Activist Sues More Than 100 Government Agencies in Five Years

Governments see Joel Chandler as a nuisance, a costly nuisance. Chandler argues he's a watchdog and civil rights advocate.

A 48-year-old Lakeland man may be setting records for the number of lawsuits he has brought against Florida government agenices in five years, according to media reports.

Joel Chandler admits to filing suit against 100-plus government offices, including the city of St. Petersburg, as well as the sheriffs of Hillsborough and Pasco counties, according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times.

Chandler is not about to stop either. Since November 2012, he has filed 41 lawsuits, the newspaper reports.

His quest? "Ensuring Florida agencies follow public records laws," according to the Times.

Chandler is editor of FOGWatch.org, an acronym for Florida Open Government.

On FOGWatch, Chandler noted he is not an attorney but describes himself as as a civil rights advocate.

Chandler points to Florida open records law, when government workers try to delay, block or put conditions on his requests to see the most routine of documents, such as visitor logs at police departments:

"Florida Statute 119: It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency."

When Chandler, who works with his brother, does not get his way, he sues. The cost to governments – and by extension – taxpayers? $1 million, Chandler told the Tampa Bay Times.

Chandler also acknowledged that government agencies are paying a high price: "It's a terrible waste — a horrible waste — of taxpayer money," he told the newspaper.

Chandler added: "The only reason this money is being spent is because public officials are breaking the law. And filing a lawsuit is the only option you've got — there's no other way to tattle."


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