FDOT wants to keep public docs on FIU bridge sealed; judge to rule on case

June 6, 2018

Agency believes a federal law provides a shield

The Miami Herald wants the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to handle over public documents involving the Florida International University pedestrian bridge leading up to when the structure collapsed. FDOT and the NTSB, however, want to keep everything under wraps. 

The agencies will have to go before a judge, who on June 4 gave federal investigators two weeks to decide whether or not they want to defend themselves in a Florida courtroom. The Miami Herald sued FDOT after failing for two months to receive public documents on the FIU bridge, which dropped on live traffic and killed six in March. FDOT agrees that the records are public documents, but believes a federal law shields the release of documents relating to an NTSB investigation pre-empts the Florida public records law. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper wants to hear what federal investigators have to say before he rules. 

"I think it is unfair, in the context of public record law, for NTSB to cause all these delays . . . just to delay the release of this information that was and always has been public record in Florida," said Holland and Knight lawyer Sandy Bohrer, who is representing the Miami Herald. 

In a letter to Cooper, NTSB attorney Benjamin Allen said the federal law blocks the release of any documents "related to the accident or incident" if the information was gathered by NTSB as part of the pending investigation.

"Public records made and received by the Department from Feb. 20 until the bridge collapsed on March 15 obviously were not obtained by the Department during an investigation because there had been no accident, much less an investigation into an accident," Cooper wrote in response to the FDOT motion to dismiss the lawsuit. "Florida law is clear that if an agency's record is a public record at the time it is made or received, then that document does not lose its character as a public record if the document is later given to an investigative agency in the course of a subsequently initiated investigation."

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