The First District Court of Appeal late Friday afternoon yet again reversed the circuit judge in the Michael Dunn case.
Two days after Judge Russell Healey said he no longer had jurisdiction to resolve a public records dispute between the news media and State Attorney Angela Corey’s office, the appeals court ruled he does.
The court ordered an emergency hearing in the matter.
At issue is the state attorney’s demand for payment of $6,000 before it begins processing the public records request for copies of jailhouse recordings between Dunn and people who have come to visit him in the jail and who he has spoken with on the telephone. The state attorney's office also says it would take her office nine to 10 weeks to review some 185 hours of recordings to redact names and other personal information before the audio could be made public.
Channel 4's attorney, Edward Birk, said the State Attorney's Office had already done a reasonable review of the recordings and should be able to release them.
"It's a bitter fight that we are committed to completing because we want the government agencies, state attorney's and others who have public records, we want them to know that when we make a public records request, we're going to expect compliance," said Birk.
In an order issued at 4:31 p.m. Friday, the appeals court said it was “error” for the judge to deny jurisdiction over the dispute as he did in his order on January 29. Recognizing that Judge Healey is about to begin jury selection Monday for Dunn's murder trial in the death of Jordan Davis, the court said Chief Judge Donald Moran should appoint another judge to hear evidence whether the state attorney's cost and production schedule estimates are reasonable.
Birk said the Court of Appeals must appoint a judge to settle the matter through a special hearing.
"I don't think it's going to happen before Monday," said Birk. "Ideally yes, we should have had access to these recordings weeks or months ago, but legal fights take time."
This dispute has been pending since October 2013, when the state attorney first disclosed the existence of jailhouse recordings of Dunn’s conversations.
At the same time, the state disclosed the existence of numerous letters Dunn had written from jail. Some of the letters contained hateful rants about race and other subjects. WJXT obtained the letters in response a request for public records and reported on their contents.
Initially, the news media declined to pay for the telephone recordings because of the high cost of the state paying someone to review the recordings. It was later revealed that by October, the state attorney had already done a substantial review of the recordings and had prepared a thick summary of the contents of the recordings. At that point, the news media demanded access to the recordings because the state attorney had already reviewed them.
Corey says her office reviewed for evidence reasons and would have to review them again to listen for any confidential or exempt information. That is the issue the court must now resolve.