Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Macclenny Is Epicenter of Legal Fight for Records; Federal Rule Clashes with State Law When It Comes to the Release of Information about Detainees

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Macclenny Is Epicenter of Legal Fight for Records; Federal Rule Clashes with State Law When It Comes to the Release of Information about Detainees

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Small-town Macclenny is shaping up as a battleground to settle a conflict between Florida law and a federal immigration regulation.

At issue is whether an interim rule promulgated by the U.S. Justice Department after the 2001 terrorist attacks trumps Florida's public records law.

The rule, which took effect in 2002, forbids state authorities housing immigration detainees from releasing information about them even if state law requires them to do so. Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson houses about 175 such detainees in his jail under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We absolutely live by the Florida public records law. We'd give them everything they wanted," Dobson told the Times-Union. "But we have been instructed by the federal government that we can't give them these records."

Lawyers for nonprofit Florida Institutional Legal Services near Gainesville say nothing in state law allows Dobson to refuse their public records request for names and information about the detainees, federal regulations notwithstanding. Aided by legal giant Holland & Knight, they've asked a Macclenny judge to force Dobson to comply.

"Florida law is pretty clear that you can't contract away your responsibilities under Florida law," said Holland & Knight lawyer Jennifer Mansfield.

Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier hasn't scheduled a hearing. Dobson's lawyer filed his response to the public records lawsuit Wednesday. He questioned whether a state court has jurisdiction and argued the federal regulation preempts state law.

The issue arose in February when Florida Institutional Legal Services requested a roster of immigrant detainees at the Baker County jail and incident reports pertaining to them. The agency, which frequently represents inmates, later asked for a copy of the Sheriff's Office contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. …

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