Miami Lakes mayor’s e-mail list can remain private


Miami Lakes mayor’s e-mail list can remain private

BY LAURA ISENSEE
lisensee@MiamiHerald.com

The town of Miami Lakes does not have to disclose the e-mail distribution list used by Mayor Michael Pizzi, according to a Miami-Dade circuit judge who ruled last week that the addresses are not public record.

Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley issued a ruling from the bench Friday, addressing two dueling lawsuits filed by Lakes residents that sought to either force the city to turn over the e-mail addresses or to withhold them out of privacy concerns.

Under Florida law, residents can inspect government records, unless the information — such as Social Security numbers — is exempt.

In one suit, two residents wanted to keep their e-mail addresses on the mayor’s contact list private. In the other suit, civic activist Dr. Dave Bennett sought to obtain the contact list used by Pizzi to send updates from his city e-mail address about town activities, such as a fundraiser for Haiti.

Bagley ruled that the e-mail addresses in the distribution list were not public record, but were a “routing e-mail list.”

“They were the recipients, folks who were on a list, a distribution list that has been created over a number of years by Mr. Pizzi, as it appears to the court,” Bagley said in an oral ruling.

Bagley said there was no evidence that any of the e-mail addresses were given to the mayor in order to request official information.

Pizzi called the judge’s ruling a “complete and total victory” for the residents of Miami Lakes.

“In protecting my privacy, the judge also protected the privacy of all my constituents from unwanted intrusions and exposure to danger,” Pizzi said.

Resident Lynn Matos, who organizes youth activities in the town and was a plaintiff in the first suit, also welcomed the decision. “I didn’t want the children that are involved in the town of Miami Lakes, their e-mails and information to be distributed,” Matos said.

During the hearing Friday, town litigator Dorta Law said Pizzi had developed the contact list from his work as a lawyer, from campaigning and other means.

Dorta argued that under a 2003 Florida Supreme Court in a Clearwater case that the routing information in an e-mail’s header, including the recipient’s address, is not considered publicrecord.

“The actual public record, the stuff that’s in the e-mail, they got,” Dorta said, referring to Bennett, who had filed a public records request seeking the mayor’s contact list.

“They just want to know who are the recipients, which constitutes a distribution list or routing information,” Dorta said after the ruling.

In the Clearwater case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that “e-mail headers are not
`prepared’ with the intent to `perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge of some type.’ ”

Bennett said he plans to appeal the decision. His attorney, Raul Lopez, said the argument related to routing information was taken out of context and the ruling limits government transparency.

“We really don’t know who the mayor is communicating with,” Lopez said.

First Amendment lawyer Deanna Shullman questioned the ruling, likening an e-mail address to an address on a written letter.

“There would be no basis for redacting the recipients on a traditional letter,” Shullman said.
“This letter is no different than a written letter. Because our government corresponds in the electronic realm, it doesn’t diminish the public nature of the document.”

© 2010 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved. http://www.miamiherald.com


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