Meet the woman fighting behind the scenes to defend open government in Florida

Barbara Petersen has been fighting back efforts to make Florida’s government less transparent for more than 20 years. There haven’t been many battles more consequential than the one she’s waging right now.

Over the last few years, there have been reports about a handful of people or firms using the state’s strong public records law in gotcha-style stings, essentially to extract legal fees from unwitting violators. Predictably, that led to demands to change the law.

But when a legislative fix was introduced late last year, with strong support from local municipalities, it was hardly tailored to the problem: Instead, the bill would give judges complete discretion over when to award attorneys’ fees in records cases, by changing the word “shall” to “may.” The effect on records disputes would be to make litigation less likely, and the threat of a suit a less effective deterrent to misbehavior. Continue…