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Title: Brechner report
Series Title: Brechner report
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, College of Journalism and communications, University of Florida
Publisher: Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: November 2000
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Bibliographic ID: UF00090012
Volume ID: VID00011
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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THE



BRE CHT ER


REPORT

Volume 24, Number 11 0 A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of I.'i ,, i,1 l. .,, College ofJournalism and Communications 0 University of Florida
November 2000

Sewer contract violated state's Open Meetings law


members of the Monroe County Board of
County Commissioners
spoke via telephone
E S conference call during the
FINGS selection process.
According to the state
attorney's office, the calls were not
advertised to the public, a violation of the
state's Open Meetings Law. The contract


County closed door settlement raises
Stuart Martin County to discuss the $2.43 million settlement for
commissioners may have violated the Margaret Helm, who was stuck by the
state's Sunshine Law by approving a firefighters vehicle after she stopped to help
settlement for a lawsuit filed against an elderly couple injured in a traffic accident
the city by a woman who was in March, 1999. A claims bill seeking
paralyzed in an accident involving permission from the Legislature was filed in
Martin County volunteer firefighters. Tallahassee before the commissioners
Commissioners met twice in July approved the settlement in an open meeting.
Press access suit moved to federal court


St. Petersburg An attorney for
the St. Petersburg Times is
unhappy with federal
authorities who decided to
move the paper's suit for
access to an internal police Ri
investigation from state to
federal court on the day trial was to
begin.
The newspaper and the Pinellas
County Police Benevolent
Association are suing the city to


LC
EC(


obtain investigation records of police Lt.
Donnie Williams who was
accused of dealing drugs in
CESS 1998.
"What bothers me about this
)RDS is, the Times made this public
records request more than a
year ago," said attorney Thomas McGowan. He
questions the move of the trial.
"You can do a lot more in secret in federal
court than you can in state court," said
McGowan. (9/7/00)


Bucs' must pay for holding records


Tampa The Tampa Bay
Buccaneers football organization has
been ordered to pay about $47,500
to local authorities for refusing to
turn over public records last year.
The Hillsborough County
Commission and the Tampa Sports


Authority sued the team when they refused to
reveal how they made money from publicly
financed Raymond James Stadium.
Judge Gasper Ficarrotta, 13th Judicial
Circuit, ordered the Bucs to pay the county
$32,500 and the Sports Authority about
$15,000 to cover legal fees. (9/21/00)


Key Largo Conference calls
placed between county
commissioners that led to A
the awarding of a $59.2 A C
million sewer contract were MEI
a violation of the state's
Open Meetings Law, according to the
state attorney's office.
On three separate occasions,


was awarded to New Jersey based-
Ogden Water Systems to plan and
construct the sewer system on June 28.
The state began its investigation in
early August, following the discovery
of the conference calls and faxes that
indicated discussion had taken place
outside the official meeting.
(9/2-7/00)

questions
The private meeting seems to
violate a March 1997 court ruling that
permanently enjoins the County from
settling lawsuits in closed-door
sessions, said Martin Reeder, an
atxtarqrF rq3Csairfhe Palm Beach
Post. The meeting's transcripts remain
sealed. (9/24/00)
Sheriff must

comply with law
Nassau County The Nassau County
sheriff has been ordered by a judge to
comply with the state's Public Records
Law following a complaint filed by a
Fernandina Beach attorney.
Judge Alban E. Brooke, Fourth
Judicial Circuit, ordered Sheriff Ray
Geiger to provide records to attorney
John Cascone. According to
Cascone's motion, he had requested
records from the sheriff's office via
certified letter on August 23. The
letter was received on August 28, but
after nine days, the request had not
been answered. Cascone then
requested the court order.
According to the court order, in
addition to providing the requested
information, the sheriff's office must
pay legal fees. (9/13/00)


E(
-it
A^






ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED


Hospital authority
Baker County The Baker County
Hospital Authority is considering a
move to open up formerly closed
meetings of its management company,
Baker County Medical Services, Inc. to
address concerns over construction of a


wants open medical services meetings
new hospital and nursing home. to insure that construction guidelines
The authority has primarily served as were being met.
a property tax conduit since creating the Atttorney Bruce Robinson will review
management company in 1993. the matter and make recommendations to
But in 1999, the authority took a the authority in late September.
more active role by hiring an inspector (9/14/00)


State attorney clears city commissioners


Bunnell There were no violations
of the state's Sunshine Laws by city
commissioners or the city attorney,
according to the state attorney's office.
Elly Johnson, former city manager for
Bunnell, filed the charges with the state
attorney's office after being fired by the
commission in March.
In his complaint, Johnson accused
the city attorney, two city
commissioners and the Mayor Joann
King, of regularly discussing city


business in the City Hall parking lot
following meetings. The two
commissioners and the Mayor listed in
the complaint had voted to fire Johnson
in March.
The state attorney's investigation
found no evidence that city attorney
Tance Roberts was being used as a
conduit between commissioners and that
"a conflict existed between some city
commissioners and Mr. Johnson."
(9/6/00)


City settles suit with sunshine advocate


Bay County By admitting that they
did not meet the "high standards for
openness provided in the Sunshine
Law," county commissioners have
settled a private citizen's lawsuit.
Phil Sexton filed his suit against the
city, alleging that the city violated the
state laws when commissioners
discussed a controversial underwater
sewage pipeline project at a May 16


meeting. In a reply letter, the
commission acknowledged that "the
meeting could have been conducted in a
more orderly fashion." The letter
included a disclaimer that neither the
city or county admitted to any
violations.
In return, Sexton has dropped his suit
and forgiven the city for the $200 court
costs. (8/23/00)


DEFAMATION

Anonymous e-mailers not protected
Miami The identity of people who the individuals. The American Civil
post defamatory messages on the Liberties Union, who represented the
Internet are not protected, according to anonymous individuals, filed an appeal to
a recent Third District Court of Appeals suppress the motion. The appeals court
order. issued the stay in June to give both sides
Last September, Eric Hvide, former an opportunity to file legal briefs.
chief executive officer of Hvide Marine, The court's latest action could create a
Inc., filed suit against Internet service chilling effect on free expression in chat
providers Yahoo! Inc. and America rooms, according to the ACLU. "The
Online, Inc., to reveal the names of eight court had the potential to set an important
individuals who posted anonymous precedent about the right to speak
defamatory messages on a Yahoo! anonymously on the Internet," said
Financial chat room. Lyrissa Lidsky, a University of Florida
In May, Judge Eleanor Schockett, law professor and cooperating attorney
11th Judicial Circuit, ruled that the on- with the Florida ACLU chapter.
line providers must reveal the names of (10/18/00)


NEWS NOTES

N.J. papers take

FOI honors
Gainesville An investigative series
written by seven New Jersey newspapers
that delved into the "cult of secrecy" of
public records is the winner of this year's
Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of
Information award.
The series will be recognized at the 15th
annual Brechner Center for Freedom of
Information award celebration Nov. 20.
Two reporters, Jason Method and Frank
Kummer will accept the $3,000 award for
the Gannett-owned New Jersey
newspapers.
The series, "Public Access Denied,"
chronicles the poor compliance rate with
the state's public record law. "This series
represents the best example of how
newspapers can work with private citizens
to learn more about their government," said
Sandra Chance, director of the Brechner
Center.
A similar project focusing on Arkansas'
Freedom of Information Act, received an
honorable mention.
The annual award was established by the
late Joseph L. Brechner, an Orlando
broadcasting pioneer.
[Editor's Note: See related story on
the Back Page]

DECISIONS

ON FILE
Copies ofcase opinions, attorney
general opinions, or legislation re-
portedin any issue as on file may be
obtainedupon requestfrom the
Brechner CenterforFreedom oflnfor-
mation, College ofJournalism and
Communications, 3208 WeimerHall,
University ofFlorida, Gainesville, FL
32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.


The Brechner Report m November 2000







ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED

State grand jury recommends sealing accident records


St. Petersburg A statewide grand
jury has recommended sealing auto
accident reports as a way to crack down
on "ambulance-chasing" lawyers and
doctors, according to a recently released
report.
Currently, access to accident records
is available under the state's Public
Records Law. In its report, the grand jury
recommends to legislators to allow
accident reports made available to only a


Brooksville A student is fighting to
keep the t-shirt on his back. Citing an
interest in the Civil War and his southern
heritage, Joel Roberts is resisting a
school ban on clothing that could provoke
disruptions.
Roberts has been reprimanded twice
for wearing his "Legends of the
Confederacy" t-shirts to Central High
school.
School officials say that in the past,


select few, such as the accident victims,
their insurance companies and
"legitimate" journalists and news
organizations.
The Florida Bar Association does
not agree with the report's findings,
noting that the association aggressively
investigates suspected cases of fraud,
according to Tony Boggs, director of the
state bar's legal division.
The grand jury was empaneled in


Filmmakers lose Delta Chi tape suit


Gainesville A judge has ruled that
videotapes from a 1998 University of
Florida fraternity party under
investigation by the state attorney's
office are protected and has denied a
request for copies by two Miami
filmmakers.
Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman,
claimed that state attorney Rod Smith


violated the state's Open Records Law.
But the tapes are student records and
therefore under state law, are exempt
from public disclosure, ruled Judge
Stan Morris, Eighth Judicial Circuit.
The case involves a stripper who
claims she was raped when she
performed at a Delta Chi fraternity
initiation party in 1998. (8/26/00)


depictions of the Confederate flag have
caused disruptions at the school. "It has
been something that has raised the
dander of some students,"said Dennis
McGeehan, Central High principal.
But the 16-year old student sees it
differently. "It's just a flag, I don't attach
anything to it. I'm not a racist," he said.
Roberts has the support of his parents
and other students who have circulated a
petition supporting him. (9/7/00)


No swan song for swine judge rules


STUART Music may soothe the
savage beast, but for a pig farm located
near a prestigious golf course, a judge
has ruled that while the pigs can stay, the
tunes need to be toned down.
"I don't want any monkeying around
with the noise bothering these folks,"
said 19th Circuit judge Ben Bryan in his
instructions to pig farmer Thomas
Rossano.
Bryan reversed his previous order


requiring Bryan to remove the pigs from
his family's property. He also ordered
Roassano to turn down the music he
plays to soothe his pigs.
For over three and a half years,
Rossano has been fighting with Martin
County and the owners of the Florida
Club, an upscale golf club located next
to Rossano's property; they have filed
zoning violations claims against Rossano
for raising livestock. (7/21/00)


1999 to review and make
recommendations to lawmakers on a
variety of financial crimes. (9/7/00)

CENSORSHIP

Library reading

program halted
Jacksonville -- The public library has
discontinued a reading incentive program
following objections by some parents. To
commemorate the release of "Harry Potter
and the Goblet of Fire," the Jacksonville
library created special certificates which
were given out to children once they
completed the book. The fictional book
series depicts the adventures of an
apprentice wizard and has drawn a wide
following among school children.
The practice drew the ire of several
parents, including John Miesburg who
objects to the witchcraft themes of the
books, "If they are going to pass out
witchcraft certificates, they should
promote the Bible and pass out
certificates of righteousness," said
Miesburg.
The library started the program on July 8,
but discontinued it on July 19. "We
decided that discretion was the better part
of valor," said Kenneth Sivulich, library
director. (9/13/00)


The Brechner Report U November 2000 3


FIRST AMENDMENT


Student fights school t-shirt ban


Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
http://www.jou.ufl.edu/brechner/
e-mail: jthomas@jou.ufl.edu
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Director/Executive Editor
Jane Inouye, Editor
Jackie Thomas, Production Coordinator
Michel Lester, Production Assistant
Bill F. Chamberlin, Ph.D., FoundingDirector
The Brechner Report is published 12 times a year
under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation. The BrechnerReport is a joint effort of The
Brechner CenterforFreedom ofInformation, the
University of Florida College of Journalism and
Communications, the Florida Press Association, the
Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Society
of Newspaper Editors andthe JosephL. Brechner
Endowment.




























Jumping public access loopholes in New Jersey


If Swiss cheese were turned into law, it would look
a lot like NJSA 47:1A-1, New Jersey's Right to Know
law. Shot through with exemptions and convoluted
logic, the law boils down to this: Governmental
records are
The public only if
B kP g mandated by
Back Page law to be kept. Paul D'At
By Paul D'Ambrosio Sounds good,
right? But few records
are required to be kept by law. And here is another loophole:
there is no time limit for fulfilling a request, so government
officials can keep you dangling for weeks, months or an
eternity.
New Jersey media has silently suffered poor access for
many decades and it is widely accepted that we have one of the
worst public access laws in the nation. To change that, we began
a public journalism project to educate voters and Legislators
about the pitfalls of the current law.
The Asbury Park Press began the campaign in 1997 with its
"Right to Know Nothing" series (a 1998 Brechner FOI Award
winner) that showed readers how bad access can allow bad
things to happen in government.
In 1999, after a public access reform bill died in the
Legislature and the governor reneged on her promise to issue
an executive order to open up her branch of government, the
Press and six other daily newspapers in the Gannett New Jersey
group planned what would become one of the largest access
surveys in the nation.
The project was broken into three phases: Survey and report;
poll citizens and Legislators about their views on public access;
and run frequent editorials to push for a new law. Taking part in
the largest journalism project in state history were the Press,
the Courier-News, Courier-Post, the Vineland Daily Journal,
the Daily Record, the Home News Tribune and Ocean County
Observer.
In early 2000, the newspapers sent 70 surveyors to more


than 600 municipal offices, school boards and police
stations seeking information that was public even under
our weak law. The initial three-day series written by
Trenton Statehouse Bureau staffers Jason Method and
Courier-Post reporter Frank Kummer.
What we found wasn't surprising: A third of the
school boards refused to show their budgets; half of the
nbrosio towns and schools wouldn't produce overtime records;
and nearly 8 out of 10 police stations turned surveyors
away when they asked to see the weekly police blotter.
Comments from public officials ranged from rude to
arrogant, telling surveyors such things as "We don't just give
records to anybody who asks for them" and "Public information
is for township of Rockaway residents only."
The subsequent poll showed a sharp divide between the
public and Legislators on this issue. Nearly 8 out of 10
citizens wanted to amend the state Constitution to provide for
open government, while only half of the lawmakers supported
that notion. Nearly 70 percent of people wanted to see the daily
activity logs of their Legislators, but just 39 percent of the
lawmakers thought that would be a good idea.
Reaction to the series generated a number of letters and op-
ed pieces and sparked debate in the Legislature. When pressed,
leaders of both houses agreed to support the reform measure. It
passed the Assembly this Spring, but it has stalled in the state
Senate. The reason: the state attorney general claims the law
would reveal the names of confidential police informants, and
local towns said it would be too much work for clerks to
provide public records to the public.
As is New Jersey's tradition, opponents have worked against
the bill behind closed doors, attempting to insert language that
will effectively kill any true reform.
In the meantime, we'll be trying out best to pry open that
door.

Paul D 'Ambrosio is the Investigations Editor for the Asbury
Park Press and the 1998 winner of the Brechner FOI Award.




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