ORLANDO, Fla. – U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III declined to answer questions about government action to withhold audio of Omar Mateen’s confessions to 911 operators, one day after his office engaged in a controversial legal tactic to delay a state judge from having a chance to make the audio public.
“I’m sorry, we are not going to answer any questions related to the Orlando shooting today,” Bentley told News 6 during a press conference he called to announce an unrelated arrest.
When pressed about how officials with various Department of Justice offices had also refused to answer questions over email –regarding whether it was legal for the DOJ to order local police to withhold public records – a staffer ushered Bentley out of the room.
Margaret Schreiber, a state judge serving in Orange County’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, was set to decide as early as Thursday whether Orlando police broke state law by withholding Mateen’s conversations, and other Pulse records, from the public.
But hours before a logistical hearing Bentley’s office deployed the “improper” legal tactic of removing the case to federal court, even though it “deals solely with the interpretation of certain state law,” according to the news media’s emergency motion to remand the case back to Schreiber’s state courtroom.
The media’s motion also claims City of Orlando’s GrayRobinson attorneys acted “improperly” by filing its own lawsuit asking the court to keep the records closed, even though the news media already filed its own lawsuit asking that the records be opened to the public.
Media attorney Rachel Fugate told News 6 she’s never seen these type of procedural games played with the public’s right to know before.
“In all my years of doing public records litigation, and I’ve represented the media for a long time, I’ve never seen a state public records case attempt to be removed to federal court,” Fugate said. “We think it’s very questionable. We don’t think there’s any basis for the case to be removed to federal court. There’s no federal question. This is strictly a state law issue about how state agencies treat their public records.”