By Trevor Aaronson
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The Town of Gulf Stream, in Palm Beach County, filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court on February 12 on behalf of state municipalities, municipal agencies and their contractors.
The lawsuit alleges that South Florida millionaire Martin O’Boyle and organizations affiliated with him — including the O’Boyle Law Firm, Citizens Awareness Foundation and Our Public Records LLC — victimized local governments and contractors throughout the state as part of a “RICO enterprise.”
“Through their RICO Enterprise, the Defendants have associated-in-fact with the sole purpose of unlawfully and illegally extracting settlement payments from the Class Members by first using the mails and the wires to deliver and advance frivolous public records request that are often intentionally inconspicuous,” the lawsuit alleges. “Then, the Defendants, through their RICO Enterprise, immediately use the mails and the wires to extort their victims by demanding that these municipal entities and agencies immediately settle with them and pay their allegedly incurred attorneys’ fees and costs as provided for in the public records statute, or, face protracted litigation and a flurry of additional frivolous public records request and lawsuits.”
The 49-page lawsuit alleges that O’Boyle and his organizations filed nearly 2,000 public records with the Town of Gulf Stream.
O’Boyle has said that the firm broke no laws and that the lawsuits it filed were completely legal and followed state statutes regarding penalties for not complying with the public records laws.
The Gulf Stream lawsuit follows a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting story on Citizens Awareness Foundation and the O’Boyle Law Firm and their practice of filing numerous public records requests against public and private agencies and then suing for non-compliance with those requests. FCIR found more than 140 lawsuits filed in 27 counties by the Citizens Awareness Foundation and sister organization Our Public Records LLC.
Citizens Awareness Foundation has since suspended operations as the Florida Bar investigates members of the law firm. In January, state Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Halsey Beshears sponsored legislation that would amend the public records laws to protect private companies doing business with state agencies, though open records advocates say the bills as written would impede access to public records.