Volume 30, Number 3 0 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
Former North Bay commissioner faces probation
NORTH BAY VILLAGE A former
commissioner of North Bay Village has
pleaded no contest to two Sunshine Law
violations. Armand Abecassis,
67, was arrested in April 2004 on A
charges of conspiring with then-
Mayor Alan Dome to remove the ME
Abecassis received six months of
probation as part of his plea agreement
for the two second-degree misdemeanor
charges. He is also required to perform
50 hours of community service, pay court
costs and donate $1,000 to the United
"There aren't that many occasions of
Sunshine Law violations in the state," said
Joseph Centorino, chief of the Public Cor-
ruption Unit of the State
SAttorney's Office. "This
E S was probably one of the
SETINGS most serious violations.
Any matter [commission-
ers] are going to vote on, they should not
Dome pleaded no contest to three
counts of violating Florida's Open Meet-
ings Law in March 2005. Dome's plea
deal to the second-degree misdemeanor
charges included six months probation, a
Web posts remain anonymous
TAMPA Comments on a Times. Employee comments that are
law enforcement Web site's mes- disruptive to the work of the agency
sage board will remain anonymous, have already been ordered removed.
according to a decision by Hillsbor- Judge Crenshaw ruled that the Web
ough County Circuit Judge Marva L. site postings were mostly opinions.
Crenshaw. The Sheriff's Of-
The Hillsborough FIR T fice previously sought
County Sheriff's Office F 1 names of Web site
sought the identities of AMENDMENT visitors who posted
people who posted criti- comments related to the
cal remarks on the Web Sabrina Aisenberg miss-
site www.leoaffairs.com. The Sher- ing baby case. The identities of those
iff's Office's interest in the names individuals who posted the comments
was to identify possible employee were also protected on First Amend-
posts, according to the St. Petersburg ment grounds.
Jet fuel company sues Sanford
SANFORD A former airline fuel in excess of $100 million, alleging that
company is suing the city of Sanford and the city violated the agreement by doing
the Sanford Airport Authority, claiming business with another fuel company.
secret meetings cost the company mil- The meetings that led to the business
lions. with the other company were done in se-
Jett Aire alleges the defendants vio- cret and were in violation of the Sunshine
lated a 1994 agreement establishing Jett Law, Jett Aire alleges.
Aire as the Fixed Base Operator provid- City officials declined to comment on
ingjet fuel at the Sanford airport. The the litigation, according to The Sanford
now defunct company seeks damages Herald.
300-hour community service requirement
and an order to pay over $20,000 in court
and investigation costs.
Abecassis is the fourth convicted North
Bay Village public official in two years,
according to The Miami Herald. All of the
officials lost their position as a result.
Former Commissioner David Fleischer
received four years of probation for
charges of bribery and corruption.
Robert Drugger left the commission
and is serving two years of probation for
charges of conflict of interest and fail-
ure to comply with financial disclosure
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY The
State Attorney's Office is investigat-
ing possible Sunshine Law violations
by members of the Indian River School
Complaints received by the office
stemmed from the board's recent vote to
fire Superintendent Tom Maher.
The complaints allege that board mem-
bers talked about the vote prior to the Dec.
13 meeting and that board member Ann
Reuter tried to pass a note regarding the
vote during the meeting.
Board Chairman Bill Hughes refused
to the pass the note from Reuter to Vice
Chairman Kathryn Wilson, according to
the Vero Beach Press Journal.
Reuter denied the allegations.
Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor
did not have an estimate of how long it
would take to complete the investigation.
Florida's Sunshine Law prohibits two
or more members of the same board from
privately discussing an issue that could
come before them in a vote.
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
College board's vote is challenged a second time
OKALOOSA COUNTY -A com-
munity college board's vote to sell land to
developers has been called into question
for the second time.
The Okaloosa-Walton College Founda-
tion board's first vote, at a closed meeting
in January 2005, was questioned after
Attorney General Charlie Crist ruled that
"direct support organizations" of com-
munity colleges are subject to Florida's
PALM BEACH COUNTY -A
prison watchdog organization has filed
suit against a Florida prison operator, al-
leging Public Records Law violations.
Prison Legal News filed a public
records complaint against the Boca Ra-
ton-based Geo Group.
Geo Group is a private company that
builds and manages prisons throughout
the country. The company has contracts
with the state of Florida to run three
prisons, according to The News Herald
In April, Prison Legal News requested
documents related to lawsuits against
Geo Group, contract audits, violations
and court-ordered injunctions.
Prison Legal News, which publishes
The board met again in May 2005 to
comply with the Sunshine Law and voted
for a second time to sell the land.
But an environmental advocacy group
now claims that the second meeting also
violated the Sunshine Law.
Pensacola Gulf Coast Keepers argued
before Okaloosa County Judge Patricia
Grinsted in December.
"There was not a full discussion of
the motion," argued the environmental
a monthly newsletter on prison issues,
claims the company responded with
The nonprofit group argued that be-
cause of Geo Group's contracts with the
state, the company falls under Florida's
Public Records Law.
"Without the...public records, the
(publication) cannot determine whether
or not the taxpayers and the prison-
ers at Geo facilities are receiving a fair
return and the services required," the
suit stated, according to The Palm Beach
The Post also reported that spokes-
man Pablo Paez said Geo Group hasn't
taken a position on whether it falls under
the Public Records Law.
Family of man killed in raid
seeks Sunrise SWAT records
SUNRISE The family of a 23- well as strategy notes and records speci
year-old man killed during a SWAT team to the Aug. 5, 2005 raid.
drug raid is suing the city of Sunrise Attorneys for the city defended the
for allegedly violating Florida's Public city's actions, arguing that the documer
Records Law. were not public because they were part
Anthony Diotaiuto was fatally shot at an ongoing investigation or would reve
his home while the SWAT team executed police secrets.
a search warrant.
Lawyers for Diotaiuto's family claim
the city of Sunrise illegally denied parts
of a public records request and ignored
three other requests.
The documents requested included
SWAT policies and training manuals as
The State Attorney's Office in Bro-
ward County is still investigating whether
Diotaiuto's death was justified.
Police thought Diotaiuto was selling
drugs in his home, according to the South
Florida Sun-Sentinel. Diotaiuto was shot
10 times during the raid.
group's attorney, Steve Medina. "There
was like zippo discussion of the motion,"
The college's attorney, Bruce Culpep-
per, said the foundation board was in full
compliance with the Sunshine Law.
"The public was in attendance, as was
the press, television, everybody," Culpepper
said. "It was a very public meeting."
Judge Grinsted said she will study the
motions and then issue a ruling.
MANATEE The first county in
Florida to post court documents online
is also one of the first counties to test
software that redacts sensitive informa-
tion from records.
Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit
Court R.B. "Chips" Shore volunteered
his office to serve as a pilot program for
"ID Shield" software.
The move came in response to state
legislation passed in 2005 that man-
dates county clerks of court to redact
Social Security numbers, bank account
numbers, credit card details and other
sensitive information from all online
Shore's office must go through ap-
proximately 18-million pages of official
records and court documents.
The software, which costs a one-
time licensing fee of $21,890, was used
to redact about 400,000 pages of docu-
ments as of late December.
ID Shield scans the documents and
searches for patterns, such as "SSN" or
"SS#," to redact.
Linda Proffitt-Sprindis, director of
technology services, said non-redacted
images will be kept on file in case
non-sensitive information is mistakenly
In 1994, Manatee County was the
first county in Florida to post court
2 The Brechner Report U March 2006
Watchdog organization questions
prison operator's records status
FDLE shuts down popular
South Florida radio station
MIRAMAR -A popular South
Florida radio station has been pulled off
the airwaves for operating without an
The Florida Department of Law
Enforcement (FDLE) shut down the
Caribbean-themed Vibez radio station,
which has been broadcasting for almost
The station's parent company, In
Vibration, won construction permits from
the FCC in 2004 but later defaulted on a
down payment and lost the permits.
The FDLE has closed about four sta-
tions since a new anti-piracy law took
effect last summer, according to FDLE
spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes.
The law makes it a third-degree felony
to broadcast without a license or to inter-
fere with signals of other stations.
Equipment was seized from Vibez, but
no one was arrested.
MAITLAND Developers of
condominium-retail projects in Maitland
and Winter Park have sued critics of their
projects for libel, conspiracy and tortious
Critics describe such actions as strate-
gic lawsuits against public participation,
or SLAPP suits.
Broad Street Partners and an affiliated
company, Central Park Station Partners,
have each filed suit against critics in Mai-
tland and Winter Park, respectively.
"People say things without any
responsibility for what they say," said
Central Park Station Partners' attorney,
Hal Kantor. "This suit says we're going
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to hold you responsible for what you
Kantor's suit targets two officers of
OneWinterPark, a group critical of some
"I do think the lawsuit was filed to
intimidate individuals and for no other
reason," said David Strong, a board
member of the group who is named in
Several more defendants are expected
in each case. Florida is one of 25 states
with some form of anti-SLAPP legisla-
tion. Florida's anti-SLAPP statute only
applies in situations in which a govern-
ment agency sues a citizen.
BACK PAGE cc
another trait: They routinely censor
themselves to some degree in their com-
munications with others in the name of
civility as well as their own privacy. But
there is a great difference in censoring
ourselves for those reasons and censoring
ourselves because we fear being caught
up in a government investigation.
Too often, under the immutable
scrutiny of government investigators,
data don't lie. In government databases,
such information is susceptible to a wide
range of actions that expand the power
to invade, deter, expose, harass, punish
The ready answer to such concerns,
of course, is that if a person is not
doing anything illegal, threatening or
embarrassing, he or she shouldn't have
anything to worry about. That ready answer
is too easy.
In today's world, these concerns would
not be so real if government officials did
not insist that they have the right to arrest
citizens without charges and imprison them
without access to counsel or the judicial
These concerns would not be so pressing
if abuses of similar powers had not occurred
as recently as the 1960s and 1970s.
These concerns would not be so urgent if
government officials did not make mistakes,
or overreach or have at their disposal bil-
lions of bits and bytes of data purporting to
represent the real lives of ordinary Ameri-
cans guilty of nothing more sinister than
believing that the First Amendment means
what it says.
The Brechner Report U March 2006
Developers sue project critics
reach truce in
BARTOW The ACLU and Polk
County have reached a temporary
agreement in their battle over a free
speech zone. The ACLU filed suit in
federal court against the county, claim-
ing the county's requirements to use the
zone are unconstitutional.
As part of a temporary agreement,
the county will suspend its requirements
of $500,000 worth of insurance, a "hold
harmless" waiver and a 21-day applica-
tion period to use the free speech zone.
ACLU and the county were given 30
days to reach a permanent agreement or
return to court.
Requirements that remain in effect
AMENDMENT and no
ity when using the site, which is located
near the county administration building.
The ACLU challenged the county's
policy after it was denied use of the
site because it did not have the required
The free speech zone was designated
in 2004 after a nativity scene placed on
the lawn in front of the county adminis-
tration building sparked controversy.
Personal privacy is essential to freedom of speech
Most Americans are always ready to tick off any number
of reasons they value their privacy.
They want to avoid junk mail, junk faxes, junk calls and
junk e-mail. They want to maintain physical and financial
security. They want to keep medical and psychological in-
formation confidential. They want to keep nosy neighbors
and Big Brother out of their business.
One of the most important reasons does not come quick-
ly to mind, however, and that is how important personal
privacy is to freedom of expression. Because the Consti- Paul K.
tution guarantees their right to engage fully and freely in
such activities, Americans should feel comfortable speaking out
about issues, communicating by phone or e-mail, associating with
whomever they choose, and going to the library or the Internet to
The learn more about whatever inter-
Back Pae ests them.
c But that comfort is compro-
By Paul K McMasters mised if they feel that the govern-
By ment is looking over their shoul-
ders when they speak, correspond or associate. And increasingly,
government law enforcement and intelligence agents not only are
doing that but also tucking away vast stores of personal informa-
tion in impersonal government databases.
Privacy advocates and ordinary citizens are alarmed when they
learn of secret searches for private information under the Patriot
Act, or of warrantless eavesdropping on telephone and e-mail
communications by the National Security Agency, or of the gather-
ing of information on peaceful citizens by the Pentagon and the
That unease has grown more palpable with news that the federal
government has demanded from four popular Internet search en-
gines data on search requests and Web-site destinations. Microsoft,
Yahoo and AOL all complied in some form with the government
request. But the world's largest such firm, Google, refused.
On Jan. 18, the U.S. Justice Department filed papers in a
California federal court seeking to force Google to comply with
its subpoena. Specifically, the government lawyers want random
samplings of 1 million Internet addresses and of 1 million search
requests. No personally identifiable information would be included
in the data.
The Justice Department wants this data as part of its
effort to argue the constitutionality of the Child Online
Protection Act in a trial, scheduled to begin this Octo-
ber in Philadelphia. COPA is a 1998 law that would re-
quire operators of Web sites providing sexually explicit,
but legal, content to take complicated and costly steps
to prevent minors from accessing the sites.
The Supreme Court in 2004 refused to lift a lower
court's injunction against enforcement of the law and
cM~asters sent it back down for trial. The high court said the
government would have to establish a factual record
that the voluntary use of filters was no match for the criminal
sanctions in COPA in deterring minors' access to adult Web sites.
The government says it needs the information to determine
which Web sites are accessed via search engines, to get some
idea of how much "harmful to minors" content exists on such
sites and to see how well filters block such material.
So what are the concerns?
It is not the data in this instance. It is the environment in which
the federal government has launched this particular initiative. It
is the fear that once the practice of seeking private information
from private Internet operations is established, the temptation for
government officials will be to go back again and again for more
and more until no personal information online is ever safe from
Further, there are real concerns that this data, innocuous as it
may be from a privacy perspective, nevertheless could help the
government make the case that voluntary filtering software won't
do in making the Internet safer for users; instead government-en-
forced criminal sanctions must be used.
The threat to freedom of expression is three-pronged: for indi-
vidual Internet users, for the search-engine companies, and for
the sites that offer targeted content.
In addition to their love of privacy, most Americans share
Continued on Page 3
Paul K. McMasters is FirstAmendment ombudsman at the First
Amendment Center A veteran journalist and expert on First Amendment
issues, he writes and speaks extensively on issues related tofreedom of
religion, speech, press, assembly, petition and freedom of ,, ..I-., i... ",