After Knight News asked Orange County’s top prosecutor to react to allegations UCF unlawfully refused to release public records, State Attorney Aramis Ayala made it clear that she takes any allegation of public trust abuse seriously.
“As State Attorney, one of my top priorities is ensuring transparency under law,” Ayala told Knight News in a statement. “When a Constitutional violation or Public Records violation is brought to our attention, we evaluate the evidence and determine the proper course of action.”
Two members of the Ayala State Attorney’s Office were present during a Tuesday hearing in the open government lawsuit Knight News filed against UCF, which seeks answers about the disappearance of a key portion of audio tape which may shed more light onto the Colbourn Hall Controversy. The missing audio could help answer whether anyone at UCF’s BOT or General Counsel’s Office could have stopped the misuse of funds.
Ayala’s office was put on notice of the suit, and invited to the hearing, because Knight News is challenging the constitutionality of portions of the public records law that place new burdens on requesters.
“We take seriously any claims that may impact or devalue public trust,” Ayala’s statement continued. “All government agencies in Florida are subject to these laws and must be held to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.”
One member of Ayala’s team present was Kamilah Perry, the Executive Director and General Counsel of the Ninth Judicial Circuit SAO. Perry mentioned before the hearing began how Ayala’s office was there to monitor the constitutional challenge in the case.
Also attending the hearing was the State Attorney’s Chief Investigator, William Edwards. According to the State Attorney’s website, Edwards “manages sixteen sworn law enforcement officers serving State Attorney Ayala and all of the Assistant State Attorneys prosecuting criminal cases.”
During the status hearing, the Honorable Judge Lisa Munyon ruled in favor of Knight News on the disputed issue of whether a trial will be required in the Colbourn Hall Controversy records lawsuit.
“I’ve read everything and find that it’s necessary,” Munyon said of the need for a trial, after Knight News attorney Justin Hemlepp explained to the judge how UCF disagreed with Knight News that her previous order required a trial.
The judge’s ruling in favor of a trial is a significant step forward for public’s right to know more of the University’s decision to misappropriate funds for the construction of Colbourn Hall. UCF’s litigation counsel present included former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Wells of GrayRobinson, and the firm’s Higher Education Practice Group Leader Richard Mitchell. UCF’s in house deputy general counsel, Youndy Cook, also attended the hearing.
UCF’s attorneys exited the hearing without offering to provide comment to Knight News or the other Orlando television news crew waiting outside for a copy of the hearing pool footage.
The open government lawsuit’s next step is mediation between both parties. UCF’s spokesperson did not respond to Knight New’s inquiry about whether BOT Chair Robert Garvey will be participating in the mediation, amid concerns from the Knight News Board that his absence would almost certainly cause the mediation to fail.
Knight News’s attorney shared his reaction to the outcome of the status hearing.
“Knight News is pleased that the court reaffirmed its earlier order that a trial will be required to determine whether UCF violated the Public Records Act,” Hemlepp said. “We look forward to resolving this case on the merits. Meanwhile, the judge set deadlines for a series of pretrial matters the parties must complete and ordered us to mediate the dispute.”
Stay tuned as we follow the lawsuit’s development, and work to find out if Chair Garvey will participate in the court-ordered mediation, or delegate that task to his attorneys.