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Nassau County Legal professional Michael Mullin has agreed to formally resign after a State Attorney’s Place of work investigation strongly suggests he “dedicated felony acts” by deleting text messages sought by a developer in a lengthy-jogging battle about the Wildlight residential growth.
Wildlight is aspect of the 23,600-acre East Nassau Stewardship District beneath improvement by Rayonier, and Mullin represented the developer as a private-sector legal professional from 2007 to 2015 when he turned county lawyer.
In a letter to Nassau County commissioners, Mullin formally announced his resignation, mentioning practically nothing about textual content messages or Rayonier. Alternatively, he reported Assistant County Legal professional Denise May possibly has the experience and capacity to be “a great county lawyer,” introducing that he has had the honor to provide as county attorney at distinct times for 31 years.
“I began representing the county in 1982. There have been highs and lows, issues and achievements,” Mullin wrote “… I am confident that Nassau County will go on to continue being the unique, exclusive local community it is and that it will never ever reduce its main — which is religion, citizens 1st and ‘just simple do it suitable.’”
The resignation arrived as a 10-page authorized memo summarizing the State Attorney’s Office investigation of Mullin was produced pursuing statements that he “committed prison functions by knowingly violating Florida’s general public information and open authorities legislation.”
“The state’s investigation discovered evidence that Mullin dedicated prison functions by permitting Nassau County’s systemic failure to preserve general public documents, failing to honestly and well timed reply to Raydient’s (Rayonier’s) general public data request and allowing the deletion of text messages constituting community data,” the memo states. “More, the evidence supports that Mullin dedicated these violations of the community information regulation to give the county what he should have considered was an benefit in the ENCPA dispute and to hinder Raydient’s endeavours to learn the truth involved with his steps as a public formal.”
Mullin followed up with his have assertion Tuesday indicating he strongly disagrees with the findings.
“The messages which are the topic of the civil suits were turned more than to the requestors commencing in January 2019 and also delivered to the Condition Attorney’s Office in March of 2019,” he wrote in his assertion. “In addition, I drafted new techniques for retaining and addressing personal messages on personal devices. The processes are set forth in an ordinance adopted in the tumble of 2019. … These treatments continue being in effect currently.”
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County tranquil, but Rayonier seems off
County officers reported they received Mullin’s letter stating he intends to retire as of March 31 but also said he then sent an up-to-date letter of retirement helpful at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. They also confirmed receiving a copy of the Condition Lawyer Office’s memo, but it arrived from the information media.
“There has not but been correspondence immediately from the State Attorney’s Office to Nassau County with regards to stated memo,” the county’s Wednesday statement reads. “As this new information may effects ongoing litigation involving the county, no additional statement may well be issued at this time.”
Mullin had been county attorney since 2015, his 2nd stint in the career soon after a 25-calendar year time period that ended in 2007 when he left for personal observe.
Minutes immediately after the general public launch of the State Attorney’s Office’s memo, Rayonier officers reported they were “grateful” for its investigative endeavours trying to find accountability for transgressions against the corporation and citizens of Nassau County.
They had raised fears with regards to Mullin’s carry out many years ago, but the county overlooked them and instead gave Mullin a lot more manage above government affairs as it doubled his salary, in accordance to Rayonier’s statement.
Constructing Wildlight: Publix, Del Webb coming to Wildlight in Nassau Relyy
“Rayonier is let down that the county failed to act on their personal to take away a clearly compromised county attorney, all the though losing tax bucks litigating to protect his undesirable information and him personally in multiple litigation issues,” Rayonier’s assertion continued. “Even now, the county proceeds to squander sizeable sources defending Mullin, even with quite a few judicial decisions getting his information to be erroneous and, according to the Point out Attorney’s Office, legal.”
The stewardship district that involves Wildlight will function retail, place of work, household and hotel area together with wetlands and upland conservation lands with recent or planned access to Interstate 95, U.S. 17/Florida 200 and county roadways. Rayonier is building Wildlight on 2,900 acres in that eastern part of Nassau County. Rayonier also developed its headquarters in Wildlight.
The core of the issue
In 2017 a dispute arose between Nassau County and Rayonier around the conditions of the stewardship district and who was accountable for constructing and protecting parks and recreational facilities in Wildlight. In February 2018 Nassau County staff members and officials went to Tallahassee to oppose laws they mentioned would effect the district.
Those officers exchanged numerous textual content messages before, during and immediately after the excursion, the Condition Attorney’s Office environment reported. The messages concerned the dispute amongst Rayonier and the county, and prospective programs of motion officials may possibly just take to challenge the company.
On Oct. 1 2018 Rayonier submitted a 4-page public records ask for to Nassau County requesting 21 types of records from June 2016 onward related to the district and proposed point out laws that the county asserted would effects it. Twenty-5 times afterwards, the county’s reaction did not include things like any requested email or textual content concept communications, in accordance to the Condition Attorney’s Business investigation.
The documents Rayonier sought finally surfaced soon after Mullin terminated county Budget Director Justin Stankiewicz in December 2018. That is when Stankiewicz filed a grievance complaint saying his termination was retaliation for not following Mullin’s orders to wipe out county officials’ textual content messages getting sought by a developer’s legal professional. Stankiewicz also attached web pages of textual content messages to that grievance, the State Attorney’s Office said.
No matter of Mullin’s motive for terminating Stankiewicz or his belief as to why he was terminated, it is obvious the textual content messages connected to the grievance represent public data, according to the Point out Attorney’s Office environment memo.
“Even though these text messages have been immediately responsive to general public records requests made by Raydient to the county, their existence — acknowledged to Mullin — was denied by the county at Mullin’s way,” the memo states.
Rayonier filed a lawsuit on Feb. 6, 2019, contending the textual content messages confirmed the county was coordinating a system in 2018 to exert pressure on the business to set up a lot more revenue for parks and recreational amenities.
Judge’s ruling and a flawed coverage
Ultimately, Circuit Court Decide James Daniel issued an Aug. 24, 2021, buy granting summary judgment in favor of Rayonier over the general public documents dispute. Nassau County officers violated the state’s general public history legislation when they did not provide text messages sought by Rayonier, the judgment states.
Daniel wrote in his ruling that Nassau County lacked a record retention plan for textual content messages all through the time frame Rayonier was in search of them. He said that from Oct. 12 to Nov. 16, 2018, when Rayonier made a information ask for and two adhere to-up calls for for the paperwork, the county at initial offered no textual content messages whatsoever. Then the county said it was “not mindful of any text messages,” later including that it experienced responded to the general public documents ask for.
Though the county was offering these responses, Daniel wrote that no a person from the county told Rayonier that County Fee associates and employees “routinely deleted textual content messages from their phones or that the county experienced no data retention policy for text messages.”
The choose included that commissioners and employees frequently used textual content messages to connect about county business enterprise, but some made use of a setting on private phones that automatically deleted textual content messages just after 30 days, although other folks manually deleted messages “from time to time” to crystal clear up room on their phones.
In its defense, the county informed Daniels it had turned over thousands of internet pages of information in response to a community-documents ask for from Rayonier. The county also argued in 2021 that a “the vast majority of the textual content messages at issue” did not rise to the amount of staying general public documents underneath Florida regulation due to the fact they were “transitory conversational messages with limited-lived or no administrative value.”
Daniel disagreed and stated the “mind-boggling greater part” of the text messages did tumble into the classes of public records that must have been maintained for 3 or 5 a long time.
In its memo, the Condition Attorney’s Office reported the evidence it uncovered came from “substantial sworn testimony under oath” from the ongoing civil litigation between Rayonier, Nassau County and Mullin. The testimony establishes that textual content messages existed among the commissioners and Mullin relating to the dispute, and that tends to make them public information.
The evidence is obvious that Mullin realized that commissioners were not retaining texts, and he “implicitly condoned the observe” by advising them they experienced no obligation to keep “transitory” messages, the Point out Attorney’s Workplace memo states.
“As county lawyer, it is unreasonable to conclude that Mullin was not familiar with the general public data legislation,” the memo carries on. “On the contrary, dependent on his working experience and place in just the county, he certainly appreciated that these text concept communications constituted community records. In the same way, Mullin also appreciated the potential adverse public relations and legal ramifications of these text messages getting public.”
Pertaining to Mullin’s conduct, the State Attorney’s Office environment claimed he not only dedicated public records violations as a public officer but did so knowingly by overseeing the county’s systemic failure to maintain textual content messages. He also failed to “in truth and timely reply” to Rayonier’s general public documents request and allowed the deletion of text messages.
“These steps, and the motive for concealing these messages, suggest a knowing and willful violation of the legislation,” the memo explained.
Mullin’s defense includes claims that neither he nor the other county commissioners intentionally deleted the textual content messages and that a excellent faith energy was created to comply with the developer’s general public documents request, the State Attorney’s Business office mentioned. He further details to an out-of-date county community records policy at the time which did not address the retention of text messages constituting general public data and was not an intentional violation.
Considering the fact that the evidence uncovered by the Condition Attorney’s Business office supports that Mullin committed prison violations of Florida’s community records regulation, he has “disqualified himself from continuing to provide as county lawyer,” the memo concludes. In buy to keep away from what it calls “protracted litigation in criminal courts” and noting Mullin has no prior felony history, the Condition Attorney’s Business agreed to forego formal prosecution if he resigns.
Rayonier’s statement finishes by indicating it continues to glance for strategies to “transfer previous this darkish episode for the larger advantage of the citizens of Nassau County.”
“We are optimistic that with the forced elimination of the county lawyer, the county will now shift forward in a more constructive and transparent way,” its assertion ends.
The Florida Bar also confirmed it is reviewing Mullin.
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