Judge rules in Florida records case

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Split ruling distinguishes document types

In a public records case that is testing Florida's public records laws, a judge has issued a split decision in a lawsuit over how much a public official can charge a journalist for copies of public records. As we have reported, the case stems from the fees charged by the Collier County Clerk of Courts to reproduce an internal policy manual, and to provide copies of internal emails related to an audit involving a political challenger.

In the most recent ruling, the judge said the clerk could charge a dollar per page to reproduce the policy manual, which only existed in printed form, but could charge only for the cost of a CD upon which the requested emails were copied. The clerk had previously charged a dollar per page for all of the documents, and the judge's initial order was to reduce the charge to two dollars. The clerk then demanded a trial to decide the issue.

The case hinges on the interpretation of whether the fees are appropriate under Florida's public records law, which dictates a maximum charge of a dollar per page under certain circumstances and 15 cents per page in others, and whether the documents are considered court documents or simply government documents, which are subject to different rules and fees.

In an article this week about the case, Ryan Witmer, an attorney representing journalist Gina Edwards, said he was disappointed about the portion of the judge's ruling about the higher fee to reproduce the policy manual. The Clerk of Courts, Dwight Brock, is appealing the ruling. We'll keep you posted as the case continues to play out.

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