Volume 29, Number 8 E A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of I,,r 1 .... a. College ofJournalism and Communications U University ofFlorida
U.S. Senate approves legislation to amend FOIA
WASHINGTON- The U.S. Senate Government Act of 2005, requires any The Electronic Freedom of Information
unanimously approved a bill sponsored future FOIA exemptions to be stated Act amendments, also sponsored by Leahy,
by Sen. John Cornyn, explicitly inthe text became law in 1996.
R-Texas, and Sen. FR E E D O / of the legislation. In addition to the OPEN Government
PatrickLeahy,D-Vt., F \ .V If passed by the Act, the two senators have also co-
that is designed to OF INFORMATION House of sponsored legislation seeking to establish
strengthen the federal Representatives, this an advisory commission that would examine
Freedom of Information Act. would be the first time Congress has processing delays in FOIA requests.
The bill, titled the Openness approved major reforms to FOIA in nearly The text of the bill is available online at
Promotes Effectiveness in our National a decade. thomas.loc.gov by searching for S. 394.
into actions by
CRYSTAL RIVER- Officials atthe
Academy of Environmental Science are
being investigated for possible
violations of the state's Sunshine Laws,
according to Chief Assistant State
Attorney Ric Ridgway.
The probe began after the charter
school's former director Lisa Merritt
Gill andboard member Chris Lloyd
exchanged e-mails this April in violation
of the state's Open Meetings Law.
Two or more members of an elected or
appointed public board are required to
conduct all business in public, including
telephone calls and e-mails.
Formerboard chairman Gary Maidhof
acknowledged that he had warned board
members that e-mails regarding topics
likely to come before the board would
violate the Sunshine Law.
Gill and Lloyd have publicly
apologized for the e-mail exchange.
Both board members have declined to
comment on the pending investigation
being conducted by the State
Appeals court reverses trial court's
decision to seal records in murder
SARASOTA Judges in the 2nd
District Court of Appeal ruled that a
judge erred when he sealed
records in the case against AC
accused killer Joseph P.
Circuit Judge Andrew
Owens closed FBI reports, witness
statements and other investigative
documents filed in the 2004 killing of
11-year-old Carlie Brucia.
He said that unsealing them would
be an "unnecessary annoyance and
embarrassment" to witnesses who
have had medical or drug
E SS problems.
The Times Publishing
D S Company, on behalf of the
St. Petersburg Times,
sought access to the sealed records.
The appellate court found no legal
basis for the closure of the documents
and ordered more than 1,200 pages be
MIAMI BEACH A local developer
sued the mayor and members of the
Miami Beach City Commission over a
condominium construction project,
alleging violations of the Sunshine Law.
Developer Mickey Biss contends that
city officials have repeatedly violated the
state's Sunshine Law by secretly
discussing the condo project he has been
trying for years to construct.
Biss alleges that several members of
the commission were at a February
meeting to discuss the issue.
In addition, he claims that several
members of the commission met with
Commissioner Saul Gross' firm, Streamline
Properties, which has also been involved in
Biss filed suit because he said no public
notice was provided for these meetings.
Florida law requires that meetings
between two or more members of an
elected or appointed body be open to the
public and properly noticed.
City officials assert that the Sunshine
Law was not violated because the February
meeting was a community forum and not a
commission meeting or workshop.
Miami builder files suit against city
for discussing construction project
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
Court records panel delays release of final report
TALLAHASSEE The state panel
charged with developing policies for
online access to court records didn't
offer its final recommendations to the
Florida Supreme Court on July 1, as
planned. Instead, the Committee on
Court Records and Privacy requested an
extension so it could meet one last time.
The final report is due Aug. 15.
The committee adopted several
recommendations outlined in its draft
No charge filed
MIAMI The Broward State
Attorney's Office will not prosecute
Southwest Ranches Town Administrator
John Canada for refusing to release
records related to his pay.
Residents complained to the State
Attorney's Office in April after Canada
refused to turn over public records of the
town employees' salaries.
Florida law makes the salaries of
public officials public record. However,
Canada claimed he was exempt from this
provision because he did not work
directly for the town but was instead
paid by his company, which is employed
by the town.
Assistant State Attorney Bernhard
Hollar said that because Canada had
believed he was exempt from the law's
requirements, it would be difficult to
Canada eventually disclosed his
$114,400 salary to the public in May.
Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or
!,., hil,. ,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.
report at a June 22 meeting in Orlando.
The group recommends a general policy
of electronic access to court records, but
not until several privacy safeguards are
implemented. Concerns of identity theft
and privacy prompted the panel's
recommendation of large-scale screening
and redaction processes. It also
proposes that filers notify clerks of any
documents containing confidential
information or face the possibility of
CHICAGO School-funded college
newspapers can be edited by university
administrators if the newspaper is not a
designated public forum, according to a
recent ruling by the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Hosty v.
The 7-4 decision expands the scope
of Hazelwoodv. Kuhlmeier, a 1988 U.S.
Supreme Court ruling that allows high
school administrators to censor student
newspapers based on legitimate
The 7th Circuit ruling conflicts with
The moratorium on Internet court records
imposed two years ago will not, by the
panel's own admission, end soon. In the
meantime, a proposed interim policy would
restrict the electronic release of court
records primarily to cases designated as
having "significant public interest," cases in
which a public agency is a party and based
on individual record requests.
Florida Supreme Court discusses
stricter rules for cameras in court
TALLAHASSEE- Privacy rights
of trial participants
could trump the media's A C
access to courts, if theA
Florida Supreme Court
accepts proposed COURw
changes to its rules
regulating cameras in the courtroom.
Under the current rule, judges have
the power to regulate cameras in their
courtrooms in order to maintain
decorum and ensure a fair trial.
A Florida Bar committee of judges
wants privacy rights and preventing
the disclosure of confidential
information added to that list.
The proposed changes also would
give judges discretion to prohibit
photographing jurors' faces
Sand allow court security
SS cameras to be used for
security purposes only and
not, for example, to broadcast
proceedings on the World
Media attorneys filing on behalf of
media outlets across the state argue
that the changes go against case law
and Florida's tradition of open
The court held oral arguments on the
matter June 9. No date has been set for
a final ruling on the matter.
rulings by the First and Sixth Circuits, which
have held that Hazelwood has little to no
applicability to college newspapers.
Writing forthe majority, Judge Frank
Easterbrook said the newspaper at
Governors State University, a public school
in Illinois, is a limited-purpose public forum,
which allows for more restraints on press
The students in the case, who were
members of the newspaper staff, have
released statements saying they plan to
appeal the 7th Circuit decision to the U.S.
The Brechner Report August 2005
7th Circuit applies Hazelwood case
to college newspaper in Illinois
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CONTINUED
War contractor redacts hundreds of documents
officials testified before Congress,
saying that little information is available
on how millions of dollars has been
spent by the U.S.-led Development
Fund for Iraq.
This testimony comes despite the
program's initial promises of
transparency in spending while it was
authorized by the United Nations to
oversee and administer Iraq's oil
revenues and food and reconstruction
The hearing came as a result of an
investigation by Stuart Bowen Jr., a
special inspector general, who
determined non-disclosure and fraud
were prevalent in the program's efforts.
A congressional investigation
revealed that Halliburton, the largest
single recipient of Development Fund
monies, redacted 483 items from its
accounting documents and overcharged
for its oil services in Iraq by more than
Department of Defense officials
testified that they will be more aggressive
about oversight of the spending in light
of the investigation's findings that
contractors were overcharging.
WEEK WACHEE The City of Weeki
Wachee and Weeki Wachee Springs, a
limited-liability company, continue to fight
a court's order to release public
documents. The parties attended a
rehearing earlier this summer.
In February, Circuit Court Judge
Richard Tombrink Jr. upheld an order
compelling the two entities to release
seven items to the Times Publishing
Company, which owns Brooksville' s
The requested items include Weeki
Watchee's budget for the past three years
as well as the
A C city's expenses
JACCESS and revenues
Joe Mason, an attorney for the
defendants, argues that the city and
company have released all the requested
documents that are currently in their
"We have given the Times everything
they requested," he said.
However, the dispute arises over
records in possession of the park's
previous owner Jeffrey Farrar, who now
resides in Rhode Island.
At this point, it is unclear whether the
city or Weeki Wachee Springs will be
required to litigate in order to obtain
records from Farrar.
"I will concede that it is an unsettled
area of law whether you have to go to
Rhode Island," Tombrink said.
"Ultimately, litigation is a business
decision. You'll have to decide how much
justice you will afford."
FORT LAUDERDALE- Journalist
Lyng-Hou Ramirez of Grupo de Diarios
America was detained for about an
hour by Secret Service agents and more
than a dozen local law enforcement
officials while reporting on a meeting of
the Organization of American States
earlier this summer.
Since the incident, Ramirez has filed
a complaint with OAS, alleging that she
was not informed of the reason for her
During the time period, officials
questioned her regarding her
They also inquired about her
immigration status after she revealed to
them that she was originally from
"I. 1, I I I I I ,,
11. 111 .. I 4'"'-
.111 _. I ,I , f J h ul ,I 1 r, n ..
i. ... l. i I.~ I , ,. II. II _,II -
h rl l. , ,, , I i I ,,_ I
I I ,i I .. i ,i i. u
.lhhP, I l ,II I '- L ll ,, % l,,r
IrIII 1i -. I' l .,
I, I r,, i i 11 ,1
She contends that officials mocked
her for not carrying a green card and
because she was unable to tell them the
exact date that she became a legal
resident of the United States.
Law enforcement officials eventually
allowed Ramirez to leave. However, the
officials retained her press credentials
and informed her that she would have to
She is the content director for Grupo
de Diarios America, a Miami-based
The news organization compiles
information from 11 newspapers inLatin
A spokesman said OAS plans to
contact local law enforcement about
TV reporter faces
trial for trespass
MIAMI A federal judge ruled that
an Inside Edition reporter can stand trial
for trespass but not for wiretapping or
Judge James Cohn relied in part on the
1999 Food Lion decisionby the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to
decide that Matthew Yule could be held
accountable for trespassing when he
misrepresented his qualifications to gain
a job as a sales agent for a door-to-door
magazine company in Coral Springs.
The Brechner Report August 2005
Officials interrogate journalist
reporting on OAS meeting
California resolution supports federal shield law
Editor's Note: This resolution was drafted by the At stake is the American people's right to know about
California First Amendment Coalition in light of the Ithe uses and misuses of power in high places. If
jailing ofNew York Times reporter Judith Miller. journalists cannot promise confidentiality to a source-
and have that source believe that his/her identity will
Across the land, freedom of the press-that is, the never be revealed-the public will lose news reports of
freedom of American citizens, through the press, to be kept the greatest importance and consequence for public
informed about the affairs of government-is under policy. These include reporting on corporate
assault. The threat comes not from the left or the right, from I / malfeasance, national security and government
the Administration or Congress, but from federal judges, Peter Scheer corruption-all subjects for which confidential sources
prosecutors and litigants who no longer feel constrained by are not merely desirable, but indispensable. The best
law, ethics or policy from demanding that journalists disclose their example in contemporary history is the reporting by Washington
confidential sources. Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that uncovered
It is estimated that during the past year more than 70 journalists the Watergate scandals. The secrecy surrounding their most
and news organizations have been involved in disputes with valuable confidential source, FBI official Mark Felt (aka "Deep
prosecutors and litigants in federal court over access to Throat"), lasted more than 30 years and was lifted only recently
unpublished, confidential information. Dozens have received by Felt himself.
The subpoenas demanding records or The judicial threat is almost uniquely federal. Forty-nine states
B k P testimony; one journalist, Jim and the District of Columbia, through legislation or court decision,
B ac P ag Taricani, a television reporter in have adopted "shield laws" providing an evidentiary privilege for
By Peter Scheer Rhode Island, has already served reporters-much like the privileges enjoyed by clergy, lawyers
y Peer aeer sentence for refusing to identify and psychotherapists-to keep secret information given them in
an anonymous source; and at least nine journalists have been held confidence. Although some federal judicial circuits also recognize
in contempt and currently face the threat of imminent incarceration such a privilege, most do not, and the Supreme Court's recent
or heavy fines (or both), including New York Times reporter Judith decision not to review a crucial contempt ruling against reporters
Miller, who was ordered jailed in July. (Time magazine reporter Miller and Cooper leaves no room for hope that the federal courts
Matthew Cooper, explaining that his source had expressly relieved will, on their own, end the assault on press freedom.
him of his secrecy obligation, announced that he would cooperate Accordingly, we look to Congress for action on this urgent
with the Special Counsel.) matter. Congress now has before it several bills to establish a
The threat against the press is not new in American history. reporter's evidentiary privilege in federal proceedings. We urge
During British colonial rule, writer John Peter Zenger refused to members of California's Congressional delegation, Democrats and
reveal his sources while serving a sentence for libelingg" the Republicans alike, to come together and support the most
governor of New York, and Benjamin Franklin declined to name the promising of these bills. The issue is no longer whether a federal
confidential sources for stories appearing in his brother's "shield law" is needed; the issue, rather, is how soon it can be
newspaper in Philadelphia. What is new is the pervasiveness and enacted. Freedom of speech, upon which all our freedoms depend,
intensity of the threat. We have moved from a climate in which hangs in the balance.
federal courts were, under a variety of legal theories, protective of
reporters' confidential sources, to a climate in which a wave of Peter Scheer is the executive director of the California First
federal court subpoenas now places the independence of the press Amendment Coalition. He has worked as an editor and
injeopardy. publisher of legal publications as well as practiced law.