Forensic investigators this week copied County Commissioner Joe Barbetta’s personal computer, which may contain e-mails sent to and from his personal account that should have been made public.
Under the state’s Sunshine Laws, any e-mail that deals with county business has to be made available to the public.
Two citizens groups sued Barbetta two weeks ago, because they claim he failed to produce at least 28 e-mails during a records request.
The groups, Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine, are also suing the county and the city of Sarasota, alleging that both governments conducted secret spring-training negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles.
Barbetta said he thought the public-records request was only for baseball-related e-mails. Most of the 28 e-mails in question do not concern baseball.
“He did not receive the request himself,” said Morgan Bentley, Barbetta’s attorney. “It was just relayed to him. I don’t think any reasonable person would believe the request would be for every single e-mail he receives and sends.”
Bentley said it was not Barbetta’s intent to keep anything out of the public eye.
But the plaintiffs’ attorney, Andrea Mogensen, said because those e-mails were not turned over when requested, it left her wondering if there were other e-mails, as well.
A court date was set for Feb. 16, where the plaintiffs were going to ask the judge to issue an emergency order to freeze Barbetta’s computer, because they said even the simple act of turning on the computer could inadvertently erase records.
The two sides, though, signed an agreement that same day, and the court hearing was cancelled.
The commissioner’s personal computer was handed over to ASG Investigations, which will scan the hard drive.
“(The forensics company) will make a bit-by-bit image of the hard drive,” said Mogensen.
According to Bentley, after that process is complete, the two sides will then begin negotiating how the information that was gathered will be analyzed.
Barbetta will be required to pay for the copying of his computer.
The surrendering of the computer put an end to the request for an emergency court order, but it has not yet ended the lawsuit against Barbetta, although Mogensen said she anticipates an agreement will be reached soon to settle the suit.
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