Let Us Represent You In Your Sunshine Law Compliance Matter
Mr. Conticello has over 17 years of experience providing legal advice and guidance to to governmental entities subject to Florida’s Sunshine laws. His counsel to these governmental entities was to ensure that they maintained compliance with the Sunshine laws, including fulfilling Public Records requests and Public Meeting requirements. Determining whether the government has violated Florida’s Sunshine Laws can be a complicated analysis, and you should consider hiring an attorney with substantial legal experience working in this area. If you feel that the Sunshine Law has been violated, please go to our CONTACT US page to set up a free initial consultation. If we agree to represent you, then we will seek our attorneys’ fees against the entity violating the Sunshine Laws.
What are Florida’s Sunshine Laws?
Florida’s Sunshine laws are based upon the principal of “Open Government.” Essentially this translates to transparency in our government, its’ business records and decision making. Compliance with these laws can be broken up into two distinct concepts, Public Records and Public Meetings.
These laws were enacted in part to prevent a repeat of past illegal and unethical conduct of governmental officials which would otherwise go undetected. Violations of Florida’s Sunshine Laws have resulted in large attorney’s fees awards against the entity and the individuals violating them can be subject to criminal prosecution. Since the primary goal of these laws is to make government “open” to the public, their application is often counter-intuitive to those charged with compliance. To further complicate things there are hundreds of exceptions that may exempt records or information from being disclosed.
Generally speaking, records created by or received by governmental entities are Public Records. If a document is a Public Records then it is open for inspection, review and copying by anyone who asks, unless a statutory exception applies. Entities subject to Florida’s Sunshine Laws must make their Public Records available for review, inspection and copying upon request.
Records can be anything from hard copy memos, contracts, regulatory files, and even electronic records such as word documents, emails, spreadsheets, databases, etc. Governmental entities can intentionally or unintentionally violate Florida’s Sunshine Laws. Sometimes the governmental entity will intentionally throw up roadblock after roadblock, in an effort to frustrate you to give up and go away. However, violations of public record laws are non-curable and the governmental entity that violates them have to pay the requestor’s attorney’s fees and the public officials may even be subject to criminal prosecution.
Generally speaking a governmental entity must complete its key decision making in the Sunshine, or at Public Meetings. That means that government boards, committees and other decision-making bodies (including those made up of a single member), must make their decisions at a duly called Public Meeting. In order for a Public Meeting to be meet the Sunshine requirements, the meeting must have: (1) been reasonably noticed so there is sufficient time for the public to become aware of the meeting and make arrangements to attend, and (2) have reasonable accommodations for the public (both in location and size). In some circumstances, there may be a third requirement – that the public has a right to speak at the meeting. Failure to fully meet these requirements and the actions and decisions taken are void.
Private Organizations versus Public Sector Entities:
In the private sector, your typical business wants to keep most of its information private and confidential to avoid being uncovered and exploited by its competitors. In the private sector there are direct and tangible monetary benefits for companies to maintain their secrets, as can be identified by concepts such as trade secret, proprietary information, etc. Federal and State laws even provide companies with criminal protection of their trade secrets, patents, trademarks and copyright materials. Contrast these core business principals with working in the public realm where laws require that our government officials, their employees and even some of their contractors to be transparent and shed this secrecy.
Despite the fact that these laws have been in effect for years, they are routinely violated by governmental entities. State and local governments experience high levels of turnover and elected officials often come from private organizational backgrounds. The constant influx of private sector employees and officials into decision making roles in State and local governments puts them at risk for intentional and inadvertent Sunshine Law violations.
Private Corporations May be Subject to Florida’s Sunshine Laws:
Similarly, it is well established law that governmental entities cannot “delegate” compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Laws. Therefore, with the push to “outsource” many key governmental functions over the past decade, private corporate entities that obtain these contracts may become required to maintain compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Laws, as though they were the governmental entity.
Learn more about Florida Sunshine Laws (Click Link)
- Florida’s Attorney General’s Office FAQ’s about Florida Sunshine Laws
- Florida 2014 Sunshine Law Manual