Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

They'd Differ on Handling Sunshine; Candidates for State Attorney Want to Take Care of Public Records

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

They'd Differ on Handling Sunshine; Candidates for State Attorney Want to Take Care of Public Records

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Both candidates for state attorney say they would have handled a recent inquiry into Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law violations by past and present Jacksonville City Council members a bit differently than retiring State Attorney Harry Shorstein.

Prosecutor Angela Corey said the state attorney shouldn't publicly "lecture" elected officials about the law, as Shorstein did last year before launching a grand jury investigation.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin disagrees with his boss's statement after the probe that he would never charge a public official exclusively with violating the state's open meetings law.

The two candidates - in the Aug. 26 Republican primary to be the top prosecutor for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties - have divergent views on enforcing and educating officials about Florida's liberal open meetings and records laws. The laws are designed to ensure open government decision-making.

Corey said she wouldn't have taken the unusual step of publicly scolding council members as Shorstein did.

"I did not think it was the state attorney's place to go grandstand at a City Council meeting," she said. "The state attorney's job is to seek the truth, not lecture people in the community publicly."

She said she also disagreed with Shorstein essentially putting on notice people he was about to investigate and talking publicly about the grand jury investigation.

Corey worked for Shorstein until 2006 and now works part time as a prosecutor in St. Augustine.

Plotkin said he didn't have a problem with Shorstein's actions, saying he visited the council to explain the law.

"That is an important message to our public officials," Plotkin said. "We have government-in-the-sunshine laws for a reason."

But he disagreed with statements Shorstein made after the grand jury investigation. Although he had the option to pursue non-criminal charges that could have resulted in fines, Shorstein said he was too busy prosecuting violent crimes and was unwilling to prosecute sunshine violations without evidence of payoffs or other crimes. …

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