An appeals court Thursday said employees of JEA violated the state's public-records law by delaying the release of documents to a firm embroiled in litigation with the utility.
The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal stemmed from a records request filed last year by Promenade D'Iberville LLC, which was involved in a lawsuit in Mississippi with the utility.
Instead of turning over the records, JEA sought a protective order in a Mississippi court. It ultimately turned over the records two months later after the protective order was denied.
A 4th Judicial Circuit judge found that JEA had not willfully violated the public-records law, but the appeals court Thursday disagreed.
"In this case, JEA violated the act by delaying Promenade's access to non-exempt public records for legally insufficient reasons,'' said the opinion, written by Judge Timothy Osterhaus and joined by judges Stephanie Ray and Ronald Swanson.
"JEA imposed what amounted to a requester-specific barrier to records requests made by Promenade, because it was an adversary in out-of-state litigation," the ruling said. "It first threatened Promenade with out-of-state legal repercussions for requesting public records. Then it made good on its threat by not producing requested records and instead running to the Mississippi court in attempts to block Promenade's use of Florida's public records law. This was not a legally sufficient reason for delaying Promenade's access to public records."
The opinion does not detail the types of records sought or the nature of the dispute in Mississippi.