Volume 29, Number 2 0 A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom ofI,, .. ,.,a'. 1.,1 College ofJournalism and Communications U University ofFlorida
Officials may not
for public records
LAKELAND -Public officials cannot
copyright maps their office created and
then charge royalties for the documents,
according to a ruling by the 2nd District
Court of Appeals.
The decision, which came in the case
MicroDecisions, Inc. v. Skinner, said that
public officials in Florida have no right to
copyright public records unless they are
given specific statutory permission by
the state legislature.
In the case, MicroDecisions, an
Orlando-based real estate data vendor,
sued the Collier County Property
Appraiser when he demanded that the
company pay royalties to the office.
County Property Appraiser Abe
Skinner wanted to collect money from
companies that used any public maps in
connection with a commercial enterprise.
The court disagreed, saying that a
requestor's purpose for using the
records did not matter under Florida's
Public Records Law and did not affect
his right to access the records.
"Since 1905, it has been clear that
public records may be used in
commerical, profit-makingbusiness," the
DCF must release foster-care records
to Florida State Advocacy Council
TALLAHASSEE-The 2ndDistrict provides client services, wrote the
Court of Appeals ordered the Department three-judge panel, citing Sections
of Children & Family Services (DCF) to 402.165(8)(a)(2) and402.166(8)(a)(1) of
release records of several foster children the Florida Statutes.
to an advocacy group. In 2003, the Advocacy Council
The ruling was a victory for the released a report showing that half of the
Florida Statewide Advocacy 1,180 foster children whose
Council (FSAC), which A C C E SS records they reviewed were
wanted access to DCF's on mood-altering drugs.
records so it could RECORD S DCF officials disputed the
investigate complaints report and later began
against the agency. denying the Advocacy Council's
"BothFSAC and [affiliated local requests for client records, according to
groups] are statutorily authorized to have The Miami Herald.
'access to all client records, files and Circuit Judge James Hall Seals of Lee
reports from any program, service or County ordered DCF to turn over the
facility that is operated, funded or files. The agency refused, citing
contracted by any state agency that confidentiality, and appealed the order.
Tax-record access provision withdrawn
WASHINGTON Congress voted to domestic-spendingbill.
kill legislation that would have made it The tax-access provision had been
easier for legislators and their aides to previously approved by both the Senate
review income tax returns and House in their November
submitted by the public to PRIVA\ Y legislative sessions.
the Internal Revenue Service. The removal of the tax
The House of language will allow legislators
Representatives unanimously decided to to send the remaining portion of the
withdraw the section on access to tax approved spending bill to President
records, which had been included in a George W. Bush for his signature.
Madeira Beach officials cleared of open
MADEIRA BEACH The mayor and The Sunshine Law prohibits officials
two city commissioners did not violate from having secret conversations that are
Florida's Sunshine Law, according to a related to commission business.
memo fromthe Pinellas- Under the law, elected
Pasco State Attorney's A C C E SS officials are only allowed to
Office. A C S discuss commission
FormerMadeiraBeach business at public meetings.
CommissionerRogerKoske MEETINGS Koske claimed that then-
filed a complaint in mid- interim City ManagerMike
October against the three officials based Maxemow and three commissioners
on a series of private meetings that he conducted private meetings that resulted
believed violated the state's open in substantial pay increases for Madeira
meetings law. Beach employees.
After a two-week probe, State
Attorney Bernie McCabe's office
decided not to pursue the matter and
closed the investigation.
Assistant State Attorney Bob Lewis,
who handled the investigation,
concluded that the meetings had not
violated the law because the city
manager had authority to grant raises
without prior approval.
"It is not a violation if it's not
something that has to go before the
council," he said.
Church asks FCC Clearwater libraries relinquish federal
to revoke licenses technology grants that require filters
WASHINGTON The United Church
of Christ wants the federal government to
deny license renewal for two Florida
television stations that refused to run
The Miami affiliates, WFOR-TVand
WTVJ-TV, are owned and operated by
CBS and NBC, respectively.
"We feel this is a breach of their
obligation to serve the public interest,"
said the Rev. John H. Thomas, president
of the church.
The advertisements addressed the
church's policy of accepting members
regardless of race or sexual orientation.
They show people of different races,
including two men holding hands, being
blocked from entering a church service.
The ads then discuss the openness and
acceptance that church-goers will find at
the United Church of Christ, which is a
Protestant denomination with more than
The local television stations claimed
the advertisements amounted to issue
In addition, the stations' parent
companies stated that the ads were too
controversial to run on their stations.
The church has complained that the
broadcast outlets have failed to provide
suitable access to the public airwaves,
which prohibits the church from reaching
an audience not served by cable
Several other television stations,
including some network affiliates and
cable stations, have allowed the
commercials to be broadcast.
Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or
!,., l,,. ,ii reported in any issue as
"on file" may be obtained upon
requestfrom the Brechner Center for
Freedom of Information, College of
Journalism and Communications,
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400,
University ofFlorida, Gainesville,
FL 32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.
CLEARWATER-The Clearwater city
library systemwill lose $9,000 infederal
funds because library directors have
chosen not to install Internet filters on
Under the Federal Communications
Commission's e-rate program, libraries
can receive funding to offset the cost of
telecommunications expenses if they
agree to install monitoring software.
Executive Director John Szabo said the
city doesn't restrict Internet access
because the library has not experienced
any problems with the content that users
"The issue that typically causes a
public library to implement filtering has
not been an issue in Clearwater," he said.
The software restricts the viewing of
Web sites that contain obscene and
pornographic materials. In addition to
restricting access to both objectionable
and non-objectionable content, the
filters may provide a false sense of
security, said Emily Sheketoff, executive
director for the American Library
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R.-Ocala,
introduced a bill last year in the Florida
legislature that would have required
public libraries to use filters.
Although the bill did not pass, he
said he plans to reintroduce the
legislation during this spring's
"I wish the bill wasn't necessary,"
Baxley said. "I'mjustlookingfor
common decency here."
Student body reprimands FAU adviser
BOCA RATON The Florida Atlantic
University newspaper staff triumphed
over their adviser in a clash between
censorship and the First Amendment.
The university's student government
will issue a written reprimand to
newspaper adviser Michael Koretzky for
violating the rules established for the
selection of editors.
The newspaper students asked the
student government to fine and suspend
the adviser for failing to follow the
Although the student government's
penalty was more lenient than the students
requested, Koretzky said he believes he
may not be re-hired after his one-year
contract expires this month.
The student government also voted 11-
0 to support a statement saying there was
never an intent to suppress the
newspaper's First Amendment rights.
Citizen endeavors to capture Florida
Sunshine in open meetings movie
FLAGLER BEACH- After standing
silently at the back of the Flagler
for more than nine A C C
months, Dan Bayerl has
decided to turn the MEET
proceedings into a
"If [the citizens] see what's being
done in their name, they'll be just as
appalled as I am," said the 10-year
resident of the city.
Bayerl said the state's Sunshine
Law empowered him to complete the
first portion of his project by allowing
him access to the meetings. He
arrived at the first meeting with a
copy of the law in his hand and
SS anticipated his presence
would change the tone of
N GS "I thought if I brought
a camera in, I thought
they would behave," he said. "But, it
hasn't made a difference."
To the Commission's credit, Bayerl
said no one has attempted to stop his
Bayerl plans to debut the film at a
local business but is not sure how he
will distribute it.
2 The Brechner Report February 2005
Four letters spell end
for radio personality
TAMPA -Disc Jockey Norwood
WMNF-FM, was suspended from the air
in late 2004 for airing indecent content.
Station managers said they believe he
intentionally tested the Federal
Communications Commissionby airing a
song containing a four-letter word during
his weekly 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift.
The FCC regulates the broadcast
airwaves and has prohibited the airing of
certain obscene and profane words. A
station in violation of the FCC's
broadcast decency standards can be
subject to fines and license revocation.
"What Norwood fails to understand is
our rules are different from the FCC," said
Program Director Randy Wynne. "If he
wants to push the FCC, he should check
with the station ahead of time because it
is our licenses that are at risk."
Federal legislation aims to protect
media's use of confidential sources
WASHINGTON A bill introduced
in the U.S. Congress aims to provide a
shield for journalists who attempt to
protect their confidential sources.
proposed in late SH
November by Sen. SH I
Christopher J. Dodd, D-
Conn., would give LAW S
reporters the right not to
divulge their sources.
Although 31 states and the District
of Columbia have shield laws that
protect journalists who refuse to
reveal the names of confidential
sources, no federal law exists to
provide the same privilege in federal
Dodd's bill follows a number of
high-profile attempts to force
journalists to reveal their sources.
Journalists who refuse often face large
fines andjail time.
In late 2004, U.S. District Judge
Ernest C. Torres convicted television
reporter Jim Taricani of criminal
contempt after he refused
-to release the source of
jL D an FBI videotape about
government corruption in
sentenced to six months house arrest
because he refused to cooperate with
the special prosecutor appointed to
Under the proposed law, the federal
courts, legislature and executive
branch would not be allowed to
compel journalists to provide the
source of information.
The bill has no requirement that the
source be promised confidentiality by
the reporter to qualify for the shield.
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
School district officials lack knowledge of Public Records Law
OSCEOLA COUNTY- State
Attorney Lawson Lamar recently
recommended that Osceola County
School District employees receive
training to allow them to better comply
with the state's Public Records Law.
His letter follows an investigation by
the Orange Osceola State Attorney's
Jacksonville area developer is asking a
circuit court judge to allow the
construction of oceanfront
condominiums over the objection of
the city's planning commission.
The developer, Chris Hionides of
The Atlantis of Jacksonville Beach,
claims that members of the commission
privately discussed the development
before a public hearing in late October,
where it declined Hionides' request.
Because he does not believe he will
get a fair hearing, Hionides has asked
Office into allegations that school
officials had violated the law by denying
access to public records.
Earlier in2004, District 2 SchoolBoard
candidate Debbie Wemette requested
access to a number of maintenance
records. School officials did not
immediately release the records to
Circuit Judge Jack M. Schemer to enter
an order granting the applications
Hionides needs to continue building his
52-unit condominium development.
Hionides asserts that the Planning
Commission met in secret, using only
information from his adversary, to deny
his application, which he believes
violated Florida's Sunshine Law.
Under the state Open Meetings Law,
if two or more members of an elected
body discuss business that will come
before the body, the meeting must take
place in public.
Wemmette based on the volume of
The records sought contained
information about the inspection of portable
classrooms used by the school district.
After an investigation, the State Attorney's
Office concluded that the records should
have been released.
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The Brechner Report February 2005 3
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
Builder sues Jax Beach officials, claims
Commission broke Sunshine Law
Media, citizens would benefit from electronic court records
Under Chief Justice Barbara Pariente's guidance, the
Florida Supreme Court is moving toward an entirely
The paperless court system.
B k P The Court also has
Back Page directed its Committee
on Privacy & Court
By Carol LoCicero Records to make
what public court records should be accessible over the
Internet. Those recommendations will have far-reaching
impact on our ability to oversee our court system especially
when electronic records are the only records available.
In November, this committee took public testimony from those
who wished to express opinions on electronic access. The Media
& Communications Law Committee of The Florida Bar was invited
The Bar committee is composed of lawyers from throughout
Florida. Many of the members represent news organizations. The
members deeply believe that online access to court records will
result in betterjournalism and foster public understanding of our
court system. The committee's fundamental position is that
electronic access should parallel at-the-counter access to paper
records. Today, most court records are available just for the
asking. This system has worked well for decades.
Searching paper records, though, is somewhat of an ordeal.
Paper access is available only when the Clerk's Office is open,
typically between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Many people who would like to
review court records work during those hours. Much reporting is
conducted outside those hours, too. Paper access also involves
geographic limitations. It is difficult for people to visit the
courthouse personally, particularly the elderly and the disabled.
Internet access eliminates these barriers.
Timely examination of court records is an indispensable part of
the journalist's craft. Electronic access will allow greater accuracy
and more complete reporting. This is true not only for long-term
projects, but also for daily reporting on deadline. A reporter may
have to abandon pursuing additional information about a youth
counselor accused of abusing children if verification requires him
to spend the entire day traveling and culling through court files.
Such obstructions disappear with electronic access.
Ordinary citizens would also reap the added benefit of direct
access to the source of reported information. Recent
headlines provide ample illustration of this point. Tiny
bloggers were the first to challenge the authenticity of the
military records used in CBS' 60 Minutes II piece
challenging President Bush's National Guard service.
Such immediate debate and accountability leads to greater
accuracy and better journalism.
Florida has a good history of access to paper records
Cicero upon which to draw. Mistakes occur in a minute
percentage of cases, but they do not overshadow the
good work that occurs daily in Florida courthouses. The proven
paper model should be applied to electronic access. Both the press
and the public will reap great benefits from this investment in
This state has traditionally served as a model for open
government. Twenty-five years ago, the Florida Supreme Court
embraced cameras in the courtroom. For more than a decade, the
Florida Constitution has provided that everyone has the right to
"inspect and copy" judicial records. Today, oral arguments before
the Florida Supreme Court are webcast live. Remote access to
computer records is the appropriate next step in Florida's progress
toward a more open, accountable government.
That is not to say that there are not legitimate, but limited,
privacy and identity theft concerns to be addressed. However,
privacy concerns arise in a limited number of cases and can
generally be resolved by a judge at the request of an affected
person. Sealed court records should be rare. Identity theft can be
prevented by limited redactions of information such as social
security numbers and financial account numbers, or by allowing
litigants to omit such information from their court papers. Still, the
Supreme Court committee should not break stride in quickly
facilitating electronic access to the vast bulk of court records.
That committee has a July 1, 2005, deadline for making
recommendations to the Court. The Media & Communications Law
Committee will continue to monitor and participate in the process.
The media should too.
Carol LoCicero is a partner with Holland & Knight LLP
and a member of the firm's national media team. She is located in
the firm's Tampa office. Carol chaired the Electronic Access
Subcommittee of The Media & Communications Law Committee.