An appeals court ruled Thursday that Union County is not required to pay attorney fees in a public-records case that started with a request for information from an unidentified company.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said the rural North Florida county did not act in bad faith in delaying the release of the requested records, which involved county employee email addresses.
The case started in October 2013 with a public-records request from an email account that had the address firstname.lastname@example.org. The request was made on behalf of an unidentified company and was sent to a general county email address.
In March 2014, Consumer Rights LLC filed a lawsuit against the county because the public records had not been provided. The county then provided the records, but still faced the possibility of having to pay the firm’s attorney fees.
A circuit judge sided with the county, pointing in part to a county official’s concern that the original request could have been a way of online “phishing”.
The appeals court Thursday upheld the circuit judge’s ruling that the county should not have to pay attorney fees.
“The record of the hearing amply supports the trial court’s conclusion that the county was justified in declining to immediately respond to the plaintiff’s request,” said the appeals-court opinion, written by Judge Philip Padovano and joined by judges T. Kent Wetherell and Ross Bilbrey.
“The request was made by an unnamed agent for an undisclosed company and it was sent to the county from an email address that did not appear to be the address of a person. This would lead anyone familiar with the perils of email communication to exercise caution, if not to disregard the communication entirely. The email from the sender could have contained a virus. It might have been a computer-generated message sent out from a computer-created email account. The sender might have intended to initiate a series of electronic communications that would have caused the disclosure of exempt materials or created difficulties for the county’s information technology officers.”
original article here.