After refusing to turn over his cellphone for a search ordered by a Florida court last week, Doral’s legal team said Councilman Pete Cabrera will be surrendering his phone on Friday.
Cabrera and the rest of the Doral City Council were ordered two weeks ago to turn over their phones as part of a legal dispute between the city and SDE Media, a billboard company that is suing, claiming a violation of the Sunshine Law from 2014.
Cabrera agreed to comply, but only under certain conditions: That he be present while they copy the data off his phone onto a hard drive, and that his hard drive be put in a lock box which would require two keys to open — one by his attorney, the other by Epiq Systems Inc., the company designated by the court to collect the phone records and review the data.
Cabrera and his lawyers are insisting they review their own records because of privacy.
Never miss a local story.
Cabrera says he bought his current cellphone in November (five months after court order was served), so it would be unlikely to contain information about this issue.
Until he hands over his current and former phones to be cloned, Cabrera runs the risk of being arrested and being fined $2,000 a day.
Ten Doral officials, including the Mayor Luigi Boria and other council members, have already complied.
Councilwoman Christi Fraga, who was in labor at the time of the order, told the Herald she will “definitely” be turning over her phone on Friday.
City Attorney Dan Espino told the court a boat trailer fell on his phone.
This is the third time since July that a court has demanded that the city officials turn over their phones in response to this matter.
SDE Media filed its most recent motion in late January before the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. The motion is still pending and is awaiting a hearing date.
The dispute dates back to 2014, when the City Council rejected an ordinance that had been approved on first reading months earlier regulating the location of billboards that generate income for the municipality. The rejection prevented SDE Media from putting up a billboard on the northwest corner of the Palmetto Expressway and Northwest 36th Street, one of the most trafficked areas of Doral.
SDE Media immediately requested call and text message records from council members’ phones. When their request was returned, attorneys discovered that the city does not keep account of council members’ text messages, nor does it have a policy regulating private communication between city officials via text. So in June 2015, SDE media took the case to court.
According to SDE Media, the initial phone and text message records obtained last week show communications that raise suspicion about a possible violation of the Sunshine Law. The most appropriate way to continue the investigation, it said, is to analyze all of the text messages that refer exclusively to the case.
According to their findings, between June 2014 and early January 2015 there were more than 400 calls and text messages between several members of the city council, as well as with Melissa Tápanes, a lawyer for View Point of Florida, former partner of SDE Media and now one of its top competitors. Tápanes would not comment.
“They either can’t use their cellphones to exchange texts about official business, and if they do, all those messages need to be kept by the city’s IT dept,” said Thomas Julin, the attorney representing SDE Media. “I think this is a violation of the public records law.”
At last week’s council meeting, the city passed a resolution to pay Cabrera’s legal costs in this case. The vote was 4-1. Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez voted against the measure.
Since most phone carriers don’t keep the content of text and photo messages — only an itemized list of data — Julin said SDE Media will also be looking into external applications such as WhatsApp and iCloud.
“That is something of interest,” he said. “If the phones themselves don’t have content on them, there’s a possibility that the application companies may still have the content. It’s unclear if its maintained anywhere. If you are relying on the carrier to do keep track of the content of your communications, and you know they only keep it for 30 days or not at all, you need to have a different way of regulating and archiving that content as a city official and government.”