By Dan Moffett
Around Gulf Stream, the names O’Boyle and O’Hare are routinely linked in the same sentence as if they were joined by an ampersand.
After all, for much of the last two years, Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare have tormented town officials with hundreds of public records requests and dozens of lawsuits.
But O’Hare says it’s a mistake to believe that the two have acted in tandem during their legal crusades. Never mind that O’Hare was a vocal O’Boyle supporter when he unsuccessfully ran for a commission seat in March, or that the two often have sat shoulder-to-shoulder and consulted with each other during town meetings.
In October, commissioners voted to pursue a federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) case against O’Boyle and O’Hare, based on allegations they conspired to engage in a pattern of activities to intimidate and coerce attorney fees from Gulf Stream and other groups and municipalities.
O’Hare says he has nothing to do with any conspiracy, or with O’Boyle’s Citizens Awareness Foundation, or with the running of The O’Boyle Law Firm or all the lawsuits its lawyers have filed around the state.
O’Hare has said that while they may agree that the town treats its residents badly and violates open government laws, he has raised specific issues that are uniquely his own and differ from those of O’Boyle.
“I consider the complaints I have filed to be my obligation and duty as a citizen — part of the ongoing process of keeping the government in check,” O’Hare said in an email. “It is certainly not a way to make money from the town.”
He may have a critical ally going forward in Joel Chandler, who for a few months last year was the executive director of Citizens Awareness, a group that Gulf Stream lawyers allege was using public records suits to funnel settlement money to The O’Boyle Law Firm.
Chandler and O’Boyle parted company in June in a dispute over how the CAF was run.
O’Boyle is suing Chandler, claiming he misused the group’s funds. Chandler has vehemently denied the allegation and has been publicly critical of O’Boyle, his foundation and his law firm.
Chandler calls O’Hare “a friend” and says it would be unfair to equate his complaints and actions with those of O’Boyle. Chandler says he expressed that distinction in conversations with Robert Sweetapple and Joanne O’Connor, attorneys who represent the town.
“Lest there be any doubts about my feelings on this issue,” Chandler wrote in an email, “I believe Chris has done nothing wrong and that (he) has nothing to do with the RICO allegations. I believe (and have stated to Sweetapple and O’Connor) that the town should concede to Chris’s demands and be done with it. Chris is a victim of the town’s foolishness.”
Chandler has said that O’Hare wasn’t involved in Citizens Awareness activities or those of The O’Boyle Law Firm. O’Hare does concede, however, that he did use the firm to file at least one of his lawsuits against the town.
He says his requests for information from the town were not frivolous or intended to harass staff or make money from settlements.
“I have never made a record request unless I really wanted the record,” O’Hare said. “The town has told me many of the records I requested don’t exist when I know that they do. Sometimes I have to ask for the same record as many as five times before I finally get it. The town counts these as five separate requests.”
Town Clerk Rita Taylor says staff responds to records requests as quickly as possible and has added extra employees to deal with the huge increase in volume during the last two years.
According to town officials, O’Hare has made several dozen requests on a single day.
During a recent deposition, O’Hare pointed to specific disputes he had with the town — none of them linked to O’Boyle: O’Hare claims a police officer trespassed on his property and that building officials have wrongly denied his requests to put a solar energy roof on his house and build a shooting range backstop and a shooting bench at his home.
“The town would have you believe that they (public records requests) were all made with the intention of harassing and harming the town,” O’Hare wrote in an email. “In fact, I have used the public records law as a means of legal discovery in my complaints against the town.”
O’Hare says that he has done a service for the town by exposing problems officials did not know about.
He says a records request alerted town officials that they had published employee addresses and Social Security numbers that should have been redacted. He says his complaints warned the town about Americans With Disabilities Act violations at Town Hall.
“Their (town officials’) public campaign proclaiming their impending RICO action against me without producing any evidence is effectively defaming my character and reputation and causing me harm,” O’Hare said.
For his part, O’Boyle has denied any wrongdoing during a September deposition with town attorneys. “Nonsense,” he called the allegations.
At their Dec. 12 meeting, O’Hare asked commissioners to exclude him from the RICO case and retract the town’s accusations of wrongdoing.
“Let’s let the facts play out, Mr. O’Hare,” Mayor Scott Morgan replied. “Let’s let the law play out as well.”