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Town’s class action RICO lawsuit says Florida public records law misused to extort settlements

By Dan Moffett, The Coastal Star 

Martin O'Boyle, left, and Christopher O'Hare

Martin O’Boyle, left, and Christopher O’Hare

Town of Gulf Stream in South Palm Beach County has rolled out the heavy artillery in its legal war against residents Martin O’Boyle and Christopher O’Hare, filing a class action RICO lawsuit Feb. 12 in U.S. District Court.

The 48-page federal complaint alleges that the two men engaged in a conspiracy to exploit the state’s public record laws and extort settlements from the town and other municipalities and organizations around the state.

O’Boyle and O’Hare, the suit says, “filed frivolous public records requests and lawsuits” against hundreds of governments, businesses and organizations, and then demanded attorneys’ fees and costs, “resulting in a profit windfall” that funneled through The O’Boyle Law Firm in Deerfield Beach.

O’Boyle’s son, Jonathan, a Pennsylvania lawyer, is among a half-dozen attorneys and employees of the law firm named as co-defendants in the suit.

A central figure in the town’s case is Joel Chandler, who worked for Martin O’Boyle last year as executive director of Citizens Awareness Foundation Inc. (CAFI), a group that collaborated with The O’Boyle Law Firm to file the records requests. Chandler had a falling out with O’Boyle after a few months and has been publicly critical of CAFI and the O’Boyles. Chandler was not named as a defendant in the suit.

Gulf Stream officials say they have fielded more than 1,700 public records requests from O’Boyle and O’Hare during the last two years, and the two men have filed dozens of suits against the town in the state and federal courts.

Joining Gulf Stream in the class action is Wantman Group Inc., a West Palm Beach engineering company, that also claims to have been victimized by frivolous records requests and settlement demands.

The extraordinary step of filing a RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations) suit allows the town and the other plaintiffs to seek triple damages and legal fees from the defendants. Gulf Stream officials say the town has spent more than $1 million to handle the records requests and pay legal bills during the last two years.

Mayor Scott Morgan said the town also will pursue its case against O’Boyle and O’Hare at the state level, calling on the State Attorney’s Office and Florida attorney general to act against the two men.

Morgan said that O’Boyle and O’Hare had abused the state’s public records laws and engaged in “a conspiracy of sorts to advance actions that essentially do nothing other than shake down municipal agencies.”

O’Boyle and O’Hare deny any wrongdoing and accuse the town of violating records laws.

The Coastal Star is a monthly newspaper covering the South Florida coastal communities of South Palm Beach, Hypoluxo Island, Manalapan, Ocean Ridge, Briny Breezes, Gulf Stream, Highland Beach and coastal neighborhoods of Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

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