NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Nassau County Attorney Michael Mullin, investigated by the State Attorney’s Office, was found to have knowingly violated Florida’s public records and open government laws. The state’s investigation found evidence that Mullin committed crimes by failing to truthfully respond to a public records request, and allowing the deletion of text messages.
According to the State Attorney’s Office, they found evidence that Mullin committed these violations of the public records law to “give the county what he must have believed was an advantage in the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA) dispute, and to hinder Raydient’s efforts to discover the truth associated with his actions as a public official.”
Raydient was developing approximately 24,000 acres of land in Nassau County, including the Wildlight community. In 2017, Nassau County and Raydient disagreed over who was responsible for constructing and maintaining specific infrastructure inside the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA).
During this time, Raydient made a four-page public records request to Nassau County, asking for copies of text messages among Nassau County officials and employees who went to Tallahassee to oppose legislation that would impact the ENCPA.
In 2018, Mullin fired the County’s Budget Director, Justin Stankiewicz. Stankiewicz filed a grievance against the county, claiming his termination was because he refused to delete text messages.
The State Attorney’s Office investigation report reads: “The evidence is clear that Mullin knew that commissioners were not retaining texts and implicitly condoned the practice by advising them they had no obligation to retain “transitory” [or in his words “transient”] messages; without further explaining that their communications – regardless of the medium used -- about Raydient were indeed public records and required to be retained. Mullin was ambiguous and contradictory in his sworn testimony regarding his interpretation of the status of many of the records in question.”
Mullin claims that neither he nor the other county commissioners intentionally deleted text messages, and a good faith effort was made to comply with Raydient’s public records request. Mullin stated that he had set his text messages to delete in 30 days. The investigation report reads: “Based on his experience and position within the county, it is unreasonable to believe that he did not recognize that these text message communications constituted public records that needed to be preserved.”
The State Attorney’s Office report says that in order to avoid formal prosecution for misdemeanor violations of Florida open records law, Mullin would resign as County Attorney effective March 31, 2022. Mullin on Tuesday sent a letter to the Board of County Commissioners stating he was retiring.
According to a statement from commissioners, Mullin indicated he will send an updated letter of retirement effective 12:01 a.m. on March 16.
Raynonier, the parent company of Raydient, issued this statement on Tuesday:
Rayonier raised its concerns regarding Mullin’s conduct years ago, but instead of taking simple steps to mitigate the issues, the County ignored them and instead gave Mullin more control over County affairs, doubling his salary in the process. Rayonier is disappointed that the County failed to act on their own to remove a clearly compromised County Attorney, Rayonier continues to look for ways to move past this dark episode for the greater benefit of the citizens of Nassau County
News4JAX spoke with Nassau County Commissioner, Klynt Farmer. “In the 15 months I have been a commissioner, Mr. Mullin has done a fantastic job in my opinion. He had high regards, high marks in appraisals,” Farmer said. “It was all read in an open meeting, it was all open public records. I think citizens were well served by Mr. Mullen and his 31 years of service.”
Mullin released this statement late Tuesday through a communications representative:
My decision to retire and the reasons set forth in my letter of March 14, 2022 stand as stated. I have reviewed the state attorney’s statement released today and with all due respect, I strongly disagree with those findings. The messages which are the subject of the civil suits, were turned over to the requestors beginning in January 2019 and also provided to the State Attorney’s Office in March of 2019. In addition, I drafted new procedures for maintaining and addressing personal messages on private devices. The procedures are set forth in an ordinance adopted in the fall of 2019. The ordinance placed all public record requests and maintenance under the County Attorney’s Office. These procedures remain in effect today. While I do not want to be a distraction for the County, I do want to reiterate my appreciation to have represented Nassau County, Florida.
Mullin faces civil litigation and the Florida Bar is investigating complaints against Mullin.