Volume 24, Number 8 E A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom ofi ,, 1..... i College ofJournalism and Communications U University ofFlorida
U.S. Supreme Court won't limit X-rated television
WASHINGTON- The U.S.
Supreme Court held that limiting the
hours of subscription-based adult
programming is an infringement on
Congress had restricted the hours
of such programming to late-night
hours in order to protect children who
may view "signal bleed" in which
scrambling doesn't completely obscure calling cable companies themselves.
programming. Because there are less restrictive means
The Court held in a 5-4 to remedy the problem, the
vote in U.S. v. Playboy FIR ST Court refused to allow a
Entertainment Group, complete ban. Under federal
120 S. Ct. 1878 (2000),that AiNI DNIVJNT law, cable operators are required
the restriction was to comply with a customer's
unconstitutional because parents have the request to completely block the signal,
ability to avoid the cable programming by rather than just scramble it. (5/23/00)
Judge issues order for media in high-profile cases
MIAMI -- In the wake of the Elian
Gonzalez custody battle, Miami-Dade
Chief Judge Joseph Farina issued an
administrative order to deal with high-
profiled family court cases.
The plan designates a specific
courtroom, establishes a media room,
and restricts media traffic during high
visibility cases. The plan also calls for the
creation of a media committee, with
representatives from television, radio, print
and wire services. The plan establishes a
media room for interviews, and prohibits
interviews or filming in non-designated areas.
The plan currently applies only to family
cases. A similar one is being developed for
Commissioner charged with violation
FORT MYERS A Lee County
commissioner was charged with
violating a second-degree
misdemeanor county law that requires
government officials to
disclose private meetings
with lobbyists. A C(
Manning was REC(C
investigated for meeting
for years with lobbyists who sought
land-use changes, roads and multi-
million dollar county contracts. Lee
County requires that public officials
file with the clerk's office disclosures
of dates and times they met privately
with lobbyists. Manning was one of
the commissioners to approve the
requirement 10 years ago.
The (Fort Myers) News-Press discovered
that Manning failed to file disclosures for
three years. Prosecutors
found the failure to disclose
E SS dated back to 1993. Manning
said at first that he had not
RD S met with lobbyists during the
three years The News-Press
questioned him about. Journalists found that
Manning's appointment calendar showed
meetings with people registered as lobbyists
in Lee County. Manning said he had
misinterpreted the disclosure requirement,
and he thought his executive assistant filed
his disclosures. (5/11/00)
all Miami-Dade circuit court cases,
according to Karla Hernandez, a
spokeswoman for the courthouse.
for open court
TALLAHASSEE- The Florida
Supreme Court has heard arguments in
support of opening access to parental
Kathy Bush sought to open hearings in
front of a judge who will decide whether
to terminate her parental rights. The state
is attempting to sever Bush's parental
rights to her daughter after Bush was
convicted of child abuse. During her trial,
Bush claimed she had Munchausen syn-
drome by proxy, in which a parent causes
a child's illnesses to get attention. Bush
would like her parental rights hearing op-
en to the public to avoid a "star-chamber
proceeding," according to her attorney.
According to Fla. Stat. 38.809(4),
hearings in which the state asks a judge to
terminate parental rights must be closed to
the public. (5/11/00)
Investigation shows bug board didn't violate law
KEY WEST A special prosecutor law by speaking with a state senator's violations, especially because the journalist
found that the Monroe County Mosquito administrative assistant. The journalist said could not remember any of the statements
Control Commissioners did not violate the she did not overhear the conversation. made during the conversation. Florida pro-
Open Meetings Law in January 1999. Assistant State Attorney David Paulus, hibits two or more government officials from
A newspaper reporter alleged that she who investigated the allegations, said in his discussing a matter that may come before
had seen three commissioners violate the report that there was no evidence of any them for vote at a later date. (5/19/00)
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
Settlement includes lesson in access to information
PENSACOLA A settlement of a public
records dispute with the Escambia County
School Board requires the board to attend a
seminaronFlorida's Public Records Law.
The settlement ends a year-long dispute
between a parent and a board member. The
parent, Susan Watson, had requested
access to board member Hal Mason's e-
mails since he took office inNovember 1998.
She also requested his e-mail address book
and the translation of any nicknames in e-
mail addresses. Mason refused to provide
In July 1999, a circuit court judge sided
with Watson and ordered Mason to hand
over the documents.
Charity hands over credit card records
MIAMI Under the threat of a
contempt order, a Miami Police Department
charity agreed to give The Miami Herald
access to months of credit card bills.
The paper sought to have Circuit Judge
Murray Goldman find the Do The Right
Thing organization, a law enforcement char-
ity, in contempt for failing to hand over the
records seven months after a judge ordered
it to do so. In October 1999, judge had or-
dered the group to give the paper the bills.
The Herald wanted access to the credit
card records because a founder and top
officer in the group, Donald Warshaw,
admitted to using the charity's credit card
for personal purchases. He said he paid
back more than $100,000 of the charges with
The charity previously granted access to
only part of what was requested. The
records request was for credit card bills from
Washaw provided some of the bills and
personal checks showing he had paid back
his portions of the bills, but he did not
provide the credit card statements from
February 1995 to September 1997.
According to The Miami Herald, War-
shaw refused to give the paper the records
because he didn't have them, he was too
busy, and he wasn't sure the paper had a
legal right to the records. (5/16/00-5/21/00)
Billboard companies sue Pinellas County
ST. PETERSBURG Two billboard
companies filed suit against Pinellas County
to challenge an ordinance they say is
Eller Media and Sunus Corp. claim the
sign ordinance infringes on their First
Amendment rights. The ordinance bans
billboards in some unincorporated areas,
and it regulates the height and sizes
The ordinance had been revised in 1992,
and businesses had seven years to comply
with the new requirements.
Eller Media applied for a variance for 212
billboards in unincorporated areas, but the
request was rejected. (5/20/00)
Watson's settlement requests included: a
requirement that the board attend a seminar,
which will be open to the public, given by a
representative from the Office of the
Attorney General about access to
government information; a requirement that
the board acknowledge its responsibilities
under the Public Records Law and comply
with it; and a requirement that the board
pay Watson $904.92, which are the expenses
she incurred in the lawsuit. (5/16/00)
Paper drops suit
HIALEAH The Miami Herald agreed to
drop a public records suit against the mayor
of Hialeah the same day the suit was filed.
A journalist for the paper requested
records of phone calls received in the
mayor's office. Whenthe mayor's office
didn't hand over the records, the newspaper
filed suit. When the mayor provided the
records, the paper dropped the suit.
The city must pay The Miami Herald's
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 oflnfor-
mation, College ofJournalism and
Communications, 3208 Weimer Hall,
University ofFlorida, Gainesville, FL
32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.
2 The Brechner Report U August 2000
Sheriff boycotted TV stations, refused traffic control
FORT MYERS A Lee County sheriff
boycotted two television stations under the
ownership of Waterman Broadcasting as a
result of a child abduction story.
The boycott was short-lived, however.
Within a few days, the sheriff had changed
Sheriff John McDougall said he was
unhappy with the coverage of the Gretchen
Grodin death investigation. The stations
TAMPA The 2nd District Court of
Appeals upheld an injunction prohibiting
nude dancing in an Ybor City dance club
because a city zoning ordinance bans it.
Last year, a circuit judge issued an
injunction prohibiting nude dancing at Club
The club's owners said they plan to
appeal the appellate ruling as well.
PALM BEACH A woman who said she
had a confidentiality agreement with The
National Enquirer is suing the tabloid for
Tammy Phillips filed suit against the
paper after it ran a story linking her to
presidential candidate George W. Bush.
Phillips told the paper she had had a sexual
relationship with Bush, but insisted the
paper embargo the story until she gave
permission to run it. Phillips said she
aired stories alleging that the 11-month-old,
who was found buried alive in May, might
have survived had deputies responding to a
December complaint about her parents done
McDougall also claims that in November
1999 one of the stations spread a false rumor
that he was having an extramarital affair.
As a result of the stories, McDougall re-
fused to speak with reporters from WBBH-
The city allows adult entertainment in
areas zoned for industrial and commercial
use. The ordinance prohibits adult
entertainment 500 feet from a residential area
or office district, orwithin 1,000 feet of one
another. The city has 10 pending zoning
lawsuits against nude dance clubs. Since
the city began filing suits, three nude dance
clubs have closed. (5/10/00)
Journalist sues weekly paper for libel
TAMPA A televisionjournalist filed a
defamation suit against the Weekly Planet
claiming the paper published false
Steven Emerson, a Washington journalist
who produced a documentary on the Islamic
Jihad, claims in the suit that the paper
published false reports about him and his
work. The Weekly Planet has published
stories that challenge Emerson's reports.
Emerson is seeking more than $33 million
required a written agreement with the paper
before she would divulge information. After
a reporter asked her "inappropriate
questions," she decided not to pursue an
agreement with the paper.
The paper then published a story about
Phillips' claims and called hera "torrid
temptress." The paper also ran a picture of
Phillips claims the use of her name, pic-
ture and story were unauthorized. (5/23/00)
NBCandWZVN-ABC. Employees ofthe
sheriffs office hung up the phone on any
Waterman employee who called. McDou-
gall also refused to provide traffic control
for a large event sponsored by WBBH.
After a meeting with the owner of
Waterman Broadcasting, McDougall ended
the boycott. He said after receiving an
apology from the owner, he was willing to
speak to the stations. (5/18/00 5/20/00)
Town clerk fired
for discussing suit
BEVERLYBEACH -A Beverly Beach
town clerk lost his job after discussing a
lawsuit against the town with a journalist.
Clerk Doug Cortney was fired after
discussing a suit filed against the city by
The Shark House seafood restaurant. The
dispute withthe CONTINUED
told the journalist that the suit may cost the
town thousands of dollars.
The town commission voted to fire
Cortney because the members said they
were embarrassed by his comments, which
they considered "backstabbing." Mayor
Charles Osboume said the clerk was in no
position to discuss policy issues. (5/6/00)
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Apellate court allows dance club zone
Woman sues tabloid for story about affair
Technology should make access to information easier
This article was reprinted with permission from the Public Trustee, the
pubhcation of the Florida Association of Court Clerks.
With the development and growth of the Internet
and technology, public access to government records
is taking on a
The whole new
Back Pa ge definition.
p c iTo the
By J.K. "Buddy" Irby "dot.com" 4
access no longer means traveling to the local
courthouse in person. Access now means having
instant and remote electronic ability to view
information on file inthe court clerk's office.
The changing paradigm is transforming courthouse
operations for clerks of courts and the way clerks do business.
Remote access is supported by state policy, codified in Section
119.01, Florida Statutes, requiring the state, counties and
municipalities to strive to provide remote electronic access to public
records to the extent feasible.
Today, electronic access to public records is more a question of
funding and priorities than feasibility, and Florida's Clerks of Court
are on the cutting edge of this rapidly evolving technology.
Many of Florida's Clerks are already on the worldwide web with
information regarding agendas, commission minutes, traffic tickets,
marriage licenses, service fees, jury duty, financial reports, and much
more. Step two in the process is to provide the public with remote
access to view indices of court cases and official records.
Clerks are quickly moving to provide remote electronic access to
images of documents on file with the Clerks' offices.
Finally, electronic filing will become the standard for the courts,
eliminating the need to optically image many court documents in
order to provide them to the public.
Clerks are the first to recognize that there are problems and
challenges with each new step. Not everyone will agree that a copy
of his or her court judgement, mortgage, or traffic record should be
on the Internet.
However, these records are already public as determined by the
Legislature. Clerks, in an effort to expand and enhance
our services to the citizens via remote access, are in
effect only opening the doors of the courthouse seven
days a week and 24 hours a day.
Our form of government is built upon citizenship
responsibility. Citizenship requires participation.
Because of the efforts of the clerks, public access to
county, court and financial records will no longer be
limited to those few who can take time off during
normal work hours to research public records and
better participate in their government.
This technology will, in the final analysis, only serve
to make the government more open and citizen
The Hon. J.K. "Buddy" Irby has been the Clerk of Court for
Alachua County since 1993.
Court clerk-related web sites of interest
The Alachua County Clerk's Office canbe located online at
The web site has a specific search engine for public records,
leading the viewer to civil and criminal court documents. The site
allows traffic citations to be paid online. It also has a search
engine for old public records archived records from 1830 to 1925.
For more information about county clerks around the state,
click into the web site for the Florida Association of Court Clerks,
whichis located at . The association's
site has links to clerks' web sites in more than 30 Florida counties.
The site also offers textual information about the clerk in each
county. The textual information includes contact information,
such as address, phone number and e-mail address, as well as
biographical information, such as when the clerk took office and
lists of other governmental positions the clerk held.