Volume 24, Number 4 U A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of I ...ri..U College ofJournalism and Communications U University of Florida
City Council admits violating Open Meeting Law
DAYTONA BEACH- Private
meetings held with a developer violated
the Open Meetings Law,
admitted the Daytona Beach A
City Council. The disclosure
comes after a complaint was
filed with the council by The MEE
Council members admitted to
meeting with DiMucci Development
Corporation on five separate occasions
last year to discuss a federal
E SS r lawsuit involving the
construction of two
The News Journal
uncovered the private meetings following
a review of the transcripts from the
meetings and requested a statement from
the council admitting the private meetings
were held. "If they say we agree, that's
that," said Jake Kaney, the paper's
attorney. "If they disagree, there's a
dispute." If the council had disagreed with
them, then the paper would have taken the
council to court, said Kaney. (2/10/00)
Council settles lawsuit, but won't cover mayor's legal fees
ANNA MARIA The city council Presswood last year after Mayor Chuck
agreed to settle a public Shumard refused a request
records lawsuit with the A C C E SS by the newspaper for copies
publisher of a local weekly A C E of resumes collected for the
newspaper, but will not pay RECORDS city clerk's job.
for the mayor's legal fees in a __ Presswood filed a
related criminal case. complaint with the Manatee County
The lawsuit was filed by Connor Sheriff's office and filed a criminal
Sheriff withholding records violated law
WEST PALM BEACH -
Withholding the results of internal affair
investigations by the Palm Beach
County sheriff's office violates the
Public Records Law, ruled a 4th District
Court of Appeals three-judge panel.
Sheriff Bob Neumann claimed that
internal investigation reports were not
public until he signed them, but the
judges disagreed. Neumann was sued by
the county Police Benevolent
Association in 1998 for not releasing
investigative files on one of its
"Choose Life" plate on hold for now
WEST PALM BEACH A 15th
Circuit court judge has held up
distribution of the new
"Choose Life" license
plates, pending a ruling
on whether officials are
making a political statement against
Judge Lucy C lic o\\ Brown's
order has delayed the state's plans to
distribute the plates. Supporters of the
plates say that the
RST message is meant
DMENT o support
those opposed to the plates say that they
are a state-sanctioned political statement
against abortion rights. (2/8/00)
complaint against Shumard.
Copies of the resumes were released
to the paper shortly after the charges
were filed and Presswood was
reimbursed for her legal fees.
Shumard's legal fees will not be paid
by the city after he pleaded no contest to
the criminal charges. (2/6/00)
access to prisoners
TALLAHASSEE Reporter access to
prisoners may be restricted due to prison
official concerns that the prisoners are
being glorified by the press.
Florida Department of Corrections
secretary Michael Moore wants to curtail
access, saying that interviews tend to
glamorize prisoners, portray them in a
sympathetic light and cause more pain to
Opponents of the restrictions say that
the move is an attempt to silence inmate
complaints, improper medical treatment
and department cover-ups. (2/11/00)
(Editor's Note: See related opinion
pieces on The Back Page).
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
Mayor should release files stored on home computer
NEPTUNE BEACH Neptune supporter of the mayor, requested copies of with the request. "Under Florida law, an
Beach Mayor George Vaughn should turn city records stored on the Vaughn's agency or public official cannot refuse to
over records relating to city business personal computer. allow inspection or copying of public
produced on his home computer, says the In a letter to the mayor's attorney, Eric records on the grounds that the request is
city attorney. Block, city attorney Christopher White overbroad or lacks particularity,"
Harriett Pruette, a former campaign notes that the city is obligated to comply according to Block. (1/26/00)
Council opens employee e-mail to public review
BROOKSVILLE In an effort to bring according to a new policy established by the measures for public record access. Among
the Hemando county into compliance with county commissioners, the options being reviewed are making the
state law, all e-mail created, transmitted or Following the unanimous approval of messages available on county computer
received by county employees relating to the measure by the commission, county kiosks or placing the information on the
official business will be public records, staff members are examining cost-effective Internet. (2/16/00)
County may charge for public records review
FT. LAUDERDALE- A county may Attorney General's office after a public
adopt a policy imposing a special service citizen requested a review of selected
charge where extensive clerical or building permit records. Almost all of the
supervisory assistance is required for records were originals and a clerk was
those seeking review of public records, assigned to assist the individual.
according to a legal opinion from the Following the hour-long review of the
Attorney General's office, records, the individual was charged for the
Edward Dion, Broward County's clerk's time, which was $7.50. The amount
attorney, sought the opinion from the was later refunded to the individual since
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
County meetings open says judge
BARTOW A 10th Circuit Court
judge has ruled that the Polk County
Commission did not violate Florida Open
Meetings Law and dismissed a lawsuit filed
by a local activist group.
Open fire meetings
conducted by the Bonita Springs Fire
Control and Rescue District are subject to
the Open Meetings Law, according to
state Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
Bonita Springs is one of 17
independent special fire control districts
operating in Lee County. No policy-
making or decision-making may take place
at the informal monthly meetings.
"On some occasions, more than one
commissioner may attend the same
meetings and matters may be discussed
that may forseeably come before a district
for consideration," wrote Butterworth.
(AGO 2000-08, 2/9/00)
According to Judge Cecelia Moore,
the rules and policies established by the
commission were within state guidelines.
Moore acknowledged that her ruling
may be appealed by The Citizens for Truth
In Government, who filed the suit last year,
"This ain't the last stop this train is going to
make," Moore said. The group's attorney
said he will appeal the ruling. (1/27/00)
Copies of case opinions, attorney
general opinions, or !,.,,i,,i,.I re-
ported in any issue as on file may be
obtained upon request from the
Brechner Center for Freedom of In-
formation, College of Journalism and
Communications, 3208 Weimer Hall,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.
there was no written county policy.
Although the county may adopt a
policy, according to Attorney General Bob
Butterworth, it should reflect, "no more
than the actual cost of the personnel's time
and be sensitive to accommodating the
request in such a way as to ensure
unfiltered access while safeguarding the
records." (AGO 2000-11, 2/21/00)
BARTOW Saying that a subpoena
request was overbroad, a 10th Circuit Court
judge denied a sheriff's request for copies
of a reporter's notes.
Polk County Sheriff Lawrence Crow,
Jr., sought copies of notes used by
Lakeland Ledger reporter Sam Cardinale
in a story about a 18-year-old unsolved
killing of a Frostproof police officer. The
story ran in the paper last March.
Following publication of the story, the
Lakeland Ledger filed a lawsuit against the
sheriff s office for copies of records about
the killing. Due to the ongoing
investigation, the documents are not
available, said Crow.
Judge Cecelia Moore told attorneys
that once the subpoena is redrawn, she will
hold a hearing to decide on whether the
reporter should turn over his notes.
2 The Brechner Report U April 2000
Council racks it up
SEMINOLE Saying some newspaper
racks may not be "worthy" to be placed on
street comers, the Seminole City Council
is proposing new regulations.
Council members say that their
measure would address visual and safety
concerns raised by residents. The proposed
ordinance would regulate box placement,
lettering and even the color of the box. In
with proposed newsrack regulations
addition, box owners would have to to regulate the color and type of boxes
register their boxes with the city, show used, "Seminole has just, in fact, picked a
proof of insurance and pay a returnable fight with the Times," said Alison Steele,
bond. an attorney for the St. Petersburg Times.
Nearby cities have attempted to pass According to Steele, the paper has an
similar ordinances in the past. News ongoing dialogue with the city to address
organizations such as the St. Petersburg their concerns in a voluntary manner.
Times and The Tampa Tribune have "There's so much more we can do than
fought against such measures. By trying government can do," said Steele. (1/27/00)
Principal bans new Harry Potter books
TAMPA The principal at
Carrollwood Elementary School has
banned ordering of additional Harry Potter
books for the school's library, claiming
that the book's wizardry and witchcraft
themes might be objectionable to parents.
Although she's received no
complaints, Principal Joan Bookman feels
that some might object to the books. "We
just knew that we probably had some
parents who wouldn't want their children to
read these books," she said.
The books, part of an ongoing series
about a young apprentice wizard, are
extremely popular with children and have
held three of the top four spots on The New
York Times bestseller list. The school's
library has the first edition of the series and
Bookman will allow students to bring
copies of the books to school. (1/28/00)
No news not good
SARASOTA A ban on inmate
newspaper subscriptions by prison
officials is upsetting prisoners and their
advocates, but officials say that the papers
pose a security threat. The newspaper ban
will affect about 900 inmates.
Newspapers were being used to
screen views, plug up toilets and fashioned
into makeshift weapons, said Sarasota
County jail officials. "It's more of a
safety-security issue," said Sgt. Dave Hart.
"They have TV, so they get their news that
Prison officials could not cite an
example of a newspaper being used to
attack another prisoner, but said they had
photos of makeshift newspaper weapons.
Some inmates say that newspapers are
their information source, and one has asked
officials to reconsider the ban. (2/9/00)
Billboard art not ad says advertisers
MIAMI An advertising company In 1998, the Miami City Commissioner
has sued the City of Miami over the city's issued the ban and appointed the city's
right to decide what is "art." Urban Design Review Board, a nine-
In their suit filed in federal court, member panel of architects and landscape
Outdoor Images, an Oregon-based architects, to review proposed works.
advertising company, claims their images, According to the ordinance, "commercial
which include a 10-story-high depiction of messages" are limited to a maximum of 10
a basketball hoop for Nike, is art. City percent of the graphic surface.
officials call it advertising, a violation of a "A government cannot decide what is
ban on new billboard advertising in art and what is not," said Gene Steams, the
downtownMiami. company's attorney. (2/8/00)
No state trademarks
TALLAHASSEE A state agency is
not authorized to secure or hold a
trademark for a particular program name
without specific statutory authority to do
so, according to Attorney General Bob
Deborah Keamey, general counsel for
the Department of State, sought the opinion
after her department was contacted for
assistance in obtaining a trademark for a
While some state agencies hold
trademarks or registration marks such as
the Department of the Lottery or the
Division of Historical Resources, the
authority to hold those trademarks were
granted by legislative authority, according
to Butterworth. (AGO 2000-13, 2/22/00)
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The Brechner Report April 2000 3
Debate over publishing names continues
What's in a name? Plenty if it belongs to someone suspected of a crime. The debate to publish or not to publish the names of suspected or
convicted criminals continues in classrooms, courtrooms and pressrooms. Here are two differing points of view from two editors at the
As a journalist, there are some areas
with no definite answer of right or wrong..
One such topic of debate is publishing the
names and addresses of certain classes of
convicted or suspected criminals at the
request of law enforcement.
Janet Weaver There's no easy answer, but I come
down on the side of not publishing.
I had to wrestle with this issue in a
particularly horrible case several months ago, after an arrest of a
sexual offender in a high-profile murder case. The sheriff made
the point then that if the newspapers in the area routinely
The published the names of
-B- k P a ge such offenders, the
B ack Page victim would have
known that the man
By Janet Weaver and
lived nearby and might
Rosemary Yarmao have taken precautions
that would have saved her life.
I said then there were some flaws in that reasoning: It
presumes that the information provided to the newspaper is
accurate that addresses and names are all up to date. It
presumes that everyone reads the paper and would get the
information that way.
But those aren't the biggest reasons for my discomfort. I
am uncomfortable with the idea of choosing certain classes of
crimes and criminals in this case, people who have served their
prescribed sentence and been released back into the community
- and singling them out for a public shaming.
It smacks of using the newspaper as an instrument of
punishment. And that is most certainly not our role. I believe
that it starts to move us across a line, from being an independent
press to serving as an extension of government. And that is a
line we cannot cross even in the name of the best of causes
I agree with everything Executive Editor Janet
Weaver writes here. I just think she's wrong.
If a convicted sex offender moves in next
door to me, I want to know about it.
I have children, so I even consider this
information vital. I suspect you do, too, and the
Rosemary job of a newspaper is to provide information
Yarmao that readers want or need.
Yes, lists provided by law enforcement would
have to be carefully checked for accuracy and updated. We could do
that. We routinely check police reports of crimes and accidents that
we want to publish.
Publication of sex offenders' names might further punish those
who have completed their time, but we accept in the newsroom that
printing stories of crimes and accidents might cause the survivors
and victims extra grief or embarrass perpetrators who have never
done anything wrong before.
Do sex offenders really warrant special consideration of
privacy? I ask that especially in light of research showing that sex
offenders are rarely one-time-only offenders.
Like Janet, I see a discrepancy in the policies of many
newspapers, including ours, that print names and information about
some individuals charged with crimes, but not others. We run lists of
suspected drunken drivers but not of suspected car thieves or of
suspected johns involved with Sarasota prostitutes.
I would fix the discrepancy, not by refusing to print, as Janet
proposes, but by printing everything.
Face it, news is often about people's private lives. If we kept
everything out of the newspaper that could punish or embarrass
someone, we'd save a lot on newsprint.
Editor 's Note: Janet Weaver is the Executive Editor and
Rosemary Yarmao is the Managing Editor for the Sarasota-Herald
Tribune. The preceding columns were first published in the Herald-
Tribune on January 9, 2000. They are reprinted here with