JULY 6, 2015

Last November I found myself writing an open letter in defense of the O’Boyle Law Firm against what I considered a very sloppy researched story written by two hot-shot “investigative reporters” named Tristram Korten and Trevor Aaronson.  You can read their story HERE.


While the story contained elements that were disturbing and raised some concerns about the activities of the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, I questioned the writers knowledge of the Florida Public Records Law and how they applied their version of the mechanics of the law in order to twist the facts to support their claims.

The story also provided me with a growing suspicion, based then on only one conversation that I had over lunch with Joel Chandler, the individual that Korten and Aaronson relied on as their principal source, was not necessarily the choir boy that they attempted to portray him as being.

While I was not as clear then as I am now about Chandler’s activities, my reasons for coming to the defense of the law firm were first and foremost that they were representing me against the City of Miami, Mayor Tomas Regalado,Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Director of Communications Angel Zayon, the Downtown Development Authority and it’s Director Alyce Bravo for failing to comply with my requests for public records, and that  after 25 years of dealing with good and bad lawyers during the numerous battles I’ve had over public records, their behavior and efforts on my behalf had been nothing but aboveboard, ethical and professional.

Approximately two months after their first story, Tristan Korten wrote a second story citing his and Aaronson’s original story as the basis for a new piece of legislation that had been proposed in the Florida Legislature to “amend the public records laws to protect private companies doing business with state agencies.”  You can read that story HERE.

A month later, Trevor Aaronson wrote a third story detailing the filing of a lawsuit against the foundation and the law firm as well as all of the attorneys in the firm, by the Town Of Gulfstream, which is a town comprised of mostly mobile homes that borders A1A in Palm Beach County. You can read that story HERE.

The coverage of all of the stories reporting on the lawsuit generally favored the Town of Gulfstream’s actions, and it was FCIR’s original story, where many of these allegations first appeared that was cited by Aaronson in his story as the basis for the allegations in the lawsuit.

Unfortunately for the Town of Gulfstream, on June 30th, Federal District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra, issued an Opinion and Order throwing out their lawsuit. While the complete Opinion can be found at the bottom of this story, here is the conclusion the judge reached on the town’s allegations.

While FCIR was quick to “report” on the filing of the lawsuit, only the Palm Beach Post, of all the state’s news media has been as quick to report on the lawsuit being thrown out of court. 


Although many folks in Florida pride themselves on the progressive and supposedly strong Public Records Law in Florida, the real truth is that from one end of the state to the other Florida’s Public Records Law is often ignored, selectively complied with, or otherwise abused for personal and political reasons.

Starting with the Governor and Florida Cabinet, who in the last couple weeks in response to several lawsuits filed by numerous news organizations around the state finally agreed to comply with Florida’s Sunshine Laws - including forwarding all of their private emails containing public records to a public account - the State of Florida in recent years has seen public officials openly engage in numerous practices intended to thwart the law to shield their actions from public scrutiny.

Far too many public employees still remain clueless to the requirements of the law even after training, and others openly view anyone who makes a public records request as an enemy to be rebuffed by any means necessary.

The situation of complying with public records requests was complicated two years ago when the Florida Legislature, recognizing the new role that private companies are now playing in providing public services, expanded the law to require all companies that sign contracts with public agencies to make all of the documents related to those contracts public records.

It was this change in the law that was at the core of the story that FCIR did on the misguided effort to undo this expansion of the law.

The Town of Gulfstream was where Martin O’Boyle, the wealthy developer who financed the creation of the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation lived, and where his allegations about the town’s refusal to comply with his public records requests had led to numerous and acrimonious battles that resulted in the creation of the Foundation and in turn led to the stories and the lawsuit.

The Town of Gulfstream didn’t just file any old lawsuit, they went after O’Boyle and the others with a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit.  This was serious business, and the town didn’t just file the lawsuit on their behalf, but also on behalf “of those municipalities similarly situated.” In affect they tried to make all of the cities and towns in the state where public record lawsuits had been filed by the defendants as their co-plaintiffs.

So sure were the Mayor, Town Commissioners and Town Manager of their eventual success, that the Town Manager prepared a Memo detailing all the sources of revenue that the town had available to fund the lawsuit, and included the possibility of creating a 501(c)3 tax deductible vehicle to collect funds.

In the City of Miami, the City Attorney quickly got on board to make it a Legislative Priority of the City to support the legislation that would have gutted a significant part of Florida’s Public Record’s Law, going so far as to label what had been proposed as a “reform.”.

Ironically, it was none other than Joel Chandler, the sole source for the original story written by Korten and Aaronson who seems to be at the center of some, if not most of this activity around the state.

Chandler who has described himself as a “full-time civil rights activist,” personally admitted to me over the lunch we had at a Flanigan’s in Bal Harbor early in 2014 - weeks after becoming the Executive Director of the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation funded by Marvin O’Boyle - that he had on at least several occasions before he took the job solicited and received settlement payments from private companies that he had filed public record lawsuits against.

His answer was in response to my question of how he benefited from filing the hundreds of public record lawsuit he claimed to have filed, because my personal experience, and the experiences I had gathered over the years from the attorneys who I knew that specialized in First Amendment issues was that public record lawsuits were usually only filed by newspapers and activists like myself as a last resort after repeatedly being denied documents related to stories or issues we were working on, and that at best, Pro-se Plaintiff’s only managed to get their court costs back.

To me, the wholesale filing of public record lawsuits as a result of a guy like Chandler going around and conducting “audits” of public agencies was a new, and not necessarily positive solution to a very real problem. At the same time I recognized that having someone like Chandler going around to various city and county offices and “auditing” their response to public records requests was not necessarily a completely bad thing, since so many of these offices tended to behave badly when a citizen walked through the door to ask for a public document that just the efforts of someone showing and asking for public documents might result in some sort of change.

The problem however, was filing these lawsuits solely as a pretext for collecting settlements.

The failure in the so-called “investigative reporting” that Korten and Aaronson did in their stories about the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, the O’Boyle Law Firm and the subsequent stories about the proposed legislation and the lawsuit was that a simple internet search would have revealed that both before, during and after his tenure as the Executive Director of the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, Chandler was doing the same thing that they claimed that the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation was doing during his time as Executive Director with other folks.

Even when he wasn’t the person filing the lawsuits, Chandler was not far from the action as was revealed in a case in Jacksonville where a scathing order throwing the case out of court was issued by Duval County Circuit Court Judge Jack M. Schemer on December 1, 2014.

In this case, Jeffrey Marcus Gray, a close friend and declared partner of Chandler’s had filed a public records lawsuit on July 1st, a day after Chandler had resigned as the Executive Director of the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation’s Executive Director, but during the time that Korten and Aaronson claimed that he was waging a fight against what he considered bad behavior by the O’Boyle Law Firm, against the Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida for failing to provide him documents he had requested.

The judge’s complete Order is below, but here are some of the salient facts that the Judge cited in his opinion.

In April of 2015, Joel Chandler posted several photos of his appearance as one of the two Keynote Speakers at the Annual Associated Press Broadcasters Awards Dinner, along with his friend, and FCIR Board Member Barbara Peterson, who is the Executive Director of the First Amendment Foundation which publishes the Florida Sunshine Manual.

A recent search of the Polk County Clerk of Court’s website revealed that Joel Chandler is still hard at work as a “full-time civil rights activist” filing 29 separate lawsuits over 4 days in June against companies that have contracts with public agencies in Polk County.

Personally, I think the guy deserves some real recognition for his efforts, whether it be a medal, a serious investigative story about his activities, or a series of counter-lawsuits by folks he’s suing who might consider his activities in taking advantage of their ignorance or stupidity as little more than a way to make money.

Of course, taking advantage of the ignorant and stupid is a time honored American Way to get rich, so.....

Unfortunately we in Florida have also seem to have developed an American Way of public service that allows for the Governor of this state along with the members of his Cabinet and countless other public officials and employees across the state to engage in lying and sundry other activities to violate Florida Public Records Law, that in turn gives license to this kind of bullshit, which in turn makes it even harder for folks who really need the Public Records Law as a tool to help them undercover public corruption or stop the government from screwing them over to get the courts to treat them as more than trouble makers and  malcontents.

That’s a part of the American Way that I call,

It’s Florida, Bitches!