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Attorney accuses Bondi of violating public records law

A Tallahassee attorney engaged in a bitter property fight with the state is accusing Attorney General Pam Bondi of destroying emails, failing to retain text messages and violating the state’s public records laws.

Bondi, the chief custodian of the state’s Sunshine law, has acknowledged some documents were inadvertently missing from the records request of Stephen R. Andrews, but her office vigorously rejects his claims.

“These allegations are without merit,’’ said Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray.

In court documents filed this week in Leon County Circuit Court, Andrews portrays a department that allows employees to manually delete emails before they are archived, relies on an outdated email archival system and allows metadata to routinely be destroyed.

He claims that in at least 19 instances, emails were destroyed and the attorney general's office failed to properly retain text messages after he filed a request for a document hold.

Andrews said he discovered the omissions only after he cross-referenced the emails he received from the attorney general through a public records search with those obtained from other agencies. He is asking a judge for a forensic search of all backup servers and storage devices at the agency.

Ray refused requests to explain what the department’s policy is regarding retaining emails and text messages.

Bondi’s attorney, Stephanie A. Daniel, has responded in court documents that the department has produced more than 6,700 pages of private emails, calendars and text messages, and denies they are violating any public records laws. She also accuses Andrews of being unwilling to cooperate and often slow to reply for clarification on his numerous public records requests.

Andrews’ public records feud began in 2012 when the Department of Environmental Protection tried to shield from public view a memo and maps that detailed a proposed Governor’s Park, a six block by three-and-a-half block area in downtown Tallahassee.

The land once belonged to former Gov. LeRoy Collins and includes the office building now home to Andrews’ law firm. The governor and Cabinet voted to buy the property two years ago, in spite of a contract between Andrews and the Collins estate that allowed him to buy his office building.

Andrews filed suit and a judge ordered the state to release the documents. He has been in litigation since then and has made numerous records requests for documents from the governor and Cabinet officials.

In court documents, Bondi’s attorney admits that some documents were missing from department’s public records given to Andrews because of several factors, including “an oversight,’’ a “technology error” and “a copy and pasting error.” Story here.