Jeffrey A. Siegmeister, State Attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit of Florida, Appellant,
L.J. Johnson, Appellee.
final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Columbia County. Wesley R.
I. Jacobs, Richard J. Scholz, and Douglas A. Wyler of Jacobs
Scholz & Assoc., LLC, Fernandina Beach, for Appellant.
K. Carson, Lake City, and Joseph W. Little, Gainesville, for
A. Siegmeister, the State Attorney for the Third Judicial
Circuit of Florida, appeals the final judgment entered for
L.J. Johnson in a public records case. Mr. Johnson's
attorney submitted a public records request to see and copy
the state attorney's case file in a closed matter
involving Mr. Johnson. Former State Attorney Robert L.
"Skip" Jarvis, Jr., reviewed the file and acceded
to the request within a week. He offered to make the records
available at his main office in Live Oak where he had
reviewed them. But his letter acceding to the request took
another week to be delivered to Mr. Johnson's attorney in
Lake City. Due to the delay, Mr. Johnson promptly sued State
Attorney Jarvis claiming an unlawful refusal to provide the
records under the Public Records Act, chapter 119, Florida
trial court ultimately held an evidentiary hearing and agreed
with Mr. Johnson and awarded costs and attorneys' fees.
The court based its finding of an unlawful delay principally
upon the fact that State Attorney Jarvis's letter
required Mr. Johnson's attorney to travel twenty-five
miles to Live Oak to inspect and copy the records, instead of
offering to make the records available at his local
courthouse in Lake City. State Attorney Siegmeister, who
succeeded Mr. Jarvis, appealed. We reverse and conclude that
State Attorney Jarvis did not violate Florida's public
records law by making the requested records available for
inspection and copying at the main office of the State
Attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit, instead of at an
office closer to the requester's home.
appeal follows an earlier remand in Johnson v.
Jarvis, 74 So.3d 168 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011). There, we
reversed the trial court's dismissal of Johnson's
chapter 119, public records complaint and remanded for an
evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether there was an
unreasonable delay in producing the requested records.
Id. at 170-71.
remand, Kevin K. Carson, Mr. Johnson's attorney,
testified at the hearing that he met with an Assistant State
Attorney in Lake City, Florida, on January 26, 2011, to learn
whether Mr. Johnson would be criminally charged as a result
of an incident in which his firearm discharged at a local
store. Mr. Carson was told at the meeting that the State
wouldn't be filing charges, whereupon Mr. Carson made a
public records request to inspect and copy the State
Attorney's investigative file. The ASA responded by
recommending that Mr. Carson write out his specific request,
which he did, in his own name. He addressed the request to
the "Records Custodian, State Attorney, Third Judicial
[Circuit], " stating: "Please make available for
inspection and copying all public records relating to
[Johnson case]. This should include all information requested
in my discovery request."
told Mr. Carson that his request would be forwarded to State
Attorney Jarvis in Live Oak. State Attorney Jarvis's job
included being the public records custodian for the office.
The office's public records policy provided that public
records matters would be handled in the main State
Attorney's office for the Third Judicial Circuit in Live
All requests to inspect or copy case files, active or
inactive, shall be directed to the State Attorney. The State
Attorney shall promptly review the case file to [e]nsure that
there is no disclosure of active criminal
intelligence information or criminal investigative
information as defined in [c]hapter 119, Florida Statu[t]es,
or other exempted documents such as autopsy reports or work
product. Such information and documents shall be placed in a
separate envelope, sealed, and marked as "exempt
documents." In order to [e]nsure that exempt
materials and documents are protected and that the State
Attorney's obligations under the statute have been met,
all public record requests shall be complied with at the main
office of the State Attorney located at 100 S.E. Court Street
in Live Oak, Florida.
making the request, Mr. Carson stated that he checked his
mail every day thereafter, but didn't receive a response
from State Attorney Jarvis until two weeks later, on February
9, 2011. The letter, dated February 2, 2011, informed Mr.
Carson that the file would be made available at his
convenience at the State Attorney's office in Live Oak.
Upon receiving the letter, Mr. Carson did not ...