Volume 30, Number 1 U A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information U College of Journalism and Communications U University of Florida
Media win right to examine photographs
TALLAHASSEE The Florida Su- The Court of Appeals agreed with me-
preme Court refused to review a decision dia attorneys that access to the evidence
by the 2nd District Court of Appeals that was an important element of a public trial.
grants members of the media access to "The broadest issue in this case is
photographs in the Carlie whether the State can rely
Brucia murder case. A C C E SS upon secret evidence to obtain
Attorneys for four Florida a conviction for a capital
media outlets had fought the RECORDS offense," Judge Chris Alten-
trial judge's closure order, bernd wrote for the Court
which prevented the media and the public of Appeals. "Although Mr. Smith's trial
from being able to view crime-scene and has been broadcast on television and
autopsy photos that had been entered into conducted in an open, public courtroom,
evidence in the case. these specific items of evidence have been
The attorneys did not request the right concealed from all members of the public
to publish or broadcast the photographs, and the press."
but instead sought access merely to in- The photographs, used by the state
spect the pictures. in its capital murder case against Joseph
Dow Jones seeks limits on order
WASHINGTON Dow Jones & Co.
Inc., which publishes The Wall Street
Journal, asked a federal district court
to limit a protective order that would
prevent I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from
publicly disclosing materials obtained in
Libby was indicted in late October
on counts of perjury and obstruction
of justice that arose out of a federal
prosecutor's investigation into the leak
that uncovered CIA operative Valerie
The prosecutor's proposed protective
order would limit access to all "material
produced by the government in prepara-
tion for or in conjunction with any state
of the proceedings" in the case.
The Federal Rules of Criminal Pro-
cedure require that a protective order in
a criminal case be supported by "good
cause," which Dow Jones' attorneys
argue is not present.
Attorneys for the media company as-
sert that Fitzgerald has made no show-
ing to justify secrecy of the documents.
UF instructor demands e-mails
GAINESVILLE After heavily
amending his complaint, University of
Florida instructor Charles Grapski re-filed
his lawsuit against UF President Bernie
He seeks the release of records relating
to the financing of Gator Growl, a pep
rally during UF's Homecoming.
Grapski's earlier suit was dismissed
after a judge ruled that he had misled the
court by failing to inform the court that
some documents had been provided.
Grapski re-initiated his actions,
amending his complaint with informa-
tion obtained from the records UF had
Grapski now seeks the release of nu-
merous e-mails to Machen, which Grap-
ski claims Machen improperly deletes
after he reads them.
P. Smith, contained nude images of the
The trial judge sealed the photographs
after the victim's father requested they be
confidential and shown only to the jury.
The Court of Appeals ordered that
each of the four petitioning media outlets
be allowed to send one journalist to view
the photographic evidence.
After the state Supreme Court refused
to hear the case, Florida Attorney General
Charlie Crist made an emergency appeal
to the U.S. Supreme Court requesting a
stay of the photographs' release.
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy
reviewed the emergency appeal and de-
nied the state's request for a stay.
now available in
TALLAHASSEE A new Web site
will allow customers to investigate the
safety and quality of Florida's more than
State health officials unveiled the site,
which lists a hospital's performance in 20
areas. Included among the information
are the death rates for patients undergoing
The site also details complications of
hospitalization, such as bed sores and
blood clots, incurred by patients who are
treated at the facility.
The site www.floridacomparecare.
gov attracted so much use during its
first days that it was unavailable at times.
More than 75,000 Web surfers logged on
in the first hour alone.
Officials created the site at the direc-
tion of the Legislature, which passed a
law in 2004 requiring public disclosure of
infection rates and other key information
related to medical care.
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
County agrees to release local official's records
JACKSONVILLE Mayor John The records were unavailable both in Both Duval County Clerk of Court Jim
Peyton's public records will soon be person and online, unlike those of other Fuller and Property Appraiser Jim Overton
available to the public after remaining out officials, said that withholding the records was a
of the sunshine for up to 18 months. Pevton's records were marked con- mistake.
fidential after law enforcement officials
received threats against the mayor.
After reporters at the Jacksonville
Times-Union pressed officials for the
documents, they agreed to release them.
Ruling allows FEMA records
to remain out of public view
FORT MYERS The names and
addresses of hurricane victims who
received federal aid will remain under
seal, according to a recent federal rul-
U.S. District Court Judge John
Steele denied a request from Florida
newspapers for access to 2004 hurri-
cane records from the Federal Emer-
gency Management Agency.
The newspapers sought the records
to investigate FEMA's handling of
the more than $5.6 billion distributed
throughout the state to victims of the
Steele said in his opinion that the
release of such information would con-
stitute a "clearly unwarranted invasion
Steele did order the agency to turn
over records indicating how it advised
President Bush regarding federal aid
Although recommendations made
to Bush will remain secret, officials
must release portions of the documents
related to talking points, background
information and facts.
Courtroom camera legislation
garners approval of House
WASHINGTON The U.S. House The legislation was backed by bi-
of Representatives voted in favor of partisan support, including Reps. Steve
proposed legislation that would allow Chabot (R-Ohio) and John Conyers (D-
federal district and appellate court pro- Mich.).
ceedings to be televised. It attempts to extend camera access to
The proposal, which allows judges federal courtrooms in much the same way
to maintain discretion with regard to the that cameras have been allowed in the
recording, passed 375-45. state courts.
Republicans voted 221-1 in favor of Currently, cameras are allowed in
the amendment while Democrats were some form of court proceeding in all 50
split 153-44. states.
The bill would amend the "Secure More than 40 states allow coverage
Access to Justice and Court Protection in both their trial and appellate court
Act" to include provisions of the "Sun- proceedings.
shine in the Courtroom Act." The bill now travels to the U.S. Sen-
The proposal would allow cameras ate, where similar legislation has been
and recording devices in federal courts proposed by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-
on a three-year trial basis. Iowa) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Duval County officials had been
withholding documents that are normally
accessible to the public, including the
mayor's marriage license, deeds, mort-
gage forms and property records.
2 The Brechner Report January 2006
Peyton was unaware that his records were
not available and had listed his property on
financial disclosure forms.
"I think full disclosure is appropriate," he
power for closing
NAPLES Collier County commis-
sioners voted to decrease the power of the
Collier County Productivity Committee
after it was found to be in violation of the
state's Sunshine Law.
An internal investigation revealed that
ACCESS ity Committee
^V^ACCESS y Chad excluded
MEETINGS a candidate for
position from a public meeting in order to
discuss the candidate.
As a result, the Productivity Committee
will no longer rank candidates for open
In the past, the group had screened
candidates and made ranked recommenda-
tions to the County Commission.
The investigation began after the
Chamber of Commerce complained about
the committee's actions during its discus-
The committee asked one candidate,
Brad Boaz of Barron Collier Partner-
ship, to leave a June meeting where the
Productivity Committee was evaluating
candidates to recommend to the County
Deputy County Manager Leo Ochs
determined after the investigation that
Boaz should not have been asked to leave
the room during the Productivity Commis-
sion's discussion of candidates.
The Sunshine Law requires that meet-
ings of publicly elected and appointed
bodies be open to the public unless they
are closed in accordance with exceptions
to the law.
Island publisher settles lawsuit over 2001 arrest
KEY WEST The publisher of an
island weekly newspaper will receive a
$40,000 settlement after he spent three
hours in jail.
Publisher Dennis Reeves Cooper
was arrested in June 2001 for publish-
ing information about a complaint that
he had filed against the island's police
Cooper published the information
POMPANO BEACH Four city
commissioners charged with breaking
Florida's Open Meetings Law will have
to defend themselves in court.
Circuit Judge Robert W. Lee denied
their request to dismiss the non-criminal
Their attorney will now have to re-
spond to the complaint filed by the State
The charges stem from a June 2004
breakfast at the Mr. Latin Grill, where the
four officials met with Broward Sheriff
Ken Jenne to discuss crime reporting.
The meeting between Jenne and
commissioners George Brummer, Kay
McGinn, Lamar Fisher, and Susan Foster
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, PO Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
http //www brechner org
e-mail brechnerreport@jou ufl edu
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Exec. Director/Exec. Editor
Amy Kristin Sanders, Editor
Alana Kolifrath, Production Coordinator
Anaklara Hering, Production Assistant
Christina Locke, Production Assistant
The BrechnerReport is published 12 times a
year under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation The Brechner Report is ajoint 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 Soci-
ety of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L Brechner
about his complaint to the Florida De-
partment of Law Enforcement for two
After publishing the information,
Cooper was arrested on a warrant sworn
out by Police Chief Buz Dillon, whose
police department had been the sub-
ject of much criticism in Key West The
The settlement comes after the llth
had not been publicized.
The law requires that meetings of
elected or appointed bodies be open to
the public, that notice of the meeting be
posted and that minutes of the meeting
The law prohibits closed discussions,
whether formal or informal, between two
or more members of the same board on a
topic on which the board is expected to
In March, city activist Ed Stanton,
who has since run against McGinn,
complained to the State Attorney's Office
after he learned about the meeting.
The commissioners contend there was
no discussion in violation of the law.
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that
the law under which Cooper was arrested
The state statute forbade people who
filed a complaint against a law enforce-
ment official from discussing the case.
In addition to Cooper's $40,000 set-
tlement, his attorney's fees will also be
paid. That part of the settlement amounts
FERNANDINA BEACH City
Clerk Cassandra Mitchell will be sus-
pended with pay while the State Attor-
ney's Office investigates the release of
employee Social Security numbers.
The Fernandina Beach Commission
voted to take action against Mitchell
PRIVACY after she
mation while filling a records request.
The numbers were included in an e-
mail to a former city commissioner who
had requested salary information.
City Attorney Debra Braga ruled the
practice violated the law.
However, Mitchell said the release
Court considers prisoner news case
WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme
Court will hear arguments this term in a
case dealing with the free-speech rights
of Pennsylvania prisoners.
The justices agreed to review Banks
v. Beard, a case in which the 3rd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a ban
on most reading materials and personal
photographs violated their free-speech
The inmates who challenged the ban
were members of a segregation unit,
where prisoners remain in their cells for
23 hours a day and are rarely allowed to
communicate with others.
Attorneys for the state argued that the
restrictions are only imposed on disrup-
tive prisoners who have not responded
to other punishments. As a part of their
petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, state
attorneys quoted a dissent by Supreme
Court nominee Samuel Alito.
Alito dissented in the case, arguing
that the state should be allowed to with-
hold the news and that prison officials
could use reading materials as a reward
to encourage good inmate behavior.
IfAlito is confirmed, he will likely
have to recuse himself and allow the
eight other justices to decide the case.
The Brechner Report U January 2006
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
City officials will face charges
resulting from 2004 breakfast
Online registries shouldn't
The term "sex offender" became a regular part of
the news media's vocabulary in 2005 as a series of
high-profile abductions and slaying made headlines
across the nation. In Florida, Jessica Lunsford, 9,
and Sarah Lunde, 13, were each allegedly killed by
a sex offender. Shasta Groene, 8, was allegedly ab-
ducted by a sex offender from a grisly murder scene
at her Idaho home.
But before Jessica, Sarah or Shasta, a little girl Christinc
from New Jersey named Megan Kanka became the
namesake for laws that require those who commit sex crimes
to register with the government and for some of that informa-
tion to be released to the public. Megan, 7, was killed by a
neighbor who had twice been convicted of sex crimes against
children. Her parents were shocked that he was allowed to
live so close without their knowledge, and they lobbied the
The federal government for a solu-
B k P tion. Megan's Laws, as they are
B ack ra e commonly known, are in effect
By Christina Locke in every state and the District of
Most states use the Internet as one way of releasing sex of-
fender information to the public, and most states have incor-
porated this notification method into their statutes. Online sex
offender registries allow users to search for offenders by name
or within a certain county, ZIP Code or radius from a specified
location. The search capabilities vary from state to state, as
does the information posted about each offender. In general,
the offender's photograph, name and any aliases, home ad-
dress, and the nature of his or her conviction are made avail-
able on the Internet.
Sex offenders in Alaska and Connecticut have challenged
the publication of their personal information on the Internet all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2003, the Court struck
down claims of unconstitutionality-specifically, ex post facto
and due process violations-in Smith v. Doe and Connecticut
Department of Public Safety v. Doe. Writing for the majority
in Smith, Justice Kennedy described Internet registries as "ef-
ficient, cost effective, and convenient" for the public.
t be an easy way out
Sex offender registry Web sites have cleared both
statutory and Supreme Court hurdles. But do they
really work? The push for Internet registries is based
on the premise that citizens will seek out information
about offenders who live near them and be better
able to protect themselves. One problem with this
theory is that studies show most sex crimes against
children are not committed by strangers who might
Locke move next door, but by individuals whom the chil-
dren know-relatives, family friends, etc.
The online registries themselves can be problematic both in
content and in substance. First, the information is not guaran-
teed to be accurate, as the disclaimers on many of these sites
warn. So even if concerned parents check online registries,
the information they glean from database searches may be
inaccurate if public officials do not consistently update the reg-
istries. If parents don't take this problem seriously, they may
be lulled into a false sense of security of which researchers in
the area of sex offender management warn.
The second problem facing the efficacy of online registries
is the ability of the average citizen to understand the informa-
tion he or she gets. For example, Florida's Internet registry
contains an entry for Johnny Evander Couey, the suspect in
Jessica Lunsford's death. His physical description and loca-
tion are easy to understand, but the information about his prior
offense is not. "Lewd, Lascivious Child U/16 (Principal In At-
tempt)" is the extent of information offered as to why Couey is
a registered sex offender. The gender of his victim is listed as
"unknown," and the site visitor has no idea when the 47-year-
old committed the crime. These details can be important in
helping a parent gauge the type of a threat they may face.
If the privacy rights of a certain class of individuals are to
be compromised, even justifiably so, it shouldn't be just be-
cause it is "convenient" or because the laws are popular with
the public it should be because they work.
Christina Locke is the 2006 editor or d, Brechner Report and a
M.A./J.D. student at the University ofFlorida. She was frequent con-
tributor to the Report, and her research has focused on access issues.