Mayor: $15,000 payment saves untold legal fees

By Steve Plunkett

Gulf Stream and Martin O’Boyle have resolved the nine remaining lawsuits between them, with the town admitting that it violated the state’s Public Records Act in four cases and paying its litigious resident $15,000 to drop five others.
Both sides will go to mediation in hopes of deciding how much Gulf Stream will pay O’Boyle’s attorneys in the four cases settled in his favor. Each party will pay its own legal bills in the five dismissed suits.
“This is a business decision, and one that the [Town] Commission believes serves the best interests of the town by capping all legal fees,” Mayor Scott Morgan said as he announced the settlement Dec. 14.
The nine cases in the settlement were all that were left of 44 lawsuits that arose from more than 2,500 requests for public records by O’Boyle and resident Chris O’Hare, Morgan said.
The town and O’Hare signed a settlement in June 2017.
“In fiscal year ’17-18, we secured dismissals or victories in seven public records cases with one case decided adversely to the town,” the mayor said. “Previously, the town prevailed or secured dismissals in another 27 cases.”
O’Boyle and the town will continue to litigate the amount Gulf Stream must pay O’Boyle’s attorneys for the case he won. His lawyers have said they are owed more than $650,000; the town’s attorneys contend their rivals should get no more than $20,000.
Morgan credited Gulf Stream’s aggressive posture in the cases as essential to reaching the settlement and in changing state law on public records requests. Now judges in Florida can rule a request “improper” or “frivolous,” making the requestor liable for an agency’s attorney fees. Before, even if the agency won it still had to pay its own fees in all cases.
7960830666?profile=originalO’Boyle said what he considers biased news coverage of his lawsuits meant it took more time to settle the disputes.
“They would have been [resolved] a long time ago if The Coastal Star hadn’t written all those hit pieces which emboldened the town,” O’Boyle said.
Morgan said the settlement of any suit benefits both sides.
“This resolution hopefully brings an end to the public records abuse and the litigation abuse that this town has been subjected to. In that sense this is a win for the town,” Morgan said. “From Mr. O’Boyle’s standpoint, it brings an end to his emotional involvement, his expenses, and I think it’s a win for him in that sense as well.”
O’Boyle disputed the mayor’s characterization of his records requests as abuse.
“I don’t know how they can say it’s frivolous when they admitted that they wrongfully withheld documents in violation of the law,” O’Boyle said.
The town would have been better off paying someone $35,000 a year to handle such requests rather than spend hundreds of thousands on attorney fees, O’Boyle added. “I’m delighted that they have finally admitted wrongdoing,” he said.
As part of the settlement O’Boyle agreed to pay $250 upfront when he asks for public records in the future, with the money returned to him minus the town’s costs of responding to his request.
This “facilitation fee” was also in Gulf Stream’s settlement with O’Hare.
O’Boyle and O’Hare started flooding the town with requests for public records in 2013, eventually making more than 2,500 requests and filing dozens of lawsuits. The town raised property taxes 40 percent to pay for outside lawyers and additional staff and equipment to handle the requests.

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  • Mr. Gunther may want to check some of his facts regarding the number of records requests the Town received, during what period of time and how they were handled.  The initial onslaught started in August of 2013 and by 12/31/13 the Town had received 465 requests and 1223 requests from January thru December of 2014. The requests continued throughout 2015 as well.  Many of these requests came in 5-10-15 at a time.  For a Town, who at that time only had a small staff that had never had to deal with this type of behavior from a resident(s) and trying to provide the requester with the things they asked for, they did their very best.  The Town, at that time, did not have digital records, everything was hard copy in filing cabinets or drawers or storage boxes out in the maintenance building.  In addition, some of these requests were a bit out of the norm, such as for copies of all of the pictures on the walls in the commission chambers, for which the requester was provided with a cost to reproduce.  All in all, while there may have been a mistake here and there I can tell you that this Town did everything humanly possible to provide ALL requester's, not just Mr. O'Boyle, with the best possible responses in the most efficient amount of time.  And at no time was information ever intentionally withheld or in any other way not handled above board.  The one bright spot to this whole mess is that the Town now has the proper staffing and means to handle these types of situations in the future.  A lot of lessons were learned but when dealing with folks who's motives are suspect and who's methods are less than professional it was with amazing grace and professionalism that the Town staff provided the best possible service under the worst of circumstances.

  • Some of the things reported about this story don't make sense to me. I have researched this as best I can and I make the following observations:

    Today the Town's website lists a total of 2678 record requests made by many different people since the Town started keeping count beginning in March 2013. These record requests average about  10 requests a week. I have read many of these requests and the Town's responses to each which are all published online on the Town's website . Both the requests and the Town's response to each appear reasonable and respectful. I don't understand why these record requests have resulted in so much acrimony on both sides. 

    It appears that in response to about half the requests the Town replies, "no such record exists. So by my informal calculation it appears the Town produced about 5 records a week. Is producing a record each business day really too much for a local municipality to keep up with? 

    The requests published on the Town's website also show that in most every case the Town required the requester to make an estimated payment before the Town would start any search for the record. These estimates sometimes totaled many thousands of dollars. It appears many of these estimates were paid and the records produced. I don't see what the problem is here?

    For years Mr. Morgan has assured us the Town was completely innocent and victimized by some bad actors. Now the Town admits its guilt in some cases but assures us most cases were dismissed. Were those cases dismissed for lack of merit or were dismissals negotiated in exchange for something not reported?

    Mayor Morgan claims the Town raised taxes on residents by 40 percent to handle the many record requests. The Town's website shows that this money was actually used to pay several law firms about 2 million dollars in legal fees to defend against  these minor cases and also to unsuccessfully prosecute O'Boyle for RICO. 

    Mayor Morgan credits his litigation "success" by what he calls his "aggressive posture." If I remember correctly that strategy has resulted in O'Boyle getting $180,000 settlement and an apology from the Town a few years ago and now the Town is paying him another $15,000 plus maybe another $650,000 to compensate O'Boyle for his attorney fees (a number that seems small when compared to the Town's attorney fees). 

    Since the rise of the Internet and the precipitous drop in newspaper advertising revenue, the Palm Beach Post and Sun Sentinel have cut back on hiring good investigative reporters. And alas the Coastal Star doesn't seem capable or interested in digging too deeply into this story. I guess we will never know what really happened here. 

    I have always loved this Town and have great respect for the staff and police but I fear our current leaders are falling far short of the fiscally conservative, prudent, thoughtful and competent leadership we all enjoyed under the late Mayor Koch. 

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