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Lawyer wins in battle for e-mail access

April 22, 2001 

A former prosecutor has won $12,000 from the court system for the hassles she went through in trying to gain access to public records.

Chris Lindamood had to wage a court fight to get electronic mail messages she wanted from the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office. The battle dragged on for several years and required her to hire her own computer experts to retrieve the information.

Because the public records weren’t provided to her without a fight, her lawyer, Steve Ruta, argued court officials owed Lindamood attorney fees and expenses. Orange Circuit Judge James Hauser agreed earlier this month.

Lindamood, 49, is suing State Attorney Lawson Lamar, claiming she was fired for accusing ex-bosses of sexual discrimination. A state court trial is expected. Lindamood says the e-mails help prove her case. They discuss maternity leave and the Family Leave Act.

Last year, Lindamood lost a similar lawsuit against Lamar in federal court, where different rules governed the case. Lamar maintains Lindamood was treated fairly and that her discrimination complaints were tolerated when she worked for him until her behavior became disruptive. She was fired in January 1998 after 12 years in which she received above-satisfactory evaluations.

In making her complaints, Lindamood asked court officials in 1996 for several e-mail messages. The court administrator’s office was responsible for the shared computer system, where tapes contained the requested e-mails.

Court administrator Matt Benefiel said he would have been happy to give Lindamood what she wanted and agreed the documents were public records. But he said the task was extremely difficult because the state attorney e-mails were mixed in with thousands of judicial and other e-mails that may not have been public records.

"We did not have the ability to pull it off. It would have been too expensive. We didn’t have the expertise on staff," Benefiel said.

Lindamood went to court to force officials to hand over the tapes so her computer experts could examine them. One expert extracted the documents she needed just months before she was fired. She said she thinks they were accessible all along.

"They should have never kept this information from me," said Lindamood, now a lawyer for the state Department of Banking and Finance in Orlando. "Each step as I’ve gone along has vindicated me."

Debbie Salamone Wickham can be reached at or 407-420-5456.

by Debbie Salamone Wickham, Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel

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