A circuit judge in Sarasota County on Friday ordered three public officials to stop using their personal computers and turn them over so an expert can determine if they contain public information. In his decision, Circuit Judge Robert Bennett held that private computers can be confiscated to search for public records.
Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the Missouri School of Journalism, told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune that this is the first time officials have been ordered to turn over private computers to comply with public records requests.
In a suit filed last month, Sarasota activist Anthony Lorenzo alleged that council member John Moore and Mayor Ed Martin improperly communicated about public business by private e-mail accounts on home computers. When Moore and Martin didn’t appear at a court hearing to testify, the judge ordered them to relinquish their personal computers.