Florida Activist and Journalist Wins Appeal for Public Records


Stewart Lilker doesn’t let anything stand in the way of keeping his public servants accountable.

The North Florida man has many talents and he uses those talents to shine a light on the issues that are important in his community.

He’s definitely not bashful when it comes to asking for public records concerning the issues important to his community, sharing the information with his community on his website Columbiacountyobserver.com.

Two years ago, the Florida activist started questioning The Lake Shore Hospital Authority (LSHA) about a construction project proposal, estimated to cost $500,000. The LSHA is a Florida public agency that controls the maintenance and the operation of Shands Lake Shore Regional Medical Center in Lake City, Florida.

Lilker is no stranger to the LSHA as he has attended their meetings for several years. He wasted no time asking the records custodian for the project plans and for a line item account of their budget.

LSHA staff made many attempts to place restrictions for access to public records in their custody. Their first attempt to deny access was a demand for fees to copy the project plans so that these copies could be provided to Lilker for inspection.

After many demands for the production of the document, he was told he could view the records between the hours of 8:30-9:30 am, Monday through Friday.

He would also have to give 24 hours notice before he arrived for his one-hour window to view public records.

The LSHA staff also had a problem making the line item budget available for inspecting. In response to his public records request, he was told that the requested records could be found on the LSHA website, but the website had problems displaying the records so Lilker requested a hard copy that LSHA refused to provide.

The restrictions that LSHA set for Lilker were a clear violation of Florida’s increasingly broad public record laws.

Pursuant to 119.07(1)(a) Florida Statute:

Every person who has custody of a public record shall permit the record to be inspected and copied by any person desiring to do so, at any reasonable time, under reasonable conditions, and under the supervision of the custodian of public records.

Lilker wasted no time filing a lawsuit in Columbia County Court demanding the records and received a summary judgment compelling the board to make the documents available without restrictions. LSHA appealed the decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, even though they had no chance of winning.

This month, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision, affirming Lilker’s right to inspect the documents at any reasonable time.

According to the appellate opinion:

Clearly, this hampered appellee’s right to inspect the records in appellants’ custody “at any reasonable time.” Moreover, there is no authority allowing appellants to automatically delay production of records for inspection by imposing a twenty-four-hour notice requirement.

In response to the denial of hard copies of public records the court opined:

Access to public records by remote electronic means is merely “an additional means of inspecting or copying public records.” § 119.07(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2013) (emphasis added). This additional means of access, however, is insufficient where the person requesting the records specifies the traditional method of access via paper copies.

Lilker is happy about the court’s decision which is not just his victory, it’s a victory for all Florida citizens.

This is good news for all those that are getting cocked around by folks that don’t want to follow the spirit and intent of the public records law. I believe that the Court’s unanimous opinion nailed it.

You can read the full Appellate Court opinion here. Lilker can be reached by email at StewLilker@columbiacountyobserver.com


Citizen Journalism