NewsLocal News


SWFL inmates filing lawsuit after data breach

Posted at 11:55 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 09:50:00-04

Hacked. That was the headline back in April when it came to the 20th judicial Public Defender's Office.

A document on the agency's website, says private information linked to more than half a million staff members and clients was potentially exposed.

The notice encourages those who may have been caught up in that cyberattack, to put a fraud alert on their credit and monitor it carefully.

But for 19 inmates, in the Lee and Collier county jails, that notice isn't good enough.

"The data breach has caused major problems and we don't know the extent of it," said Reuben Mitchell, who is currently being detained in the Lee County Jail.

"We've actually filed a civil class action lawsuit through the federal court system," said Wade Wilson, who is currently being detained in the Lee County Jail.

Wilson is accused of murdering two women in Cape Coralin the summer of 2019. Police found Kristine Melton and Diane Ruiz dead within days of each other.

Now, he and that group of inmates are working to sue the Public Defender's Office, the State Attorney's Office, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and governor Ron DeSantis as a result of the hack.

Documents from a federal court show that the inmates are seeking 5 million dollars in damages per person, lifetime credit, and identity protection, mental health counseling and more.

"The people in jail are the most vulnerable because they have no one to protect it," said Jeremey Woolfork, who is currently being detained in the Lee County Jail.

They claim their civil rights were violated by the data breach and also say that attorney-client privileges were breached as a result of gross negligence.

While local lawyer Maria Alaimo does agree that it will be harder for these men to try and protect their identities from jail. She also says they will have to prove to a judge that they were truly harmed in the first place.

"Generally when we're looking at 'Is there a case?' We're looking at two things. 'Is there liability? Is someone responsible for it?' From what I can see it appears that the public defender's office has taken responsibility for the data breach. But the second thing is, 'Were there damages? Did somebody take their identity and go out and buy a car?'"

But some named in the suit tell FOX 4 that they don't just want credit monitoring and damages, they are also hoping to use this case to get out of jail.

"You know they're going to have to eventually get to the point where they're going to have to dismiss hundreds of cases, if not thousands of cases," said Wilson.

That said, Alaimo says she's not sure that assertion will hold up in federal court.

"That just doesn't sound right on a data breach [case]," she said.

Now in order to be transparent, we also have to talk about why these folks were in the public defender system in the first place.

FOX 4 was contacted by at least four of the inmates listed on that complaint: Wilson, Mitchell, Woolfolk, and another man who wanted to remain anonymous.

In that group alone are multiple arrests, homicide charges, child sex assault charges, child porn charges, and more.

FOX 4 asked them if they knew that people would be uncomfortable with and skeptical about their release.

Here's what Woolfork had to say in response.

"Nobody has been proven guilty on anything so we're just detainees," he said, "But as far as the laws and customs and rights, that's for everybody, including those who have minutia charges or malice-facing charges."

As of right now, they're working to refile the case.

It was dismissed by a federal judge because the paperwork was filled out wrong and they say this time around they're working to get help.

"What we're trying to do is find the best class-action lawsuit attorneys," said Woolfork.

The Public Defender's Office and the others named in that suit have all chosen not to comment on it because it's been dismissed and hasn't been refiled yet.

The group has 30 days to refile in this case.