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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

City of Venice admits Sunshine violations in settlement

In its settlement, the City of Venice, Fla. agreed to adopt measures that include a "mandatory annual training program for elected and appointed officials and a ban on the use by such officials of private e-mail accounts to conduct City business." The City will also pick up attorneys' fees.
On the eve of Sunshine Week celebrations across the nation, and after nine months of contentious litigation, the City of Venice voted today to accept a settlement agreement in a precedent- setting open government case. In the summer of 2008, activist Anthony Lorenzo and Citizens for Sunshine brought a lawsuit centering upon the deletion of e-mails and the alleged use by elected officials of liaisons, in-person meetings, and private e-mail accounts to circumvent Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law. Early in the litigation the trial judge took the unusual step of ordering a forensic examination of the home computers of the Mayor, Vice-Mayor and a Councilmember after plaintiffs’ attorneys presented evidence of widespread violations of the Public Records Law. The lawsuit later survived repeated attempts by the defendants to have the claims dismissed prior to trial, which had been scheduled to begin on February 23 before being postponed due to the proposed settlement.

Under the settlement agreement, the City admits to violations of both the Sunshine and the Public Records laws and accepts the imposition of broad remedial requirements to ensure the preservation of public records and uphold the constitutional requirement that public business be conducted in the Sunshine. The settlement also requires the City to pay substantial attorneys fees, as mandated by the Public Records and Sunshine Laws.
More here.

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