Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ellis, EDC Attorneys Make Closing Arguments In Florida Sunshine Lawsuit



Ellis
TITUSVILLE, Florida -- Attorneys for both sides filed their closing arguments on Monday in the public records lawsuit brought by Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis, against the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC) which seeks a Circuit Court judge's order that the EDC hand over its BlueWare documents.


The latest twist in the case comes from the EDC's attorney, Kimberly Rezanka, who admitted in closing arguments that "internal communications of the EDC related to press releases, news letters, and internal staff reports and agenda reports were withheld, as these documents were determined by [Senior Director of Operations for the EDC Trudy] McCarthy to be unrelated to the County Service Contract or any services that the EDC provided to BlueWare."  Rezanka also conceded that the EDC produced emails to Ellis without producing attachments.


Rezanka requested in her closing arguments that, if Brevard County Circuit Court Judge John Dean Moxley, Jr. "determines that the EDC was acting as a public agency, only records related to Blueware and EDC's obligations under the County Service Contract should be deemed to be public records."
EDC CEO Lynda Weatherman


Rezanka also asked, "If the Court finds that the EDC was an agency subject to the public records act, the EDC will need to review those attachments and advise whether it believes those attachments are also subject to Sec. 288.075(4) exemptions or any other exemptions under Chapter 119." 


"If they are a public agency, all the internal memos, etc. are public record unless they are specifically financials or trade secrets or customer lists," Ellis said of the EDC's closing arguments.  "We asked for everything on Blueware.  We did not ask for some internal deals with other companies.  But if it was Blueware, etc., we asked and they will need to pony up."

Last month, Moxley refined the legal issues in the case to a "totality test' and a "delegation test" as the applicable case law in determining whether the EDC's documents are subject to the Florida Sunshine Law under Florida Statute Chapter 119.  Moxley then gave attorneys for both sides 21 days to write closing arguments that apply the evidence introduced in Court to those two tests.
  

Referred to by Moxley as the "Schwab test" from the 1992 public records case News & Sun-Sentinel Co. v. Schwab, Twitty & Hanser Architectural Group, there are nine factors the judge could consider, but is not limited to.  Here is a summary of the arguments made by the attorneys for both sides as to each of those nine factors:


EDC Closing Argument Full Text                                   Ellis Closing Argument Full Text




1) the level of public funding; 


EDC: Brevard County only funds 49% of the EDC budget.


ELLIS: The County funds 65% of the EDC budget because pass-through grants are not considered revenue.  If revenue from other governments are also counted, 79% of the EDC's budget comes from public money.


2) commingling of funds;


Both sides agree that the EDC commingled County funds with other funds.



3) whether the activity was conducted on publicly owned property;


Both sides agree that the activity was not conducted on publicly owned property.



4) whether services contracted for are an integral part of the public agency's chosen decision-making process; 


EDC: The EDC's request to the County that it support incentives to Blueware does not mean the EDC is part of the County's decision-making process.

 
ELLIS:  Brevard's economic development decision-making process was handled by the County until privatized into the EDC in 1989.  The EDC's contract with the County requires that its documents be subject to public records law.


5) whether the private entity is performing a governmental function or a function which the public agency otherwise would perform; 


EDC: The government function regarding BlueWare was the awarding of incentives; the EDC did not do that. 


ELLIS:  Brevard's economic development was a government function performed by the County until privatized into the EDC in 1989. 


6) the extent of the public agency's involvement with, regulation of, or control over the private entity; 


EDC: The County has no involvement with, regulation of or control over the EDC, other than its small number of appointees to the EDC's Executive Board and Board of Directors.


ELLIS: The County funds $1.4 million to the EDC, appoints five Board of Directors, and the EDC is required to file performance reports to the County.
 


7) whether the private entity was created by the public agency; 


EDC: The EDC was not created by the County but by private citizens that were dissatisfied with the functioning of the County Economic Development Council; 


ELLIS: The County created the EDC in 1989. The Council's Board of Directors, remaining budget, and office supplies were transferred to the EDC in 1989.


8) whether the public agency has a substantial financial interest in the private entity; and 


EDC: The County does not have a current, substantial financial interest in the EDC and it has no entitlement to repayment of funds or any EDC assets should the EDC dissolve.


ELLIS: The County does have a substantial financial interest in the EDC because it funds about half of the EDC's operation.



9) for who's benefit the private entity is functioning. 


EDC: The EDC benefits the companies that are looking to relocate or expand, not the County.


ELLIS: The EDC benefits County and the general welfare of the community. 


Additional Factor: The EDC employees are under the County's health and life insurance.


EDC: The mere fact that the EDC's participates in the Health Plan does not make the EDC subject to public records law.


ELLIS:  By statute, the County can only share its health care plan with public agencies.  Therefore, the EDC is a public agency.





BACKGROUND:


BlueWare is the company caught up in a public corruption criminal case brought by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney Phil Archer against former Clerk of Court, Mitch Needelman, his former business partner Matt Dupree, and BlueWare CEO Rose Harr


The EDC helped BlueWare and some of its affiliated companies to qualify for various government programs and other "workforce incentives" that could have totaled nearly $2 million in taxpayer money.   None of those incentives were ultimately awarded to BlueWare because it did not meet its performance benchmarks.

After the Clerk's office learned from a Brevard Times investigative article published on August 26, 2013 that State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity officials said the BlueWare's confidentiality had lapsed and Governor Rick Scott's Office stated to Brevard Times that the BlueWare incentive contract was canceled on April 5, 2013, the Clerk sent his auditors to the EDC in Rockledge the next day to request a copy of the EDC file on BlueWare.  When the EDC refused to comply with the public records request, Ellis then filed this lawsuit.


Brevard Times was the only news source to continue a series of in-depth investigative articles led by Charles Parker into this and related stories: 


RELATED STORIES:

Scott Ellis To Run For Clerk of Court Again January 4, 2012

Clerk of Court Staffer Endorses Needelman, Ellis Responds February 7, 2012


Needelman Calls Ellis A Liar In Brevard County Clerk of Courts Debate February 16, 2012


Brevard County Clerk of Court Debate: VIDEO March 23, 2012


Brevard County Clerk of Court Debate in Titusville: VIDEO  April 23, 2012


Scott Ellis Wins Clerk of Court Viewer Poll  April 30, 2012


Brevard County Clerk of Court Debate In Melbourne: VIDEO  May 8, 2012

Charles Parker: Clerk's Race Heats Up May 30, 2012


Brevard County Clerk of Court Debate: VIDEO June 4, 2012

Needelman: Ellis' "Complicated" Requests Delayed Release of Clerk Documents, BlueWare Contracts Jul 5, 2012


Contract Controversy Taints Florida Governor's Jobs Campaign July 10, 2012

Clerk of Court Sunshine Lawsuit Hearing Monday  July 21, 2012


Needelman Wins Partial Victory in Court Case Brought by Ellis July 23, 2012

Republican Primary Candidates Brevard County Clerk of Court July 30, 2012


Needelman: Ellis Complicit in Extortion Plot?  August 12, 2012


Ellis: Panic sets in as Race comes to an End August 13, 2012


Dirty Brevard County Politics Caught On Surveillance Video  Aug. 13, 2012


Brevard Clerk of Court Recount, No Layoffs Anticipated  August 24, 2012


$8.5 Million Brevard Clerk of Court Records Digitizing Underway  Oct. 17, 2012


Clerk's Attorney Refers Staffing Questions to BlueWare  Nov. 1, 2012


BlueWare Misses Clerk's Office Deadline  Nov. 7, 2012


UPDATE: Needelman and Company Owner Mum Regarding Digitizing Contract Nov. 15, 2012


DuPree Confirms BlueWare Scanning Readiness  Nov. 17, 2012


Charles Parker: Hey Mitch and Matt: How About Some Answers? December 4, 2012


Charles Parker: Divergent Views on Clerk's Contract Continue December 11, 2012


Ellis Plans Moneysaving Changes In Clerk's Office Jan. 5, 2013


Scott Ellis Sworn In As Brevard County Clerk of Court  Jan. 8, 2013


Brevard Clerk Lowers Florida 'Fix It' Ticket To $10  Jan. 19, 2013


Former Clerk's Digitizing Contract Under More Scrutiny  Jan. 19, 2013


Ellis: Emails Appear To Contradict Needelman Attorney's Testimony  Jan. 24, 2013


Brevard EDC Cites "Non-Disclosure Agreement" and Confidentiality  Jan. 25, 2013


Ellis Claims Proof of Needelman Campaign Lies in Emails and Video  Jan. 29, 2013


Ellis and Weatherman At Odds Over BlueWare Documents  Feb. 5, 2013


Commissioner Asserts EDC Confidentiality Claim "Raises Questions" February 14, 2013


Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast Subpoenaed By FDLE February 28, 2013


Charles Parker: BlueWare, Rose Harr, and Me  March 2, 2013


BlueWare Not Using Available Training Funds Mar. 15, 2013


Hewlett Packard Threatens Lawsuit Over BlueWare Debt Mar. 23, 2013


Brevard County Clerk of Court Files Suit Against BlueGem March 29, 2013


Details of Brevard Clerk of the Court Lawsuits Against BlueGem and RoseWare Emerge In Court Filings March 29, 2013


Space Coast Economic Incentives Make Florida Headlines  Apr. 1, 2013


BlueGem Counter-Sues Clerk's Office: Claims Ellis' "Ignorance"  May 5, 2013


Ellis and Hewlett-Packard Still At Odds Over Scanning Contract Loan Payments  June 2, 2013


Hewlett Packard Sues Brevard Clerk of Court For Disputed Scanning Contract Payments Jul 26, 2013


Former Brevard County Clerk of Court, Business Partner Arrested - Warrant Issued for Blueware CEO August 15, 2013


BlueWare CEO Turns Herself In August 16, 2013


County Commission Tells Economic Development Commission To Turn Over BlueWare Documents  August 20, 2013


Brevard Clerk of Court Won't Do EDC Audit That Commissioner Infantini Wants   August 21, 2013


State of Florida: BlueWare Confidentiality Lapsed   August 26, 2013

8 comments:

  1. Finest reporting organization in Brevard County. Honest, fair and balanced.

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  2. The EDC should be shut down. It certainly appears to not be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

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  3. It is way past time that Weatherman, who is no more than a grossly over-paid travel agent, polish that resume and go job hunting!

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  4. Notwithstanding the legal issues, the central question in the EDC vs. Scott Ellis law suit is why doesn’t the EDC want to release its records? If you take public funds, don’t you have a public duty to be accountable and transparent? Why doesn't the EDC want to be held transparent and accountable?
    Initially when the Clerk’s Office requested the non-financial files related to the Blueware criminal indictment, the EDC claimed it was a public agency governed by public records law. As a public agency this law shielded them and the Blueware files from release for a specific period of time.
    When that time period expired, the EDC changed their exemption in not releasing the Blueware files. Now they said they were not a public agency, but a private agency or association, and accordingly, they are not required to release any records whatsoever. Note that the only relationship between the two claims is that they do not want to release any files whatsoever.
    Every Brevard citizen and every candidate for public office should be asking the same questions. Why is the EDC spending so much time and money refusing to release its files in a criminal case? Is there more to the Blueware case than meets the eye. If so, then what is it, and what are we going to do about it?

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    Replies
    1. Peter,The State Attorney's office has access to all that info. What Ms Weatherman is keeping from everybody is the unethical behavior of the elected officials who keep her funded. Maybe not now , when the two commissioners are out of office, you hope the new comm will ask for a real audit. Then you will find out which comm are corrupt.

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  5. I was at both days of testimony and the closing arguments. This is no slam dunk case.

    Richard Charbonneau

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  6. It never is a "slam dunk" when governmentally involved crooks are involved.

    We have a very very unethical group of county commissioners!!!

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  7. Yes, with trips to Singapore and who knows where else, they do as they please with the taxpayer money.

    ReplyDelete