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Judge rules Lee County school district violated public records act

A school district in Southwest Florida violated the State public records act.

A judge ruled The School District of Lee County allowed a request to get set aside and then purged.

When sending a public records request to the District, before anyone lays eyes on it, it’s first filtered for key words that would send it to a junk folder before it’s deleted a week later.

That’s what court documents show happened to the attorney representing Alfie Oakes, who says that’s not the only problem.

After the District canceled its contract with Oakes Farms back in June, Oakes’ attorney filed a public records request hoping to uncover facts of the decision-making process involved.

Court documents show both requests ended up in a junk folder, which are purged once every seven days.

“The why question comes up, but it also echoes with are they acting in good faith?” explained Attorney Lance Dunford, a partner with the Law Firm of Scott T. Moorey. “Are they trying to bury things that they know could be damning for their position?”

Dunford isn’t involved in this case but offered insight into the importance of public records requests.

“You don’t necessarily know how relevant it is many times until you actually have it and physically can examine it,” Dunford said.

Through court documents, we learned certain key words flag public records requests as junk.

The District’s IT expert testified the District does not keep a log of key words it adds, meaning members of the public have no way of knowing what words are sending their emails to junk folders.

The District learned of the requests in September and found about 4,100 emails relating to the request. Seven weeks later, the District had only sent out 283 of those emails, saying it had to be reviewed.

Court documents point out, at this rate, the District would have taken about two years to complete the request.

The judge in the case ruled the District has 48 hours to turn over all of the relevant emails. The deadline is Thursday.

The judge also ruled Alfie Oakes’ attorney is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees.

We reached out to the District for a comment.

“We have received and are reviewing the order,” the District shared in a statement.

Reporter:Justin Kase
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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