Sunshine Law & Public Records

updated: 18 Apr 2015

"Sunshine Law" - Title XIX, PUBLIC BUSINESS,  286.011
286.011 Public Meetings and Records; Public Inspection; Criminal and Civil Penalties.
(1) All meetings of any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision, except as otherwise provided in the Constitution, at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, and no resolution, rule, or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken or made at such meeting. The board or commission must provide reasonable notice of all such meetings.

(2) The minutes of a meeting of any such board or commission of any such state agency or authority shall be promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection. The circuit courts of this state shall have jurisdiction to issue injunctions to enforce the purposes of this section upon application by any citizen of this state.

(3)(a) Any public officer who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a noncriminal infraction, punishable by fine not exceeding $500.

(b) Any person who is a member of a board or commission or of any state agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision who knowingly violates the provisions of this section by attending a meeting not held in accordance with the provisions hereof is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(c) Conduct which occurs outside the state which would constitute a knowing violation of this section is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(4) Whenever an action has been filed against any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision to enforce the provisions of this section or to invalidate the actions of any such board, commission, agency, or authority, which action was taken in violation of this section, and the court determines that the defendant or defendants to such action acted in violation of this section, the court shall assess a reasonable attorney’s fee against such agency, and may assess a reasonable attorney’s fee against the individual filing such an action if the court finds it was filed in bad faith or was frivolous. Any fees so assessed may be assessed against the individual member or members of such board or commission; provided, that in any case where the board or commission seeks the advice of its attorney and such advice is followed, no such fees shall be assessed against the individual member or members of the board or commission. However, this subsection shall not apply to a state attorney or his or her duly authorized assistants or any officer charged with enforcing the provisions of this section.

(5) Whenever any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision appeals any court order which has found said board, commission, agency, or authority to have violated this section, and such order is affirmed, the court shall assess a reasonable attorney’s fee for the appeal against such board, commission, agency, or authority. Any fees so assessed may be assessed against the individual member or members of such board or commission; provided, that in any case where the board or commission seeks the advice of its attorney and such advice is followed, no such fees shall be assessed against the individual member or members of the board or commission.

(6) All persons subject to subsection (1) are prohibited from holding meetings at any facility or location which discriminates on the basis of sex, age, race, creed, color, origin, or economic status or which operates in such a manner as to unreasonably restrict public access to such a facility.

(7) Whenever any member of any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision is charged with a violation of this section and is subsequently acquitted, the board or commission is authorized to reimburse said member for any portion of his or her reasonable attorney’s fees.

(8) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1), any board or commission of any state agency or authority or any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision, and the chief administrative or executive officer of the governmental entity, may meet in private with the entity’s attorney to discuss pending litigation to which the entity is presently a party before a court or administrative agency, provided that the following conditions are met:

(a) The entity’s attorney shall advise the entity at a public meeting that he or she desires advice concerning the litigation.

(b) The subject matter of the meeting shall be confined to settlement negotiations or strategy sessions related to litigation expenditures.

(c) The entire session shall be recorded by a certified court reporter. The reporter shall record the times of commencement and termination of the session, all discussion and proceedings, the names of all persons present at any time, and the names of all persons speaking. No portion of the session shall be off the record. The court reporter’s notes shall be fully transcribed and filed with the entity’s clerk within a reasonable time after the meeting.

(d) The entity shall give reasonable public notice of the time and date of the attorney-client session and the names of persons who will be attending the session. The session shall commence at an open meeting at which the persons chairing the meeting shall announce the commencement and estimated length of the attorney-client session and the names of the persons attending. At the conclusion of the attorney-client session, the meeting shall be reopened, and the person chairing the meeting shall announce the termination of the session.

(e) The transcript shall be made part of the public record upon conclusion of the litigation.

History.—s. 1, ch. 67-356; s. 159, ch. 71-136; s. 1, ch. 78-365; s. 6, ch. 85-301; s. 33, ch. 91-224; s. 1, ch. 93-232; s. 210, ch. 95-148; s. 1, ch. 95-353.

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NON COMPLIANCE:
From the Attorney General's Sunshine page comes one solution: Civil action

a. Remedies
A person who has been denied the right to inspect and/or copy public records under the Public Records Act may bring a civil action against the agency to enforce the terms of Ch. 119, F.S. Before filing a lawsuit, the petitioner must have furnished a public records request to the agency. See, Mills v. State, 684 So. 2d 801 (Fla. 1996)

Section 119.11(1), F.S., mandates that actions brought under Ch. 119 are entitled to an immediate hearing and take priority over other pending cases. See, Salvador v. Fennelly, 593 So 2d 1091 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992) (the early hearings provision reflects a legislative recognition of the importance of time in public records cases; such hearings must be given priority over more routine matters, and a good faith effort must be made to accommodate the legislative desire that an immediate hearing be held).

Section 119.12(1), F.S., provides that if a civil action is filed against an agency to enforce the provisions of this chapter and the court determines that the agency unlawfully refused to permit a public record to be inspected, examined, or copied, the court shall assess and award against the agency responsible the reasonable costs of enforcement including reasonable attorney's fees. A successful pro se litigant is entitled to reasonable costs under this section.

Q.  I believe that my local public officials are breaking the law or engaging in unethical behavior. What should I do?

1. 

"You may take your concerns to your region's State Attorney for alleged illegal behavior. These officials have the authority to prosecute criminal wrongdoing. Ethical complaints about public officials are the responsibility of The Florida Commission on Ethics. The Commission can be reached at 850-488-7864 or on the web at http://www.ethics.state.fl.us/  " (taken from AG website)

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2. 

The First Amendment Foundation has a website and offers help in Florida's 'Government in the Sunshine' issues and a listing of attorneys willing to work these issues.

"First Amendment Hotline........800-337-3518........Or........850-222-3518.  Our Hotline provides timely, authoritative information and advice on free speech, free press, and open government issues." and 

State Network of Attorneys
"These volunteers are experienced in First Amendment and open government questions and litigation. They are available to assist hotline callers on questions which require sustained or in-depth legal efforts or when callers do not have other legal representation available."

First Amendment Foundation
336 East College Avenue, Suite 101
Tallahassee, Florida 32301

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3.

Attorney General's Public Records Contact Form
This will route your questions or complaint to the Attorney General's Office. Please fill out the form below and click on the "Submit" button. You will receive an electronic confirmation that your complaint or question has been received by this office. When you submit this form, please be aware that all information you provide with your question or complaint may be a matter of public record and is not considered confidential. Please understand that the Attorney General's Office does not give legal advice, and cannot take legal action for you.
http://myfloridalegal.com/Contact.nsf/Contact?OpenForm&Section=Public_Records

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Q.  Where can I find the Government in the Sunshine Manual?
The 2004 Manual may be found:  http://myfloridalegal.com/

This page last updated on:  Saturday, April 18, 2015

 
     
 

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