An intentional violation of the Sunshine Law is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a jail term not exceeding six months. Only one person in Florida history has gone to jail for an intentional violation of law: W.D. Childers was charged and convicted when he served on the Escambia County Commission; he spent six months in jail for an intentional violation of the Sunshine Law.
This is the weakness with our open-government laws — no agency or office in Florida is responsible for enforcing our constitutional (and statutory) right of access to the records and meetings of our government. This means that we — members of the public — are forced into court when there’s a violation, or possible violation, of our right of access to the records and meetings of our government.
If we sue an agency for an open-government violation and we win, the court is required to award us attorney fees and court costs. This is sort of like double jeopardy — the public officials don’t dig into their personal pocketbooks for payment of fees and costs; they use our tax dollars.
So we ultimately pay when a government official has violated our rights. It doesn’t make sense.
While Attorney General Pam Bondi may issue opinions in response to questions about “sunshine” from government officials, she doesn’t litigate such cases. And only government agencies or officials can ask for and receive an attorney general’s opinion — the public can’t.
I’m deeply dismayed and disappointed by Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs’ assertion that he can’t prosecute an alleged Sunshine Law violation without an eyewitness: Isn’t that exactly what the law is meant to address? Backroom deals? By requiring an eyewitness, Meggs has set an impossible and unreasonable bar for potential Sunshine Law violations.
I would like Meggs to reconsider his decision regarding the ouster of Gerald Bailey and let a grand jury decide this issue. Either that, or ask Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor. I think he and too many other government officials forget that this is a constitutional right, and if our elected state attorney won’t pursue potential violations, then who will?
Criminal violations have to be decided by a criminal court; it would take Meggs, who has jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Tallahassee, to bring charges.
I don’t think the Sunshine Law/Florida Cabinet issues are unique to the Scott administration. I’ve been receiving complaints about the lack of transparency for years, so it may well be a question of “business as usual.” Of course, that doesn’t make it right.
Original article here.