Attorneys of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast and Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis appeared before a Florida appellate court panel today, in a high-profile case involving the extent to which the EDC’s records should be public.
The EDC wants the appellate court to reverse a March 2014 ruling by then-Circuit Court Judge John Moxley Jr., who sided with Ellis in a case involving EDC documents. Moxley ruled that, because of the EDC’s role as Brevard County’s economic development agency, “any records generated in carrying out those duties are public records subject to inspection.”
EDC attorney Edward Guedes and Ellis’s attorney, Alec Russell, cited various previous legal cases during each of their allotted 20 minutes of oral arguments.
The three-judge panel from the 5th District Court of Appeal asked the attorneys a number of questions, seeking clarification of their arguments.
“I’ll be the first to concede this area of the law is very murky,” Guedes told the judges, who heard the case in Daytona Beach.
The court will consider the oral arguments, as well as extensive written legal briefs filed by the two sides, and issue a ruling in the future. It typically would be several weeks to several months after oral arguments before a ruling is issued.
Russell told the judges that, because the Economic Development Commission is Brevard County’s chief marketing and recruitment agency for economic development, its records should be public.
The EDC receives $1.4 million a year from Brevard County, representing a significant part of its budget.
Russell said, though, that this case would not necessarily set a precedent for all economic development agencies in the state, because that would need to be decided on “a case-by-case analysis.”
Guedes countered that the EDC is a private, nonprofit organization, with most of the members of its board of directors and its Executive Committee coming from the private sector.
Furthermore, Guedes said, the EDC is just one of a number of entities that do economic development work in Brevard County, and that it does not make the final decision in economic development incentives for companies seeking to move to or expand in Brevard County.
The EDC also argued in its appeal that:
•In order to fall under requirements of the Florida Public Records Act, the government function delegated to a private entity must have been essential or mandatory.
•Moxley did not apply the proper legal test to determine whether the EDC is subject to the Public Records Act.
Fourteen media entities representing more than 35 print and television outlets supported Ellis’ side in the matter, involving whether EDC files are subject to the Public Records Act.
Brevard County and the Florida Economic Development Council supported the EDC’s side.
In a related matter, Ellis appealed Moxley’s ruling that the Clerk of Courts Office is not entitled to reimbursement from the EDC of its attorney fees in this case.
Tyler Winik, deputy Brevard County clerk for legal affairs and special projects, said those attorney fees now total $156,000, covering time at the both trial and appellate levels, involving litigation dating back to August 2013.
Even if the clerk’s office is granted attorney fees, though, a separate court proceeding would be held to decide how much of those fees are reimbursable.
The case grew out of a lawsuit filed against the EDC in 2013 by Ellis, seeking documents related to the EDC’s dealings with technology company BlueWare Inc. and its subsidiaries.
Ellis sought the EDC files on BlueWare soon after he took office in January 2013. The EDC initially refused to provide the records, and the matter wound up in court. The EDC later provided Ellis with most, but not all, of the documents he requested.
BlueWare was a focus of a criminal case involving an $8.52 million contract that the company received in 2012 from then-Clerk of Courts Mitch Needelman to scan court documents.
After a yearlong investigation, Needelman, BlueWare Chief Executive Officer Rose Harr, and Needelman associate and BlueWare official Matt Dupree were charged with multiple felony counts each.
Among the allegations: BlueWare illegally received the contract in return for contributions to Needelman’s unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign against Ellis.
The defendants’ cases are pending.
Original article here.