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Hearings set for litigation involving commission emails

Apr 12th, 2012 | 0

By DOTTY NIST

On June 12, Walton County Judge David Green is scheduled to hear arguments from Suzanne Harris’ legal representation and that of Walton County in connection with emails allegedly in violation of a court order.

The court order, a final judgment, was in connection with a 2009 agreement between Harris and Walton County. The agreement settled previous litigation filed by Harris against the county involving, in part, public records and the Sunshine Law. The judgment had directed that Walton County commissioners use only their official email account when conducting county business.

In February 2012, Harris had filed a Motion for Contempt and Show Cause Order alleging that Walton County Commissioner Scott Brannon had violated the 2009 final judgment by sending emails concerning official county business through a private aol.com email account. Harris’ motion included copies of some of Brannon’s email records claimed to constitute violations of the court order.

In a March 21 response to Harris’ filing, Walton County maintained that her claims that “a sole Commissioner” had violated the final judgment “do not establish a basis for determination that the Final Judgment has been intentionally violated by the County.” Also, the county argued that the court should not agree to Harris’ request for contempt sanctions against the county because she had “aided and abetted” the behavior that was the subject of her complaint. To support the county’s contention, copies of email correspondence from Harris to Brannon at his personal email account were provided. In addition, the county made the argument that the terms of the final judgment “are not sufficiently clear and definite to be enforceable by either criminal or civil contempt.”

In early April, Walton County had filed a Motion for Declaratory Relief seeking clarification by the court of the specific terms of the 2009 final judgment.

Judge Green is scheduled to hear Walton County’s Motion for Declaratory Relief along with Harris’ motion on June 12.

On April 3, a Motion to Intervene in Harris’ recent litigation was filed by Alan Osborne and several other parties, revocable trusts. Osborne and other residents of Greater Driftwood Estates are also currently involved in a lawsuit filed against Walton County. Their lawsuit has challenged Walton County to demonstrate its authority to issue building permits for construction within the Sandestin Development of Regional Impact (DRI), which includes Driftwood Estates. The residents have requested public records from the county, including emails, in connection with that lawsuit.

Osborne and the other plaintiffs’ Motion to Intervene alleges that not only Brannon but also county commissioners Sara Comander and Cecilia Jones have violated the final judgment disallowing the use of private email accounts for the conducting of official county business. Included with the motion as evidence are copies of some of these commissioners’ email communications.

If able to intervene in Harris’ Motion for Contempt and Show Cause Order, the residents would become parties in that litigation. The decision as to whether they will be allowed to intervene will be made by the court. The Driftwood residents’ Motion to Intervene is scheduled to be heard by Judge Green on April 30.

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