Volume 29, Number 10 U A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of I,,r 1 .1.. a. College ofJournalism and Communications U University ofFlorida
Report reveals nature of federal FOI requests
WASHINGTON- A majority of the Services and the Social Security agencies are often les
public records requests made under the Administration. concluded that those
federal Freedom of Information Act are For example, the Social
not made by the news media, according Security Administration FR E E D O M
to a recent report. received more than 1.8
After requests reached an all-time millionrequests from OF INFORMATION
high in 2004, the study, which was individuals seeking their
conducted by the Coalition of own Social Security records. The report records is also unlike
Journalists for Open Government, concluded that requestors who seek their favorably for a reque
concluded that most requests are from own information are likely to get a report. While the Sta
individuals seeking personal information positive response in a timely fashion, appeals almost 60 pe
from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Responses for requestors who seek Justice Department n
the Department of Health and Human non-personal information from other appeal in only 6 perc
Appeals court allows SI reporter Pro gofe
to maintain confidential source
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -A reporterfor confidentiality of a source who provided
Sports Illustrated will not have to reveal information for a story Yaeger wrote
the name of his confidential about former Alabama
source, according to the U.S. SH IE LD football coach Mike Price's
Court of Appeals for the sexual relationship with
Eleventh Circuit. LAVW S two dancers he met at a
But, the Alabama shield Florida strip club.
law under whichjournalist Don Yaeger The judges wrote that the First
sought protection does not apply to Amendment requires that reasonable
magazines, according to efforts be made to discover the
the three-judge panel. information through alternative means
That law is limited to newspapers, before a journalist is compelled to reveal
television stations and radio information.
broadcasting. Price wanted the name of the source
However, the judges relied on the First to obtain information for his pending
Amendment to provide Yaeger with a defamation suit against the national
qualified privilege to maintain the sports magazine.
Officials cleared in meetings case
NORTH PORT Three North Port An investigation by the North Port
city commissioners and the police found no wrongdoing.
city's attorney did not violate A C C E SS The officials didn't act
the Sunshine Law, according withcriminalintent,
to a police investigation. MEETINGS according to Sgt. Ed
Former City Commissioner Fitzpatrick.
Joseph Fink claimed they violated state "The people responsible for correctly
statutes and the state's Open Meetings conducting the city's business were
Law when they discussed abandoned acting under the guidance of legal
lots in meetings and an executive counsel, and believed their actions were
session inDecember2004. within legal bounds," Fitzpatrick said.
;s timely. The report
requests are fulfilled
only 66 percent of
appeal of an
agency's denial of
ly to come out
stor, according to the
te Department granted
recent of the time, the
uled in favor of an
ent of cases.
JACKSONVILLE -Professional golfer
John Daly sued The Florida Times-
Union, claiming that a column in the
newspaper defamed him.
Daly asserts that columnist Mike
Freeman's article, which appeared during
LIBEL Championship in
statements that Daly was a thug who
The lawsuit, which was filed in Duval
County Circuit Court, seeks an
unspecified amount of damages in excess
of $15,000 and requests ajury trial in the
Times- Union editor Pat Yack defended
Freeman and his March column.
The lawsuit names The Times-Union,
its Web site Jacksonville.com, its parent
company Morris Publishing Group and
The newspaper ran a clarification in
July, explaining that Daly had been
charged in 1992 with domestic violence
and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of
Judge allows sheriff to subpoena Internet records
TAMPA A judge ruled that the
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office can
subpoena the records of a Web site in an
attempt to determine which of its
deputies anonymously posted comments.
Luke Lirot, an attorney for the Web
site, said he will fight the subpoenas.
"We will probably move to take
whatever steps are appropriate to protect
the identity of the people who are
A&M University football coach Billy Joe
initiated a public records lawsuit against
the school in an attempt to gain access to
documents related to his firing.
Joe's attorney argued that he has a
right to know what evidence the
university considered when making the
decision to terminate his contract.
Joe compiled an 86-46 record during
his 11 years at the university.
He and two assistants were fired in
June, with university officials claiming
the termination was related to NCAA rule
violations for player recruiting and
FAMU was stripped of two
conference titles in 2000 and 2001 after an
investigation uncovered more than 190
NCAA violations throughout the
university's athletic programs.
Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or
!,. 'hi,,. 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 of Florida, Gainesville,
FL 32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.
posting on the Web site," he said. "If
they choose to do so express their
opinions and remain anonymous that is
their fundamental right."
Judge William Levens ruled that
www.leoaffairs.com could be subpoenaed
to gain access to the Internet Service
Provider addresses used to access the
site. With those addresses, the Sheriff's
Office could approach ISPs to link the
MANATEE Manatee County
court officials wil begin wading
through millions of electronic court
records to remove Social Security
numbers and other sensitive personal
information in the hope that they are
once again allowed on the Internet.
Circuit Court ClerkR.B. "Chips"
Shore and his staff will use a software
program to redact portions of the
records they are sorting through.
They will be among the first in the
state to use this method for redaction
of electronic records, according to the
Florida Association of Court Clerks.
DAYTONABEACH- Circuit Judge
Joseph Will authorized gag orders in
the cases of five teen-agers accused of
beating a homeless man.
The order was drafted by attorney
Jake Kaney, who represented The
Daytona Beach News-Journal in the
case, and revised by prosecutors and
defense attorneys during a court
appearance in late August.
Under the agreement, autopsy
photos will be sealed until further court
Crime-scene photos and defendant
statements are subject to court review
before they are released.
"All other records are going to be
addresses to specific deputies.
Lirot said he believes the First
Amendment will protect the officers who
have chosen to post comments on the
Sheriff David Gee said the office has
valid reasons to identify the deputies.
One message bragged about using a
Taser-type stun gun to force a
confession from a black suspect, he said.
Although online access to records
in Manatee County was suspended in
March 2004 after the Florida Supreme
Court issued a moratorium while a
committee studied the issue, Shore
said he hopes that the redacted
records can be made available for
electronic viewing on terminals in his
He said he estimates the process of
going through back records will take
about four months to complete.
However, the office has no plans
to examine microfilm records, which
available for review once they are turned
over to the defense (attorneys)," Kaney
Assistant Public Defender Mitch
Wrenn, who represents one of the five
teenage defendants, requested the gag
Christopher Scamahor, 14, Warren
Messner, 15, Jeffery Spurgeon, 18, and
Justin Steams, 18, are being held without
bail after being charged with murder in
the May 25 death of 53-year-old Michael
The fifth teen, Phi Huynh, 15, was
released on bail pending trial on an
aggravated battery charge stemming
from the same incident.
The Brechner Report U October 2005
County readies to wage battle against
personal information in online records
Documents sealed in trial of teens
accused of killing homeless man
City desires access to workers' Super Bowl files
have asked the Jacksonville Super
Bowl Host Committee to release
records produced for them by four
city-paid employees who had been
assigned to the nonprofit group.
The committee coordinated efforts
and aided the National Football
League in staging the 2005
Committee co-chairman Tom
Petway responded to a request by the
Jacksonville Business Journal, stating
that the committee, as a nonprofit
agency, was not subject to the state's
Public Records Law.
When the Business Journal
requested the records from Jacksonville
city officials, they responded by saying
that the committee's records were in
possession of an attorney with Foley &
Lardner LLP, which has an office in
Dade judge issues gag order in trial
of ex-FBI agent accused of murder
MIAMI -More than 100,000 protecting Boston's Winter Hill gang
records in the state's murder case and its leaders, James "Whitey" Bulger
against former Boston FBI agent John and Stepen"the Rifleman" Flemmi.
Connolly will not be released to the Attorneys for The Boston Globe
public after a Miami-Dade judge and The Hartford Courant argued that
ordered them sealed. the records should be public, as most
Connolly has been charged with records turned over to defense
first-degree murder in Florida for the attorneys are under Florida law.
1982 death ofjai-alai executive John Circuit Judge Barbara Areces agreed
Callahan. to seal the records, and her reasoning
Callahan, who was murdered at the will remain secret as well.
Miami International Airport, was "If we say what it is, then we say
reportedly planning to cooperate with what it is," she said, explaining why
authorities investigating corruption. her rationale will also remain
Local prosecutors asked that the undisclosed.
records not be disclosed under an Connolly was convicted of other
agreement with federal prosecutors in racketeering and obstruction of justice
Boston who had previously charged charges. He is currently serving a 10-
Connolly with racketeering for year prison sentence.
However, attorneys at the law firm
have denied having access to the
According to city records, more than
$2.6 million in cash and $1.9 million in in-
kind services were provided by the city
to the host committee.
Another $1.5 million was provided for
SuperFest, a public party during the
access to records
of child's case
FT. MYERS A Lee County judge
ruled in favor of the Ft. Myers News-
Press, granting the newspaper access
to records from the state's Department
of Children and Family Services.
The newspaper requested access to
records of E.J., a minor female who was
in the custody of DCF.
Judge James H. Sales wrote in his
opinion that the newspaper had shown
good cause to access the records and
that DCF could provide no competent
evidence of real harm to the child as a
result of the release.
Seals noted the paper would have
been allowed by law to attend E.J.'s
hearing if the paper had known of it.
Miami columnist faces no charges in
taping incident with deceased official
MIAMI -- Former Miami Herald
columnist Jim DeFede will not be
prosecuted for taping a conversation
withformerMiami leader Arthur Teele,
who later killed himself in the
The ex-commissioner shot himself
only hours after his conversation with
DeFede has been quoted as saying
that he "wanted to preserve the record,'
after he noticed that Teele, a longtime
source, was acting in an unusual
Although taping a conversation
without permission is a criminal offense
in Florida, DeFede lacked the malicious
intent needed for prosecution, according
to a memo by Assistant State Attorney
Centorino's memo also noted that it
was the unique circumstances
surrounding the death that led to his
conclusion and that no special
journalistic privilege was granted to
DeFede, who cooperated with
DeFede was fired by The Herald after
he informed his editor of the taping.
The Brechner Report U October 2005
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Advocates must emphasize accuracy as well as access
As I was sitting in an airport trying to return to
Gainesville after spending nearly a week convening
with journalism educators from around the nation, I
came to an important realization: access to information
is important, but access to accurate information is
I have studied and written about both state and
federal freedom of information laws during my law and
doctoral studies, but it took a commercial airline to make
me realize that not only must the public demand access Amy S
to information, it must not settle for records and
documents that are inaccurate or incomplete.
Under freedom of information laws, government officials have
The an obligation to disclose
Bk P information requested by the
B a k Pe general public. Reciprocal to that
By Amy Sanders obligation is the responsibility of
the public to ensure that
information is both complete and accurate.
This obligation falls primarily on attorneys and members of the
press, two groups who frequently come into contact with such
records. The public, too, has a responsibility to request that
government provide all the necessary information to make the
Inaccuracies in public records can create problems for law
enforcement, the media and even the average citizen. Numerous
industries, include credit agencies, rely on public records as they
gather information about applicants and make business decisions.
Typographical errors, incorrect entries and misidentified persons in
records can cause headaches, financial difficulties and even legal
Transposing digits in a Social Security number or failing to
include a middle initial has the potential to lead to a variety of
troubles from inaccurate credit reports to improper arrests.
Denying public access to records is hardly the solution to this
situation. Instead, informing citizens about the existence of public
records and how to examine them is the best medicine. After all,
most of these problems can be easily corrected with proper
oversight by records custodians, attorneys and the individuals
about whom the records are maintained.
Attorneys, whose daily tasks often include filing court
records and examining government documents, should
strive to make sure records are complete and accurate. The
American Bar Association's Model Code of Professional
Conduct expresses this desire by addressing both candor
to the courts and truthfulness in communications with
Journalists, too, have a responsibility to ensure that the
documents they rely upon in their reporting contain
'ders information that is believable. Like attorneys, professional
journalists also are encouraged by their codes of ethics to
engage only in truthful communications. The Society of
Professional Journalists Code of Ethics mandates that reporters
must seek truth and report it.
And, finally, the members of the public must take responsibility
to ensure that their own records are accurate and up-to-date.
Under FOIA, individual citizens can request their own information,
including Social Security records and other personal files.
Incomplete information also poses a threat to all of us. It has
even kept well-known people such as Sen. Edward Kennedy from
being able to fly after his name was mistakenly included on the
national No-Fly List.
Congress intended the public to be able to verify the accuracy
of information the government collects and included provisions in
the Privacy Act of 1974 that allow individuals the right to inspect
Individuals may contact an agency's Privacy Act Officer and
request copies of their records under the Privacy Act. Inaccuracies
in these records may be corrected through an amendment process
that allows the requestor to provide proof of the inaccuracy.
The Privacy Act and FOIA work together to ensure access to
accurate information. Access to public records is important, but
access to accurate and complete information is imperative.
After all, knowing that an airplane was parked at my gate was of
little value after I found out the airline had already canceled service
to Gainesville for the rest of the day.
Amy Sanders is the editor of the Brechner Report and a Ph.D.
student at UF's College of Journalism and Communications. She
earned her law degree from the University oflowa College ofLaw.