Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, questions City Attorney Lysia Bowling authorizing payment of the legal bills of Mayor Ashton Hayward related to federal grand jury investigation that began three years ago.
Inweekly sent the documents the newspaper received through public record requests–the August 2014 subpoena for city documents, two Beggs & Lane invoices, and Beggs & Lane attorney Nix Daniel’s letter saying the investigation was concluded, it involved the mayor’s official duties and no wrongdoing was found. We also included Bowling’s memo that city was obligated to pay the bills and her statement that she based her memo solely on Daniel’s letter and had no files on the investigation.
Petersen wrote, “It’s hard to believe that the city attorney authorized payment of legal bills without any documentation that the mayor was investigated for possible crimes in his role as mayor and that the payment of attorney fees was made without approval by the city commission.”
The First Amendment Foundation is a non-profit based in Tallahassee that is the authoritative source on the state’s public record laws.
Petersen discussed the case with an attorney with experience in the federal justice system. She relayed his opinions on the matter to the newspaper:
“I’m not sure what kind of documents the city would possess, but it certainly should include something if the City paid the bill in the first instance. There may be other privacy interests (and the lawyer’s communications, but I don’t think the bills, would be covered by an attorney-client privilege),” he wrote. “But it seems to me that before the City paid a lawyer for representing the Mayor, it should have some documentation. And that should also be confirmation that the investigation was of the Mayor in his official capacity, since the City should not have authority to pay fees if he was implicated on a personal level.”
When Inweekly tried to receive confirmation from the U.S. Attorney about the status of the investigation, we were told, “We have no public information to provide regarding this inquiry.”
According to Petersen’s source, the requirement for grand jury secrecy survives the end of the investigation and even the life of the particular grand jury.
The source said, “Keep in mind that law enforcement authorities don’t like to formally ‘close’ investigations. They could just tell the Mayor that the grand jury did not issue a true bill (indictment), but the government might still keep the matter open because it feels that additional information may come to light that could allow them to reopen the matter.”