A Broward circuit judge ruled Friday that Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes must release voter records requested by Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign for the U.S. Senate by 7 p.m.
In an emergency hearing, Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ruled Snipes violated Florida’s Public Records Act by not responding to the Scott campaign’s requests for ballot information in a reasonable amount of time.
“This court finds, once again, that Broward County is under the microscope and being viewed by the entire nation,” Phillips said during the hearing, referencing prior electoral controversies in the county. ”This court finds that there has been a violation of the Florida Constitution. Supervisor Snipes shall allow for the immediate inspection of the requested records.”
The judge noted the information in question “should have already been compiled” by the time of the court hearing.
Phillips’ ruling follows complaints filed by Scott’s campaign against the supervisors of election in Palm Beach and Broward counties. The complaints alleged both Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher violated state law by not immediately replying to the campaign’s records requests.
Arguing on behalf of Scott’s campaign, GrayRobinson partner Jason Zimmerman told Phillips that his client’s request was “very narrow.”
“This is not a drop-everything type of public records request. … This should take 10 minutes to do,” Zimmerman said. “We wanted documents very specifically tailored to not interfere with [Snipes'] duty to count these votes.”
Zimmerman repeatedly maintained this was “not a partisan issue.” His position was not shared by Eugene Pettis, the lawyer representing Snipes. The Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm partner told Phillips that the Scott campaign was trying to speed up the vote-counting process, a maneuver he described as “inappropriate.”
“You don’t intervene and get in the counting process,” Pettis said. The Fort Lauderdale attorney argued Snipes’ nonreply didn’t indicate a records violationg and noted she and her staff were still occupied compiling the very information requested by the Scott campaign.
“Dr. Snipes has never told them she would not provide the information. … She’s going to fulfill her duties and her responsibilities in a reasonable time. But,jJudge, we must give reasonable time,” the attorney said, noting the Scott request was filed only 26 hours after the polls closed.
Pettis’ sentiments were echoed in court by Berger Singerman partner Leonard Samuels. Speaking on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, Samuels — who also argued on behalf of the party in Broward Circuit Court during the upheaval after the 2000 presidential election — disputed Zimmerman’s claim that their request would not require Snipes to drop everything.
“It simply would be unprecedented. There cannot be a worse time to order a 24-hour, drop-everything request,” he said.
Phillips’ order to release the voter records cited the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s July ruling on surveillance footage taken on the day of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.
“When in doubt, the court should find in favor of disclosure rather than secrecy,” Phillips said.