By Steve Plunkett
Gulf Stream resident Chris O’Hare’s “bad faith conduct” in seeking hundreds of public records may leave him liable for the town’s hefty legal bill and even sanctions, a circuit judge decided.
In a case O’Hare filed against the town, Judge Thomas Barkdull III said Gulf Stream did not unjustifiably delay its response to a public records request from O’Hare and his conduct bars the relief he sought, namely his own attorney’s fees and costs.
O’Hare’s conduct “was clearly intended to inappropriately manufacture public records requests in order to generate public records litigation and attorney’s fees,” Barkdull wrote in a final judgment Monday.
What’s more, Barkdull wrote, “Having had the opportunity to observe O’Hare at trial, the Court further concludes that O’Hare intended to harass and intimidate the Town’s employees to generate litigation and fees with ‘gotcha’ type requests.”
At issue was O’Hare’s request made after Town Hall closed for the day May 14, 2014, for “all records in any way related to any correspondence between Jones-Foster on behalf of the town and Martin O’Boyle and created or received during the period of time from March 1, 2014, through to the moment you receive this request.”
Jones, Foster, Johnston & Stubbs PA is Town Attorney John “Skip” Randolph’s firm, with about 40 lawyers in its West Palm Beach office.
Gulf Stream answered O’Hare within two days, saying it was “working on a large number of incoming public records requests” and would use “its very best efforts to respond to you in a reasonable amount of time.”
O’Hare filed suit 46 days after he made his request, a day longer than the statutory requirement, asking Barkdull to declare the town was making an “illegal withholding” of the records and seeking attorney fees.
In January, after a four-day non-jury trial, Robert Sweetapple, Gulf Stream’s outside counsel, told town commissioners the judge sided with them. In his final order, Barkdull invited Gulf Stream to ask that O’Hare pay its legal bill and also be sanctioned.
At the same meeting, O’Hare told commissioners he disagreed with the ruling. “So do my attorneys, and of course we’ll appeal that,” he said.
Before Barkdull’s ruling, a municipality that successfully defended itself against a public records dispute still had to pay its own legal bill.
O’Hare began asking Gulf Stream for public records in 2013. From late August through December that year, he made more than 400 requests, Sweetapple said. Together, he and fellow resident Martin O’Boyle have filed more than 2,000 requests and dozens of lawsuits.
The May 14, 2014, request was one of 10 O’Hare made that day that led to seven lawsuits, Sweetapple said.