Volume 25, Number 1 U A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom oflIri ..... r, College ofJournalism and Communications U University of Florida
County commissionersviolated Sunshine law
Stuart A judge ruled that commissioners to meet privately to discuss violated the law because th
Martin County "pending litigation." The was not a party to a lawsuit
commissioners violated the AC C E SS Palm Beach Post filed suit case. The judge then order
Sunshine law by meeting in 0 0 against the county, accusing county to release written t
closed-door sessions to E E T IN GS the commissioners of the meetings and to pay th(
discuss possible legal action violating the law. newspaper's attorney fees.
pending against the county. The "This is one of those situations that's not Martin County settled
commissioners met privately to clear-cut in the (law)," according to Judge with the newspaper three y
discuss legal notices threatening Ben Bryan, 19th Judicial Circuit. agreed to comply with a cc
potential lawsuits. The Open The Palm Beach Post's attorney requiring commissioners t
Meetings Law allows successfully argued that the commissioners settlements in public. (12/
Community group pays legal fees COURTS
Tampa Palms A community agreed to pay the attorney fees for former 1,o er- )1
development group will pay supervisor Bob Doran who sued the district BombT sle
$40,000 in legal fees after choosing in 1999, citing four Sunshine Law violations. to rem ain se
not to appeal a judge's order that the In May, Judge Manuel Menendez Jr., 13th
group violated the state's Open Judicial Circuit, ruled in Doran's favor, but Tallahassee A judge
Meeting Law. withheld a decision on reimbursement until request from the U.S. Atto
The Tampa Palms Community November. (11/11/00) office to make public two
Development District supervisors from convicted Florida A&
State attorney order ed files deleted Lombardir to t meral ju
Tampa State investigators
have concluded that a deceased state
attorney attempted to destroy public 1
records and filed false
campaign reports. A C C E
According to an
investigation completed RECO R L
by the Pasco-Pinellas
state attorney's office, Harry Coe t
"grossly mispresented his debts on t
state-required financial disclosure
At the time of his death, the state
attorney's office estimates that Coe
had a negative net worth of at least
His financial indebtedness was
largely a result of excess pari-
mutuel betting, according to the
special prosecutor's report.
The investigation also found that Coe
directed an employee to destroy records on
his laptop computer, a violation of the state's
Public Records Law. That
'SS employee will not be punished,
S according to State Attorney Bernie
Gov. Jeb Bush had requested
he state investigation in July, shortly
hereafter Coe took his life. (11/28/00)
ears ago and
Prior to sentencing Lombardi on
Sept. 15, U.S. District Judge Robert
Hinkle received two letters from the
bomber, according to court records.
The letters were sent directly to the
judge, who ruled that the letters were
not public records.
According to Hinkle, the letters
discuss "medical matters that
ordinarily would not become public"
and "apparently intend... to support
mitigation of his sentence." The
letters will be held in Lombardi's
files at the U.S. Probation office.
The judge sentenced Lombardi to
life in prison for making and setting
off two PVC pipe bombs that
damaged FAMU facilities on Aug. 31,
1999, and Sept. 22, 1999. (10/24/00)
The Brechner Report
celebrates its 25th year of
publishing news about
freedom of information and
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
Hospitalbo ar ddenies trustees legalfee reimbursement
Vero Beach A hospital board
refused to reimburse a board member for
legal fees incurred in his defense against
Sunshine law violations. The Indian River
County Hospital District turned down
trustee Richard Aldrich's $36,000
In March, a county grand jury issued
indictments against Aldrich and former
trustee Allen Seed for knowingly
violating the Sunshine law by discussing
district business at a restaurant last
August. (Brechner Report, May 2000)
The grand jury also alleged the pair
committed perjury by later lying about the
dinner while under oath to the grand jury.
In June, prosecutors dropped the perjury
charges and criminal charges and revised
the Sunshine law infractions as a separate
civil infraction. Former trustee Seed also
requested legal fee reimbursement from
the hospital board, but that request was
State attorney rules council testimony okay
Cocoa Beach City commissioners commissioners to attend other city board
may attend other city board meetings as meetings and comment on agenda items
long as they don't discuss issues among that may subsequently come before the
themselves, according to an opinion commission for final action," according to
from the Attorney General's office, the Attorney General's opinion.
Cocoa Beach city manager Charles However, cautions the opinion, if more
Billias had requested feedback from the than one commissioner is present at
Attorney General's office on the practice another city board meeting, "no discussion
of city commissioners attending and or debate may take place among the
testifying at various city board meetings. commissioners on these issues," that
"It is not a violation of the Government might lead to a Sunshine Law violation.
in the Sunshine Law for elected city (AGO 2000-68, 11/17/00)
Reportersgain accessin tireblowoutsuit
Lake City A circuit court judge
ruled that reporters from two news
organizations can attend pre-trial
depositions of former tire workers.
Judge E. Vernon Douglas, 3rd
Judicial Circuit, ruled that reporters
from USA Today and WFTV will be
allowed to sit in during the depositions
of four former workers from a
Firestone tire plant.
The workers are being deposed as part
of a personal injury lawsuit filed by a
woman who was injured in a tire blow-out
The judge's ruling is being met with
positive reception from news advocates.
"That's a new twist, at least in Florida. It's
good that he's going to open the process,"
said Dick Shelton, executive director of
the Florida Press Association. (10/14/00)
Judge: Logo secr etunveiledon T-shirt
Panama City Once a logo has logos created for J and J Enterprises were
been used on a T-shirt, it's no longer a not trade secrets, since they had
trade secret, according to a recent ruling previously been displayed to the public.
by Judge Don Sirmons, 2nd Judicial "Once it's worn on a T-shirt in public, it's
Circuit, who dismissed a felony charge not a trade secret," said John Daniel.
against a graphic designer. Strickland had worked for the
Designer Dallas Strickland was company for eight years as a designer
cleared of theft or unlawful copying of before starting his company last year.
trademark secrets charges by the judge, However, the logos were not patented or
who ruled that Strickland's on-line copyrighted by the company. Therefore,
website posting of logos he designed for there was no copyright or trademark
a company was permissible. infringement, according to Daniel..
Strickland's attorney argued that (12/1/00)
2 The Brechner Report U January 2001
denied. (Brechner Report, Oct.
no to radio ads
Tallahassee A local radio
station raised the ire and
eyebrows of the University of
Florida football coach by using
his likeness in an outdoor
Through his attorney, head
football coach Steve Spurrier
requested that WHTF, Hot 104-
FM remove seven local billboards
that used his photo and the slogan,
"Spurrier Says: Don't listen."
The billboards were scheduled
for display from November
through December, but after the
call from the coach's attorney, the
ads were removed. "I don't want to
cause any trouble. If Coach
Spurrier is upset, we're going to
take them down," said Hank
Kestenbaum, marketing manager
for parent company Triad
According to station
personnel, the ads were designed
to "have a little fun with the
rivalry" between Florida and
Florida State and the photo was
taken from a photo warehouse
operated by Lamar Advertising.
"We were just having some fun
with the rivalry. If it was taken the
wrong way, I'm sorry," said
Copies of case opinions, attorney
general opinions, or !,.,ili.,t,,, 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.
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
City suespaper for public ecor dsrequestdetermination
C l i\.iiw ci In response to a
newspaper's request for a copy of a
police department employee survey, the
city has sued the paper to determine if
the surveys were public records.
The St. Petersburg Times requested
copies of an employee satisfaction
surveys given to Pinellas Park police
department employees by Management
of America of Tallahassee.
The City Council had approved
spending over $40,000 for the survey
The company has provided the paper
with some related documents, but not the
written survey form or the results.
City documents, including those
prepared for a public agency by a private
AGrules inactive criminalrecords open
Miami Inactive criminal
investigation files are open to public
inspection, according to a recent
Attorney General's opinion.
State attorney Katherine Fernandez
Rundle requested an opinion on whether
the results of a state investigation into
allegations of criminal activity by a
police officer should remain sealed
pending the conclusion of an internal
The results of the state's investigation
should be open, according to Florida
Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
"It is my opinion that the
confidentiality provisions of section
112.533, Florida Statutes, do not exempt
an inactive criminal investigative file
from inspection and copying pursuant to
section 119.07, Florida Statutes, while
an active internal affairs investigation
(concerning the same complaint) is
pending," wrote Butterworth.
(AGO 2000-66, 11/17/00)
Publicdefender clearedby investigation
Tampa A public defender has been
cleared of copyright violations by a state
investigation. Following complaints by
four citizens earlier this year, the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement
conducted a six-month investigation of
Hillsborough County Public Defender
According to the 17-page report,
there was "no evidence of criminal
wrong-doing," for any of the four counts.
The complaints were filed by former
public defender employees who had been
fired for various reasons.
Former assistant Public Defender
Gary Ketcham had filed the copyright
violation complaint against Holt, who he
said directed him to make copies of a
law publication for other attorneys in the
However, according to the FDLE,
since the copies were for Holt's
employees only, she did not violate
copyright laws. (11/17/00)
IRS sues for record access in Miami
Miami In an effort to gain access
to financial records of Americans who
use off-shore banks, the Internal Revenue
Service has filed a federal lawsuit against
two credit card companies, American
Express Travel Related Services Co. and
Both companies conduct business in
the Carribean, but maintain their
headquarters in the Miami area.
In their suit, the IRS is requesting
identifying information such as passport
and driver's license numbers, and
information on purchases such as cars,
boats, airline tickets and lodging made
between 1998 to 1999.
A MasterCard spokeswoman cited
the company's past cooperation with
federal investigations, "We are mindful
of our cardholder's privacy concerns and
maintain minimal if any personally
identifiable information regarding
MasterCard transactions," said Sharon
entity are public records, according to
the newspaper's attorney. "It's definitely
a public record. There's no way around
that," said Allison Steele. (12/6/00)
legal fees to library
St. Petersburg Beach After winning
their public records lawsuit against the
city, a local newspaper is giving the
money to the local library. The St.
Petersburg Times won a $4,750 legal fee
reimbursement from the city of St.
Petersburg, which they donated to the
Friends of the St. Pete Beach Library.
The newspaper filed the city in 1997
when they refused to provide a reporter
with copies of public documents. "As all
hell broke loose, they basically sort of
clamped down on giving access to
records," said Tom McGowan, the
newspaper's attorney. McGowan noted
that since that time, the city has been very
cooperative, providing records at the time
of the request.
According to the paper, their policy is
to donate money from successful public
records lawsuits to local charities so that
community residents are not penalized by
their local government actions. (11/9/00)
The Brechner Report U January 2001 3
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P 0 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
The Brechner Report is published 12 times a year
under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation The Brechner Report is a joint effort of
The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, the
University of Florida College of Journalism and
Communications, the Florida Press Association, the
Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Society
of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L Brechner
State's Sunshinelaws openedelection process
Florida was at the epicenter of the post-presidential election
controversy. And, the state's govemment-in-the-sunshine laws
assumed center stage as the aftershocks were felt around the
As director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of
ack Page reporters across
the country and
... around the world
By OUfUu 1. nILunte askinghowourlaws
worked, if the laws really required canvassing board meetings be open to the
public, and why the court proceedings, including the arguments before the
state's Supreme Court, could be televised.
Florida's strong government-in-the-sunshine laws allowed
unprecedented access to the various aspects of the story. Americans
everywhere were able to see for themselves how decisions were made.
One canvassing board even moved its meeting to a parking lot in order to
accommodate the huge public turnout.
Known as the "Public-Right-to-Know Laws," or the "Sunshine
Laws," the laws shed light into the sometimes dark and secret caverns of
government. These laws provide citizens the legal right of access necessary
to make informed decisions about our government and help ensure our
The right of access to public meetings and records ensures that the
founding father's vision of government by and for the people remains a
reality. The laws allow citizens to monitor governmental activities. The laws
guarantee that public officials will be help accountable for their actions.
Many reporters were stunned at the level of access to information
about the process and mused about what would have happened in their state
For example, an editor in Virginia compared his state's open
governmentlawsto whatwashappening inFlorida. "Virginia officialswould
almost certainly lock the doors and pull down the shades during the ballot
counting and election-board meetings,"he concluded
And then it dawned on the politicians and national media that the
ballots were public records and that someone could do an independent
recount. Florida's public records law allows the public to inspect the ballots,
but only election officials cantouch the ballots.
By the time you read this, the media outlets, as the public's surrogate,
have probably started to examine the ballots. In Miami, at least 19
organizations requested access to the disputed ballots. The New York
Times, the Los Angeles Times, Time magazine and The Miami Herald
appeared in a Miami circuit court to get access to the 10,750
questioned ballots. The Washington Post has also said it wants to
The Florida Society ofNewspaperEditors is considering
putting together a consortium of newspapers to view the ballots.
The Associated Press has been approached about leading some
counting efforts, too. The Brechner Center may be involved in
the process, as well.
F. Chance Newspapers are not the only ones interested in the ballots.
Judicial Watch, a conservative pubic-interest legal foundation, has
500 volunteers waiting to resume its count. The Rev. Jesse Jackson has
called for a consolidated effort to count the ballots, saying the disputed ballots
were "too pregnant with historical meaning to go uncounted."
Why would a newspaper want to look at the ballots? "Our intent is to
examine the ballots and describe in detail what they show. People can come
to their own conclusions," said The Miami Herald Executive Editor Martin
Some leading Republicans don't like the idea that the ballots are public
records. New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman wants to seal the
ballots for 10 years to "prevent the presidency from being undermined." I've
even heard a few calls to destroy the ballots, to protect the "legitimacy" of
Obviously, Gov. Whitman needs a remedial lesson onpublic records in
Florida. But, it's not all her fault, really. Her state is well-known for having
one of the country's worst public records law.
And, while Florida has some of the strongest open government laws in
the country, there are some places where the sun apparently didn't shine.
The state's legislative leadership took full advantage of the fact that
lawmakers are not subject to all the provisions of the state's open meetings
law to engage in private phone calls to decide critical issues. In addition,
there are questions about possible sunshine law violations by the governor's
office and the state canvassing board.
People may disagree over the result of the post-presidential election
proceedings, but few people will disagree over the important role the state's
sunshine laws played inkeeping the public informed andholding public
officials accountable fortheir actions.
Sandra Chance is the director of the Brechner Center for
Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.