SANFORD, Fla. - As controversy over the $200,000 George Zimmerman raised on PayPal took center stage Friday, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey's decision to ignore legal questions raised over whether she's obeying Florida's public record law went largely unnoticed.
But the issue of whether Corey has the legal right to continue preventing the public from seeing the evidence she says proves Zimmerman committed the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin seems to be coming to a head.
The special prosecutor's office on Friday refused to make that evidence public -- even though an attorney fighting for the public's access insists Friday was when Florida law required Corey to share the evidence with the millions of people following the case.
The reason the deadline for Corey's evidence to become public was Friday, according to Scott Ponce, the attorney representing media organizations seeking access, is because that was 15 days after Zimmerman's attorney served Corey with an April 12 demand for evidence. This process of the state sharing evidence with both the defendant and public at large is known as discovery.
When denying requests from the public for the Zimmerman discovery records Friday, Corey's office told Local 6 Florida law allowed her to keep the records secret using a criminal investigative exemption because "no records have been provided to the defendant."
But Ponce, who specializes in public record law, believes that Corey can no longer use that reason to withhold records from the public, now that the 15 day discovery deadline has passed. That's because Florida law specifically excludes documents "required" to be given to the defendant from the type of records that can be withheld as criminal investigative information.
When Local 6 emailed Corey and her public records attorney, Lisa DiFranza, asking for an explanation as to how they concluded the records were still exempt criminal investigative information, even though Ponce advised the information was required to be given to Zimmerman Friday, the two attorneys did not respond. Neither did Corey's spokesperson, Jackelyn Barnard, even though Florida's public record law requires an agency denying records to give a written response explaining the reasons it concluded records are exempt, when requested.
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, told Local 6 he wants access to the state's information to start preparing his defense, however, he doesn't want the records to become public before he has the chance to file a motion to keep certain information, like witness names and addresses, secret. Corey's office also wants that type of information shielded from public view.
After Friday's hearing, O'Mara told Local 6 he disagrees with what he called Ponce's "more strict interpretation" of the discovery deadline. O'Mara believes the deadline for Corey's office to make the documents public has not yet passed because his interpretation is that the 15 day deadline for Corey's office to make its evidence public doesn't start ticking until after a defendant's arraignment. Zimmerman's is scheduled for May 8.
In response, Ponce refuted O'Mara's stance that Friday did not mark the deadline for Corey to make her evidence public through discovery.
"The rules of criminal procedure say discovery is required to be given fifteen days after the demand for discovery is served. Nothing in the rule pegs it to arraignment. It is irrelevant that he does not accept it today," Ponce told Local 6 Friday.
When asked if he'd be taking further action so the records would become public, Ponce said, "No word yet on that."
Watch Local 6 and check back to ClickOrlando.com next week for any updates on this story.
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