American Democracy Legal Fund
455 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001
Mr. William N. Meggs, Esq.
State Attorney’s Office
Leon County Courthouse
301 South Monroe Street, Suite 475
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2550
August 27, 2015
Re: Violation of Florida Public Records Law by Former Governor Jeb Bush
Dear Mr. Meggs:
On behalf of the American Democracy Legal Fund, I request that the State Attorney’s Office for the Second Judicial Circuit impose a fine as provided by law against former Governor Jeb Bush, for violating Florida’s Public Records Law, codified at Fla. Stat. § 119.021(4)(a). Specifically, Mr. Bush violated the law by failing to submit his official records to the state at the end of his term as governor in 2007. Further, I request that your office investigate whether Mr. Bush’s violation was knowing and willful, and therefore subject to criminal punishment pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 119.10. Mr. Bush’s lack of timely disclosure demands an immediate investigation by your office.
- Factual Background
Jeb Bush served as the Governor of Florida from 1999 until 2007. According to transmittal receipts maintained by the Florida Department of State, Mr. Bush has delivered seven batches of his official records to the Florida State Archives since leaving office. Mr. Bush delivered the first batch of records in November 2007. Subsequent batches were submitted over the course of a seven-year period, in 2009, 2010, 2011, and most recently, in June 2014. Each of the batches of records submitted to the state after the initial 2007 batch appear to consist solely of Mr. Bush’s emails. News reports indicate that the most recent batch of records Mr. Bush submitted consisted of 25,000 emails sent from Mr. Bush’s private email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, which he used to conduct official business throughout his eight-year term in office.
- Legal Argument
Florida’s Public Records Law requires that any public officer who “has custody of any public records shall deliver, at the expiration of his or her term of office, to his or her successor of, if there be none, to the records and information management program of the Division of Library and Information Services of the Department of State, all public records kept or received by him or her in the transaction of official business.” “Public records” include all documents, papers, letters, or other materials, regardless of physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, that were made or received in connection with official business. The Florida Public Records Law provides that any public officer who violates the law commits a noncriminal infraction, punishable by a fine not exceeding $500. The separate and heightened penalty for a willful and knowing violation indicates that even an inadvertent failure to deliver public records will subject a public officer to this fine.
Under Florida’s public records law, as set forth above, Mr. Bush was required to deliver to the Florida State Archives all records in his possession related to his official business as governor when he left office in 2007. News reports and transmittal receipts maintained by the Florida Department of State indicate, however, that Mr. Bush has delivered records to the Florida State Archives in piecemeal fashion, beginning in 2007 when he left office, and continuing over a seven-year period. Mr. Bush’s most recent of submission of records occurred in June 2014. Accordingly, Mr. Bush has violated the Florida Public Records law codified at Fla. Stat. § 119.021(4), which clearly requires a public officer to submit all public records at the expiration of his term. Mr. Bush left office in 2007. Even if Florida law allowed additional time for a public officer to review and submit public records after leaving office, no credible legal argument can be made that submission of records seven years after leaving office is permissible under the law.
Moreover, the law states that a public officer who willfully and knowingly violates the law commits a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year. The evidence indicates that Mr. Bush carefully controlled the timing of his delivery of public records to his successor’s office over a period of years. News reports indicate that Mr. Bush himself was involved in the review of records and the timing of their release. Thus, his violation of the strict requirements of the law does appear, based on the evidence available, to be knowing and willful.
I request that the State Attorney’s Office for the Second Judicial Circuit immediately impose the maximum fine of $500 against Mr. Bush for failing to deliver his public records to the state at the end of his term as governor. The law requires public officials to submit official records upon leaving office so that members of the public have comprehensive and timely access to the public official’s records. Mr. Bush has deprived the public of this right, and he should be immediately fined for this violation. As you know, Mr. Bush is running for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Members of the public have a legitimate interest in timely reviewing Mr. Bush’s records to judge his potential candidacy for President.
Additionally, I request that your office immediately undertake an investigation to determine (1) whether Mr. Bush’s violation of Florida’s public records law was knowing and willful, and therefore subject to criminal punishment, and (2) whether Mr. Bush has in his possession additional official records that he is required to submit to the state. If your office’s investigation determines that Mr. Bush knowingly and willfully withheld his official records in violation of Florida law, it should prosecute the violation and all other violations discovered as a result of your investigation to the fullest extent of the law. Your office should pursue this matter promptly to ensure that voters have the information regarding Mr. Bush’s official records to which they are entitled by law.
Very truly yours,
American Democracy Legal Fund