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Fort Lauderdale seeks human rights panel's e-mails

June 4, 2002

The city of Fort Lauderdale has requested documents and e-mails sent or received by Broward Human Rights Board members from home and business computers that relate to the city's discrimination complaints.

City officials made the request last December after Jeff Gorley, a member of the Human Rights Board, made public comments critical of the city of Fort Lauderdale's handling of discrimination complaints, which have drawn separate investigations by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The record request issue surfaced in a May 13 memorandum from Assistant County Attorney Eddy Labrador to Randy Fleischer, chairman of the Human Rights Board. In response to a query from the board members, Labrador said the e-mails are part of the public record.

"What the city is doing is petty, particularly given its problems with discrimination," Gorley said Monday. "They want to know what Elgin [Jones] and other people sent me or said to me, and that looks to be petty. They need to straighten out their problems rather than worry about what was said to me."

Elgin Jones is a city employee who has led the charge against the city's handling of racial complaints. The U.S. Justice Department upheld Jones' discrimination complaint and said the city harassed Jones after he filed it. City officials and the Justice Department are trying to settle that case.

Gorley said he doesn't keep anything stored in his home computer and anything that was sent to him regarding board business he forwarded to the commission or the board. "I don't have anything to give them,'' he said. "I don't keep anything."

Assistant City Manager Bud Bentley said the city has a legitimate need for the e-mail.

"Certain members of the board were being very critical of the city about events going on in the city. They were using [documents] to damn us, and we didn't have any knowledge of what they were talking about. But they were saying Fort Lauderdale is a bad place and the city is terrible to its people and so forth. We want to educate ourselves about what information was being forwarded to them and correct the record if we need to."

Bentley complained about Fleischer in particular, taking him to task in a public meeting of the Human Rights Board for filing the public records request.

The protest and delay in complying, Bentley said, "piques my curiosity what's out there."

Fleischer, an attorney, said he has several problems with the request, including attorney-client privilege.

"I am going to bill the city $200 an hour up front, like the city does," said Fleischer. "I have to go through three different computers. I have a different computer than I had in 1998, plus a laptop. I have to go through tens of thousands of e-mails and determine which ones deal with EEO [equal employment opportunity] and then I will have to contact the clients because then I have to deal with attorney-client privilege.

"I have clients who had problems with the city of Fort Lauderdale," Fleischer said. "I don't know how many hours it will take me. I get hundreds of e-mails a day."

But when all is said and done, Fleischer said, "I am not worried about anything embarrassing the board."

By Gregory Lewis. Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


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