In a move that should send a chill down the spines of thousands of elected officials in Florida, former Martin County Commissioner Anne Scott, a retired judge originally from Chicago, and current Commissioner Ed Fielding were booked Tuesday night into the county jail after being indicted in a public records scandal that already cost taxpayers upward of $25 million.
Scott, 69, who lives in Hobe Sound and lost her seat after one term in November, and Fielding, 73, were charged with two counts each of failure to permit inspection and copying of public records.
Each count is a misdemeanor that could, at worst for them although unlikely, see the elected officials spend up to a year in jail.
The arrests came hours after another sitting commissioner, Sarah Heard, was charged with a noncriminal violation of the same statutes, a set of laws that force public officials to surrender records of communications with other politicians, staff members and the public. Heard’s charge is a civil violation akin to a parking ticket, and she faces fines of up to $500.
Fielding surrendered to the county jail at 5 p.m. and Scott at 8:30 p.m. They were fingerprinted, photographed and released on their own recognizance after about an hour, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Christine Weiss.
It is unclear at this point why the Martin County State Attorney’s office is treating Scott and Fielding differently because the office has yet to file charging documents for Fielding and Scott.
But Richard Kibbey, who represents Heard but has not been retained by the other two, explained the grand jury may have believed Heard was negligent in her handling of the records while Scott and Fielding had the intention of hiding their records.
“That could explain why the defendants have been treated differently,” Kibbey said.
While the state attorney’s spokeswoman isn’t commenting, the developments are believed to be the result of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the handling of public records by county officials.
Scott, Fielding and Heard, who is in her fourth term on the County Commission, are accused of failing to surrender emails to developers investigating why the commission suddenly started voting against them.
The emails were requested by Lake Point, a mining company on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. The company was out to prove that commissioners were illegally communicating and discussing public business in private and conspiring with members of the public against the company’s interests.
It took several years for the trio to produce their emails. When she was asked to show emails from her private Yahoo account, Heard claimed it had been hacked. In a civil lawsuit, several witnesses testified Heard was lying.
So far, the county has lost one civil lawsuit over the public records and was ordered to pay $500,000 of Lake Point’s legal bill.
And the commission voted last month to settle a second lawsuit, for breach of contract. Depending on how to calculate the loss to taxpayers, the county may end up having to pay more than $25 million to Lake Point. Earlier today, the commission voted to borrow money to pay some of the settlement.
Neither Fielding nor Scott returned calls for comment.