Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former volunteer sues city over public records access

NEW PORT RICHEY — A former volunteer turned critic of New Port Richey's Animal Protection Unit has filed a lawsuit against the city, saying her right to public records has been violated.

Her primary evidence: a demand from the city that she pay $2,300 so an attorney could review the records before handing them over.

Former volunteer Jessica Caplette filed the lawsuit Aug. 15 asking a judge to order the city release records concerning the animal control program and pay her attorney's fees.

For more than a month, Caplette has sought to view documents concerning veterinary care of animals at the unit. The city initially asked her for a $50 deposit to conduct the records search, which Caplette paid.

Caplette told the Times she sought the records July 7 to review before a meeting she scheduled with interim City Manager Susan Dillinger and interim police Chief Kim Bogart to voice her concerns over the city's kennels in Land O' Lakes.

But Caplette said her request stalled when she informed Dillinger in an email she would bring an attorney to the meeting.

On July 19, Caplette said City Clerk Doreen Summers emailed back, saying her request needed to be reviewed by the city attorney and would require a $2,300 deposit.

"Since you have arranged for attorney representation, we must be absolutely certain that what we provide you is correct according to all laws," Summers wrote, according to Caplette's lawsuit.

Caplette's attorney, Marcy Lahart of Gainesville, blasted Summers' claim that because her client obtained an attorney it should trigger a costly legal review.

"People have the same right to view public records whether they are represented by legal counsel or not," Lahart said. "I would hope the city was certain they were following the law regardless of who is requesting public records or whether they are represented by legal counsel."

According to the suit, assistant city attorney Jim Lang told Caplette in a later email that some of the records she requested may need to be redacted because "for example, a pet owner's personally identifiable information is protected by HIPPA," the federal law that shields medical information.

Tom Julin, a Miami litigator who specializes in First Amendment law, said he'd like to see the city cite specific exemptions to the request.

"I can't imagine any aspect of HIPPA … that would apply to the record that she's seeking," he said.

Public records laws are vague with regard to when records need to be combed by an attorney, Julin said. Exactly what's being requested and whether the information is likely to fall under exemptions could come into play in the lawsuit.

But jacking up records costs by running them by an attorney "seems to be a common tactic," Julin said. "It's being increasingly used to frustrate the effectiveness of the public records law."

City officials did not return requests for comment on the suit.

Former volunteer sues city over public records access 08/20/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 8:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rowdies shut out at Pittsburgh


    PITTSBURGH — The Rowdies lost their first USL game in nearly a month, 1-0 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

  2. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  3. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  5. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.