A judge ruled Tuesday that Volusia County and its “inspector general” Jon Kaney were wrong to withhold certain public records in the County Council’s Waverly Media investigation, but that it was “entirely within the authority” of the council to hire Kaney in the first place.
The ruling from Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano settled at least part of a months-long legal battle between Kaney and Daytona Beach attorney Ted Doran. It also left plenty in dispute, with both sides claiming victories.
Undisputed is that Volusia County will be responsible for Doran’s legal costs in the public-records dispute. Doran did not have an estimate Tuesday but said it would amount to five figures. The investigation into Waverly’s campaign contributions and dealings with the county has already cost more than $100,000.
Judge Zambrano wrote that Kaney’s “inspector general” label, which won last-minute County Council approval in July in an attempt to give Kaney the protection of an existing public records exemption, was “nothing more than a title for the special counsel of Volusia County.” In other words, the council couldn’t simply decide to call Kaney “inspector general” instead of “special counsel” and make his records exempt from disclosure.
Beyond that, Zambrano’s ruling did not fully address Doran’s underlying challenge of the entire investigation. Kaney withdrew his subpoenas of Doran and others in court last week after the State Attorney’s Office released thousands of pages of records of its own Waverly investigation. With the subpoenas off the table, the judge found Doran’s challenge of Kaney’s authority was moot.
Still, Doran said Tuesday’s ruling vindicated his opposition to the investigation and his refusal to honor the subpoena.
“There was so much criticism of my questioning of it, and yet it turns out I was right to question it,” Doran said Tuesday evening.
Kaney, who made public most of his investigative records on Friday, responded that he would comply with the judge’s ruling and send Doran any additional records — correspondence, rough drafts of investigative documents, and so on — next week.
“The meat on the bone is what we already produced,” Kaney said.
Both Kaney and Doug Daniels, the council’s main proponent of the investigation, said the ruling suggested the investigation is legal.
They pointed to a section where Zambrano wrote: “Mr. Doran advances a theory that the county council cannot investigate a matter which may be of a criminal nature… In his opinion, the county council would have to merely accept whatever justice is dispensed by law enforcement or the State Attorney’s decision on a criminal matter. This court finds that Mr. Kaney’s hiring to conduct an investigation was entirely within the authority of the county council.”
“It says we can hire Kaney, and it’s a very strong indication that the judge would’ve upheld the subpoenas,” Daniels said.
Councilman Josh Wagner, Doran’s law partner and one of two votes (along with County Chair Jason Davis) against naming Kaney inspector general, pointed to another line in the ruling that said “the scope and authority relating to the task given by the council is a matter which is fairly debatable.”
Wagner said “arrogance and false confidence” from Kaney and the council majority “just cost us a significant amount of money.”
Daniels, Deb Denys, Pat Northey, Pat Patterson and a reluctant Joyce Cusack, who has opposed the investigation, voted for the “inspector general” label.
“This whole investigation, I’ve been against since the beginning,” Wagner said. “And now that I’ve read the interviews… It just goes to show the motivation behind four specific council members. One for revenge, two for politics and the other one just to support a friend. The council members who supported this should be embarrassed and the community should hold them accountable.”
Doran said he still plans to pursue his broader challenge of the legality of the investigation. Kaney has said he plans to deliver a report on the investigation at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting.