Volume 29, Number 6 E A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom ofI,,l 1.i .,1. College ofJournalism and Communications U University ofFlorida
Single-justice opinion pleases members of media
WASHINGTON Justice Anthony
Kennedy denied the petition of a Florida
broadcaster seeking a review of a prior
restraint against publication.
However, his opinion did contain
strong language criticizing the issuance
of prior restraints.
"A threat of prosecution or criminal
contempt against a specific publication
raises special First Amendment concerns,
for it may chill protected speech much
Mayor cleared in
VERO BEACH An investigationby
the State Attorney's Office into charges
that Vero Beach Mayor Mary Beth
McDonald violated the Sunshine Law
failed to uncover enough evidence for
The investigation included secretly
wiring City ManagerDavidMekarski with
a monitoring device while he met with
evidence after allegations surfaced that
McDonald had violated the state's Open
Meetings Law by secretly meeting with
Mekarski and asking him to resign in
exchange fora $60,000 severance offer.
The law prohibits members of the
same elected or appointed advisory
board from privately meeting to discuss
issues the group might take action on.
After obtaining no probable cause
from a poor-quality recording and
interviewing two City Council members
about possible private conversations,
Assistant State Attorney Nikki Robinson
decided there was not enough evidence
to pursue charges.
like an injunction against speech by chambers opinion, allowed the injunctions
putting the party at an added risk of to remain in place because there is little
liability," Kennedy wrote, chance that the organization can be
The decision rejected punished for a violation.
First Coast News' challenge C O U RT S The judge who issued the
to two lower court injunctions has retired from the
injunctions, which were bench, and the state Attorney
issued to prevent the media company General's Office has said it would not
from publishing a transcript of grand-jury prosecute the news organization because
testimony. it did not violate the law in obtaining the
Kennedy's opinion, called an in- transcript.
Poll: Public worried about secrecy
WASHINGTON- More than 70
percent of Americans are concerned
about government secrecy, according
to a poll conducted by Ipsos-Public
Additionally, 5 in 10 A C(
Americans believe that
the government should RECC
provide access to its
records because good government
requires openness to the public.
The poll confirms what open-
government advocates have been
arguing: that government secretness
has increased since the September
officials responded by saying that the
secrecy was necessary to protect
Interestingly, the public attitudes
favorable to openness and access to
records were similar to
E S results from an earlier poll
conducted in February
IDS 2000, whichleads
researchers to believe that
Americans still value accountability in
Along the same lines, the bi-partisan
legislative support continues in the U.S.
Senate for a bill that would revisit the
federal Freedom of Information Act to
address the complaints of many access
Crist says Open Meetings Law applies
to junior college foundations' records
TALLAHASSEE- Florida Attorney
General Charlie Crist recently issued an
opinion stating that the state's
Government in the Sunshine Act applies
to "direct support organizations" of
These school foundations that
support the state's higher education
institutions will no longer be able to work
under the assumption that they are
exempt from the state's Sunshine Law.
Crist's opinion, which covers only
community colleges, has been interpreted
by some to apply to organizations and
foundations that support universities and
school districts as well.
Most of these foundations operate as
the institution's fund-raising arm,
channeling millions of dollars into the
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
DCF must release records in Terri Schiavo case
TAMPA A Pinellas Circuit judge
ordered the state Department of Children
& Families to release reports concerning
alleged abuse of Terri Schiavo, a severely
brain-damaged woman who died in
March after her feeding tube was
The order mandated the release of
Bill would force
publish fire data
WASHINGTON A bill proposed in
Congress by Rep. BillPascrell(R-N.J.)
would require colleges and universities
to release information about their fire
safety and prevention measures.
The proposed legislation joins several
other campus fire-safety bills that are
being discussed in Congress.
The Campus Right to Know Act, as it
is titled, was originally introduced in in
the House of Representatives in 2000.
The legislation was drafted after a fire
at Seton Hall University in New Jersey
killed three students and injured 58
others. This March, a residence hall fire
occurred at George Washington
University, injuring one.
Under the legislation, schools would
have to publish information about
Currently, unless a fire is arson, it
does not have to be reported under the
Clery Act, which requires colleges and
universities receiving federal funds to
disclose campus crime statistics.
Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or
!,.;, ,ir,. ,i 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.
nine confidential reports summarizing 89
complaints of alleged abuse that the
agency received from 2001 to 2004.
All the complaints, sought by Tampa
Bay media outlets, were eventually
determined to be unfounded.
The judicial order does not cover
reports of approximately 30 calls that DCF
Courtroom Act of 2005," would give a
presiding judge the discretion to allow
recording devices in federal trial and
"I believe that the First
Amendment requires that court
proceedings be open to the public,
and by extension, the news media,"
Grassley said on the Senate floor.
received in February, which include charges
that a proper guardianship plan had not
been filed and that Schiavo's interests were
not adequately represented by legal
counsel. The records came to light in
February, when the agency unsuccessfully
tried to intervene in the legal battle between
Schiavo's parents and husband.
D.C. Circuit refuses en bane hearing
in case involving reporter's privilege
Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller will
now have to petition the U.S. Supreme
Court if they want their contempt
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the
D.C. Circuit denied their request for a re-
hearing in front of the entire court.
A three-judge panel of the appellate
court upheld a civil contempt citation
that could send the two to jail for
refusing to disclose the names of
sources who disclosed to them the
identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Judge David Tatel, writing a separate
opinion from the appellate court, said
that review by the entire court was
inappropriate because only the U.S.
Supreme Court could overturn its 1972
plurality opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes,
which said reporters do not have a privilege
to refuse to testify before federal grand
Since then, many federal appellate courts
have relied on a dissenting opinion by
Justice Potter Stewart in the case to provide
such a privilege to journalists in certain
Bothjournalists have filed petitions
asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take their
cases. Several media organizations have
filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the cases.
2 The Brechner Report U June 2005
Legislation would allow recording
devices in the federal court system
WASHINGTON Cameras and "The sun needs to shine in on the
other recording devices could make federal courts. ... There are many
their way into federal courtrooms if benefits and no substantial detrimental
Congress passes a bill introduced by effects to allowing greater public access
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R. to the inner workings of our
Iowa). A C C E SS federal courts."
The proposed The legislation would also
legislation, known as the COURTS extend to the U.S. Supreme
"Sunshine in the Court. However, it is unlikely
the justices would allow cameras.
Current U.S. Supreme Court Justice
David Souter was quoted in 1996, saying
"I can tell you the day you see a camera
come into our courtroom, it's going to
roll over my dead body."
Grassley and co-sponsor Sen. Charles
Schumer(D.-N.Y.) proposed similar
legislation in 2001 and 2003.
Center Director ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
ins national Law says Sebastian interviews
teaching awardcan be conducted in private
GAINESVILLE -- Sandra Chance,
Executive Director of the Brechner
Center for Freedom of Information at
the University of Florida, was named
2005 National Journalism Teacher of the
Year by the Scripps Howard
The award recognizes outstanding
contributions in the field of journalism
education both in and out of the
Chance has taught both
undergraduate and graduate media law
courses at the UF College of Journalism
and Communications for 12 years.
"My classroom extends beyond the
walls of Weimer Hall," she said. "A
large part of my work at the Brechner
Center involves teaching."
As the executive director, she
lectures internationally on open
government and freedom of information
issues to citizens' groups, attorneys,
judges and media professionals.
"She does it all ...," wrote Terry
Hynes, dean of UF's College of
Journalism and Communications, "with
the highest degree of professionalism,
enthusiasm and skill."
Chance was selected from more than
50 candidates nationally for the award,
which was presented at the Scripps
Howard Foundation's National
Journalism Awards Program on April 15
in Washington, D.C.
In addition, Chance received $10,000
and the college received $5,000.
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~~-1- r --
SEBASTIAN The state Attorney
General's Office said the Sunshine Law
would allow the Sebastian City Council
to keep private the one-on-one
interviews of five candidates for city
Pat Gleason said that the Sunshine
Law, which requires two or more members
of an elected or appointed public body to
meet in public when discussing or taking
action on official business, would not
apply to the interviews.
Several members of the council, including
Vice Mayor Brian Burkeen, said they would
not mind members of the public attending
However, the mayor and other council
members expressed concern that large
numbers of people would disrupt the
Members of the council planned to
interview the finalists in private and then
conduct a public meeting to rank the top
three candidates and schedule negotiations.
TALLAHAS SEE- The Florida
Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that a Florida
law prohibiting the unauthorized use of a
name or likeness for commercial purposes
did not apply to movies.
The decision came after a group of
Floridians sued Warner Brothers over its
2000 release of"The Perfect Storm,"
which portrayed the sinking of a ship
during a large storm.
The plaintiffs, who were relatives of
those aboard the actual ship, asserted
that the movie's depiction of their family
ORLANDO-Orange County Sheriff
Kevin Beary was cleared of any
wrongdoing by the Florida Department of
Law Enforcement after he used driver's
license records to contact a woman who
criticized him in a local newspaper.
After the woman's letter to the editor
was published, the sheriff responded
with his own letter to the woman.
It accused the woman, Alice
Gawronski, of slander for her comments
about the department's use of Taser stun
guns and other practices as well as the
sheriff's physical fitness for duty.
Under the U.S. Driver's Privacy
Protection Act of 1994, it is illegal to
access a driver's license database to
members was both inaccurate and without
The suit claimed that the ship's captain,
Billy Tyne, played by actor George
Clooney, was incorrectly depicted as an
The Court ruled against them, saying
that it was choosing to follow the
interpretation of a federal appellate court.
The Court held that the word
"commercial" could not be read to bar such
a sweeping use of people's names in all
obtain personal information.
An exception is made to allow uses in the
case where a clear law enforcement purpose
The FDLE investigation concluded that
although Beary used the database to obtain
an address to mail the letter to Gawronski,
his action could have come within the
permissible bounds of the law enforcement
"Because a law enforcement purpose is
not specifically defined in statute, such use
is generally left to the discretion of law
enforcement officials," FDLE Commissioner
Guy M. Tunnell wrote in a letter to Beary.
Gawronski said she believes Beary's
letter was a form of intimidation.
The Brechner Report U June 2005 3
Parties unsuccessful in lawsuit
against makers of storm movie
FDLE investigation clears sheriff of
wrongdoing in driver's privacy claim
Privatization closes doors to information
The Florida Legislature quietly chips away at the
Sunshine State's open records laws every session, but
over the past few years they've put up yet another
barrier to open government.
The State Legislature is privatizing in many areas,
shifting government chores to private operators who
don't have to open their books to the public or the press.
Privatization works great for cleaning buildings and
cutting grass but when the welfare of people and Stev
especially children are in the balance, it's not such a great
Privatization is supposed to save taxpayers money. The jury
is still out on that hypothesis, but we do know some of the
costs, namely in transparency and accountability.
We got wind last month that three foster children had been
shifted out of a foster home where they had been placed for their
safety. Why had they been
B ack age We called the nonprofit
0 agency Kids Central. Well,
By Steve Arthur actually we called the
spokeswoman for that agency,
a subcontractor who works for Wragg & Casas Public Relations
Inc. in Orlando. She said she could say nothing. "It's the law,"
"That's right. We can neither confirm that the child is in the
system nor comment on anything related to the child. It's the
So, I ask her, how can we check for our readers when we hear
from reliable sources that they have been moved? Are we
supposed to ignore what we hear?
She replied that Kids Central has subcontractors (like her)
who work as case managers to make sure the children in state
custody are treated well.
The law protecting the identity of juveniles was also
frequently cited in past years when the Department of Juvenile
Justice and their previous subcontractor stonewalled our efforts
to uncover misdoings at the Cypress Creek Juvenile
Detention Center in Lecanto.
Since the death of Omar Paisley in Miami, and the
governor's appointment of DJJ Secretary Anthony
Schembri, the DJJ is, to everybody's relief, a lot more
open. All without compromising the identity of the
So do we have to stand by and wait until something
'e Arthur really horrendous happens on the watch of Kids Central
Inc.? They need permission to answer simple questions.
How can we be sure that children we know are in the DCF
system are not being mistreated?
The PR woman repeated that a system is in place to meet all
the needs of the children in state care. Unspoken were all the
terrible blunders and tragedies on the part of DCF that have
made headlines and sad reading across the state.
When bad things happen and word finally gets out,
scapegoated people lose their jobs and laws are passed but in
the meantime, children have sometimes died.
So without any help from Kids Central Inc., the story about
the unexplained move of the foster children ran in the
newspaper, based on the concerns of school district officials
who wanted to help solve the perceived problem at the foster
home. We were left wondering if something was wrong at that
foster care home.
Almost a week later Don Thomas, district administrator from
DCF District 13, cleared the air: "The foster family did a finejob
and if they wish to continue being a foster family, we would be
glad to place other children with them."
Now, was that so hard to say? Yes, we still don't know why
the lives of these children were further disrupted; we've heard
stories but without confirmation, we are asked to trust Kids
Central Inc. as we were asked to trust DCF and DJJ. That's not
an easy thing to do.
Steve Arthur is a columnistfor the Citrus Country Chronicle.
His column appeared in the paper as a part of Sunshine Week.
It is reprinted with permission.