Although moving toward a possible settlement, Florida is taking Georgia to task for missing emails it considers relevant as part of the two states’ ongoing water wars.
“The failure to preserve these emails may have legal implications as this continues,” Florida states in a March 4 filing in the U.S. Supreme Court case.
In 2015, as part of the states’ gathering of documents to build their respective cases, Georgia disclosed that the email accounts of at least three personnel, including one former Environmental Protection Division director, “had been deleted or otherwise destroyed,” Florida said.
In response, Florida filed a notice seeking further information as to whether any emails could be retrieved. At the time, Georgia didn’t refer specifically to missing emails but said it was “assessing” Florida’s request for a status of email records for past EPD directors.
Later, Georgia refused “to make a witness available for … topics related to the issue of deleted data,” according to court filings.
“Florida believes the missing emails are likely to be highly relevant to proving Georgia’s inequitable conduct in this case,” the Sunshine State said.
In the latest in what has been two decades of court battles over water, Florida has charged that Georgia’s “overconsumption” of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier, is creating economic hardship, particularly on the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay.
Georgia has denied the allegations.
In a separate court filing, Georgia said it objected to producing a witness on the issue because it feels requests for “the email accounts of three former EPD Directors who departed EPD at various points over the past 15 years … were overbroad, not relevant, substantially burdensome and unrelated to the merits of this case.”
On Jan. 14, Ralph I. Lancaster, a Maine lawyer appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the case, sided with Georgia.
“There is no allegation that Georgia has acted in bad faith,” Lancaster said, noting that the emails weren’t moved to the state’s new server in 2013.
“Further, Georgia represents that it has taken numerous steps to find alternative sources for the emails that resided on the old server.”
Despite the acrimony, the two states said in their March 4 status reports they’re moving forward on mediation.
However, Lancaster scolded lawyers in a phone conference last week for not devoting more time and energy to settling the case.
“In its November progress report, Georgia suggested mediation and Florida agreed,” he said. “Four months have gone by and the most you can tell me is … the mediation process is underway.
“If you had invested up to 10 percent of the effort and time and expense you have used in (gathering information) on mediation, we would not be here spinning our wheels.
“At the next call, I expect to have reports that show actual mediation progress.”