Broward Court Must Release Some Disqualification Records

dbr Daily Business Review

Samantha Joseph, Daily Business Review
June 17, 2015

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Chief Broward Circuit Judge Peter Weinstein largely defeated a lawsuit by foreclosure defense attorneys to compel the disclosure of emails about case reassignments after judicial disqualifications, but the court will be required to turn over some material it resisted.

Miami law firm Jacobs Keeley filed a writ of mandamus demanding the public records after a series of Broward Circuit Court email exchanges. It mostly lost that fight Wednesday when the Fourth District Court of Appeal sided mostly with Weinstein, finding the circuit court tried to accommodate the records request.

"The circuit provided the law firm with its search criteria and asked if the firm could suggest different search criteria," Fourth DCA Judge Robert Gross wrote in a unanimous opinion with Judges Martha Warner and Melanie May concurring. "The law firm declined to do so, stating that it was unreasonable to 'force' it to advise the court how to design queries on the circuit's database."

The firm filed a public records request Oct. 9 under Florida Rules of Judicial Administration. It focused on Judge Cynthia Imperato's disqualification from foreclosure cases during 2014, the case reassignment process and all meeting notes, agenda items and memoranda pertaining to judicial disqualifications in the division.

It also requested "any and all documents or correspondence, whether communicated by email or otherwise," along with attachments sent to Weinstein, his judicial assistants and other staffers.

"Because we're dealing with banks and because banks have so much influence over all branches of our government, unfortunately we will not hesitate to file public records requests if we think that due process is not being followed," Jacobs Keeley partner Bruce Jacobs said Wednesday. The circuit court responded to the October request with a search that produced 41,691 emails. It proposed to charge $227 for securing the emails and $36,782 for review, determination, redaction and printing. It also sought a $25,000 deposit.

When the law firm balked at the result, the court narrowed the search, this time producing 223 emails at a cost of $220 and withholding 14 emails deemed confidential. The appeals court reviewed them and ruled only one is protected by an exemption covering the court's decision-making process.

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