his legal counsel for filing such a frivolous complaint." 

Poliakoff seems to confer with the town clerk and deputy clerk often, telling them which records they do and do not have to provide. Now, with Southwest Ranches' reputation of being cagey with public records, this chump-change lawsuit could be a symbol of much bigger concerns.


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Money Can't Buy Happiness
Money Can't Buy Happiness

This guy is dumber than dirt, and his supporters seem to follow in his evolutionary footsteps.  I hope you write a story one day on how much he will eventually have to pay the Town.  This guy is not complaining that he did not get the records only that he was charged for the copies.  Get real!  Even the public library charges for copies.  He lives in Southwest Ranches and can't afford the $1.25? This guy paid $925,000 for his house!

Sick of This
Sick of This

Hey Stephan, do you think of any of your own stories, or do you always steal from the Sentinel or Mr. Di Scipio's website?

Yachtman
Yachtman

What a joke!  Don't people have better things to do with their lives?

FQS9000
FQS9000

Forcing a bureaucrat to follow the law is ALWAYS the correct thing to do.  They tend to forget that they are paid by the public.  

Mmcknight4
Mmcknight4

 The public is entitled to view and copy public records via the Public Records Act. The plaintiff was denied the ability to photograph the records with his iPhone although this is completely within his rights. That is the ins and outs of this suit, plain and simple. And everyone bashing the lawyer and the plaintiff should be grateful that people are willing to demand the government follow the law and give people access to all public records. The price of the copies he did buy, that a fee is charged and anything else related to the money isn't and never was the issue. In fact, the lawyer only added the $1.25 as an afterthought and that small amount makes for good headlines. But if the plaintiff had purchased no copies or $10,000 worth this case would still have been filed. It has everything to do with access to records and nothing to do with money. Comments elsewhere about how stupid and inexperienced the lawyer is, how irresponsible he is and the claims about the waste of taxpayers money, abuse of the court and wasting of the court's time just goes to show how uninformed people actually are. This lawyer is no dummy and specializes in Freedom of Information and the Public Records Act. He knows this stuff inside and out and has dedicated his practice to ensuring the public has unfettered access to public information. The $1.25 line may make the case seem frivolous but protecting this public right is incredibly important and should be applauded. And if any detractors actually follow this case they'll learn the suit was just and the city violated the law. 

bigriggs
bigriggs

What a fucking joke....

FOGWatch.org
FOGWatch.org

We’ll see whose laughing when the litigation is over.  My educated guess is that it won’t be theTown of Southwest Ranches or their attorney. The facts of this case are overwhelming on the side of the plaintiff, asare the Florida Constitution (Article 1, Section 24) and Florida Statue Chapter119.07.  Anyone who doubts that canquickly disabuse themselves of their erroneous notions by visiting the FloridaAttorney General’s Online Sunshine Manual. It’s too bad the Town Clerk and the Town Attorney did not do that beforethey violated Mr. Discipio’s civil rights.

 

I’ve been involved in dozens of public records lawsuits andI also know the plaintiff’s attorney personally.  I am, therefore, confident when I say theattorney for the plaintiff knows more about Florida’s Public Records Act than90% of the attorneys in the state. And that’s no joke.

Yachtman
Yachtman

Hey moron, the Town's Attorney will be laughing all the way to the bank!  This is a complete waste of tax payer's money and I hope the Court slams them.

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