Volume 30, Number 4 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
Activist banned from council meetings sues city
JACKSONVILLE An activist
banned by the Jacksonville City Council
from attending meetings has filed a
lawsuit against the city, alleging her civil
rights were violated.
Jackie Brown was arrested A C
at a Nov. 22 council meeting
when she addressed the MEE'
council in an Aunt Jemima
outfit and criticized the city's
small business incentive law. Brown,
president of the Jacksonville Coalition of
Black Contractors, was ordered to leave
by council President Kevin Hyde and
escorted out by a police officer.
When Brown returned to the meeting,
she was arrested on misdemeanor charges
of causing a disturbance at a lawful
assembly and resisting arrest.
ES Using a council rule that
SS allows him to ban non-council
NGS members who make "personal,
impertinent or slanderous
remarks or who shall become
boisterous while the council is in session,"
Hyde barred Brown from attending
meetings until April 2006.
Along with the city, Hyde is named
County attorney recommends
ENGLEWOOD Charlotte County
commissioners should seek independent
counsel in a case alleging Sunshine Law
violations, according to County Attorney
Page Development filed a lawsuit
against the county in June 2005,
claiming that Charlotte County violated
Florida's Open Meetings Law while
developing Manasota Key's community
Knowlton said there would be a
conflict of interest if her office were to
also represent individual commissioners
and members of the Manasota and
Sandpiper Key Advisory Committee,
according to The Charlotte Sun.
The lawsuit alleges that prior to
its appointment by commissioners in
October 2005, the advisory committee
was an official county committee and
failed to give notice of the meetings at
which it formulated the community plan.
The lawsuit also alleges
commissioners met improperly with
advisory committee members, making
the plan illegal. The county maintains
that prior to October 2004, the committee
was only a steering committee consisting
of interested residents.
Page Development's lawsuit claims
that Page V and Smith Cove, LTD were
irreparably injured by the county. The
two entities planned to build a 10-unit
condominium on the key. However, the
plan does not allow the 10 units.
personally in the lawsuit, filed in federal
court. Brown's suit seeks a declaration
that the ban is unconstitutional. Brown's
suit alleges the ban is an "unconstitutional
prior restraint" and violates her First
Amendment right to free speech.
Brown also wants an injunction on
the ban so that she may attend council
meetings until the matter is resolved
by the court. The suit seeks unspecified
damages and attorney's fees.
Michael Wedner, assistant general
counsel for the city, said the city will
oppose the injunction.
receives fine for
OCOEE Danny Howell, former
Ocoee city commissioner, pleaded no
contest to a civil violation of the Sunshine
Law. He was fined $500 plus court costs.
The charges stem from a 2004
phone call to fellow commissioner
Rusty Johnson, where the two allegedly
discussed a proposed real estate
transaction that would come before the
Howell was also charged with
a second-degree misdemeanor for
allegedly violating the Sunshine Law, but
prosecutors dropped that charge.
Howell resigned in October 2005 after
the charges were announced. Johnson was
not charged in the incident.
Republican Party boots reporters from speech
LAKE BUENA VISTA Reporters Party leaders said they wanted to keep the reporters' removal. "I apologi
were removed from a speech Gov. Jeb party functions private. "We wanted to that if I'm indirectly responsible,
Bush delivered to the Florida Republican be able to have a private meeting where I'm not," Gov. Bush said. "I wou
Party in January. The party called folks were not worried about being on loved to have you in there...I wo
security to eject the reporters, who were the record," said Executive Director have said anything different if yo
listening to the governor through an open Andy Palmer. there," Gov. Bush remarked after
door at the side of a hotel ballroom. Gov. Bush denied responsibility for meeting.
Pinellas County ordered to release settlement
delay release of the settlement for several
weeks, according to the Times.
According to one county
commissioner, Dodge received $300,000
to settle a whistle-blower lawsuit he
initiated against Pinellas County in 2003.
Other county leaders have declined
to confirm details of the settlement,
according to the Times.
The county cited an exemption in
the Public Records Law that allows the
government to keep records private if
they reveal legal tactics about an ongoing
Judge denies media request
for accused priest's records
MIAMI An attempt by The Miami was settled and dismissed.
Herald and the Daily News (Naples) That suit was settled for an unknown
to access closed records in a civil case amount in November 2005.
against a Catholic priest was rejected The Archdiocese of Miami and the
by Judge Scott Bernstein in Miami- Venice Diocese were ordered by the
Dade Circuit Court. court to turn over personnel files to the
The newspapers allege that the accuser's attorney during the civil case,
closed records may show the Catholic but those records were never made
Church failed to protect children public, according to the Daily News.
from ex-priest William Romero, who "The court system should always
worked at a school and church in strive for openness," said Daily News
Naples during the mid-1970s. Editor Phil Lewis. "The public is the
Bernstein ruled that he could not loser here. If we keep letting the court
grant access to the records since the system work behind closed doors,
original lawsuit, alleging Romero we're going to be in trouble as a
sexually abused an altar boy in 1975, nation."
News groups successful in
lawsuit for boot camp video
TALLAHASSEE The Florida
Department of Law Enforcement has
released a video showing several boot
camp guards hitting a 14-year-old boy
who died the next day.
The release was the result of a public
records lawsuit filed by The Miami
Herald and CNN. The FDLE initially
refused to release footage of the Jan.
5 incident, citing a public records
exemption for records related to an
The 30-minute videotape was
intentionally blurred by the FDLE to
disguise the images of other juveniles
at the Bay County facility. The teen,
Martin Lee Anderson, was participating
in exercises that were part of the camp's
The Florida Department of Juvenile
Justice oversees the boot camp programs.
Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen
told the department in February that the
county will end its contract with the state
to run the camp.
Bay County Chief Medical Examiner
Charles F. Siebert Jr. ruled that Anderson
died of natural causes as a result of
internal bleeding and respiratory distress
caused by sickle cell trait. However,
experts in the field have questioned this
finding, according to The Herald.
The FDLE is conducting a criminal
investigation of the boy's death.
ST. PETERSBURG Pinellas County
is violating the Public Records Law by
refusing to release a settlement agreement
with an ex-employee, a circuit judge
ruled. Judge Mark I. Shames ordered the
county to disclose the settlement to the St.
Petersburg Times. The newspaper sought
access to records relating to an agreement
between the county and fired assistant
administrator Rick Dodge.
Though the county was given 48 hours
to turn over the documents, the county
is expected to appeal. The appeal could
2 The Brechner Report April 2006
case. The Times argued that since the
settlement has been reviewed by both sides,
the need for secrecy no longer exists.
Pinellas County officials said the
settlement is only an agreement to agree,
and that once unspecified conditions are
met in coming weeks, it will be released.
"Since the terms of the settlement
agreement have been fully disclosed to
the opposing litigants and counsel," wrote
Shames in his decision, "the only interested
party being kept out of the loop is the
Law applies to
BARTOW Ten Polk County council
members charged with violating the
Sunshine Law are indeed subject to that
law, according to County Judge Anne
The Polk County Opportunity Council
is a nonprofit agency that aims to help the
area's poor with its $13-million annual
Ten council members were charged with
violating the Sunshine Law by holding a
secret meeting to discuss the firing of their
executive director. Each civil infraction
carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.
The PCOC's lawyer filed a motion
to dismiss the charges, arguing that the
Sunshine Law did not apply to members
because they are volunteers, not public
Kaylor, however, sided with prosecutors'
arguments that the PCOC operates with the
help of public funds and "is functioning for
the benefit of the poor and underprivileged
public," according to The Ledger
The members charged are Patricia
Hunter, Collins Smith, Morris Chestang,
Booker Young, Beverly Howell, Jessie
Kirby, Annie Bryant Phyall, Ben Graham,
Dennis Goosby and Ozell Wilson.
Principal sues station, alleging damage to reputation
SARASOTA- The principal of
an elementary school is suing a news
station, alleging the assignment manager
and news director defamed him.
Eddie Hundley alleges Ric Russo,
assignment manager for WWSB-TV,
ABC7, and Kay Miller, the station's
news director, attacked his reputation.
The station never aired a report on
The suit stems from Hundley's
2002 arrest for stalking his girlfriend.
Prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Hundley claims that Russo spread
misinformation about the arrest,
according to the Sarasota Herald-
Tribune. Russo's son attends Palmetto
Elementary School, where Hundley is
Hundley's suit states that Russo
recruited other parents to stand in front
of the school and pass out copies of the
police report from Hundley's arrest.
His suit alleges that Russo knew the
charge was not prosecuted, but failed to
tell other parents or provide documents
showing the charge was dropped.
Hundley also alleges that Miller
contacted local school officials in October
2005 and told them Hundley had recently
been arrested for stalking.
A copy of an e-mail from Miller to a
school official, in which she apologizes
for her calls on the three-year-old matter,
is included in the suit, according to the
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
Mayor admits to
GLEN ST. MARY The mayor of a
small town in Baker County apologized
to the news media for apparently
conducting a town council workshop
without giving notice of the meeting.
Juanice Padgett, mayor of Glen
St. Mary, told The Standard (Baker
County) she forgot to advertise the Feb.
7 workshop between the Glen St. Mary
Town Council and the town engineer.
Padgett said the workshop would be
rescheduled with proper notice.
She also stated that City Attorney
Phyllis Rosier would tell the office of
Attorney General Charlie Crist about the
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Court stands behind public
grant for News-Journal center
VOLUSIA COUNTY Circuit
Court Judge Edwin Sanders ruled that
Volusia County Council members did
not violate the law when they met
individually with Lively Arts Center
board members prior to approving the
The board members are involved in
the construction of the News-Journal
Center, a performing arts facility in
Despite allegations that the vote
to approve a public grant for an
arts center was not conducted in
accordance with a Sunshine Law, the
center will go ahead as planned.
"They only met separately with each
individual member and basically just
lobbied for the funding," said Randy
Rowe, assistant county attorney.
Tanner Andrews of DeLand filed the
lawsuit to block the grant.
Andrews had previously claimed that
the grant to help build the $29-million
performing arts center would not serve a
Sanders also dismissed that claim.
The News-Journal Center had its first
opening night performance in January
BARTOW The Polk County
Commission voted to end a controversial
free speech zone, a move that will likely
end a lawsuit filed against the county by
the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU had previously
challenged the county's requirements
to use the zone, claiming they were
The requirements included $500,000
worth of insurance, a "hold harmless"
waiver and a 21-day application period.
As part of a temporary agreement, the
county suspended those requirements.
ACLU and the county were given 30 days
to reach a permanent agreement or return to
Now, the Polk County Commission
has authorized county officials to remove
displays from county property.
The free speech zone was designated in
2004 after a nativity scene placed in front of
the county administration building sparked
The Brechner Report U April 2006
Polk County commissioners vote
to end controversial speech zone
Exemption leaves Capitol Police records in the dark
President Bush wasn't the only person who tried to get a
message across at the January State of the Union address.
Two invited guests, one a congressman's wife, and the
other an outspoken war protester, also made headlines.
Cindy Sheehan, mother of a U.S. soldier killed in
Iraq, and Beverly Young, wife of a U.S. congressman,
were ejected from the spectators' gallery of the House of
Representatives because of the T-shirts they wore.
Both T-shirts made reference to U. S. troops. Sheehan's
read: "2245 Dead. How many more?" It alluded to the Ana-Klc
number of American service members killed to date in the
Iraq War. Young's shirt urged: "Support the Troops Defending Our
Freedom." Both T-shirts crossed the line, according to the Capitol
Police, who ushered Sheehan and Young out of the House gallery
The and arrested Sheehan.
B I watched in disbelief as the
B ack Pe details surrounding their removal
S from the State of the Union
By Ana-Kara He g address unfolded in the national
media. Preliminary reports said the women violated a regulation
that prohibits protests in the Capitol. Everything I had learned up
until that point in my graduate studies told me that it wasn't Sheehan
and Young who were in the wrong, but that the Capitol Police had
unconstitutionally restricted their speech.
My suspicions were confirmed less than 24 hours after the initial
incidents when Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer apologized for
his department's actions and dropped the charges against Sheehan.
"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an
old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating
in the Capitol," Gainer told The Associated Press.
Since when did unwritten laws justify arrest?
I wanted to understand what broke down that night at the Capitol.
Of all places, free speech should have found a safe haven within the
very halls that serve to protect it.
The rationale offered by the police raised several questions about
what is considered a form of protest versus protected expression.
Can a guest wear a yellow ribbon or a black arm band, or for that
matter, an expression unrelated to the military, like a red ribbon for
AIDS prevention or a yellow Lance Armstrong wristband for cancer
research? How would the Capitol Police classify clapping or not
clapping in response to the president's remarks?
According to D.C. Code, a protest constitutes "loud, threatening,
or abusive language" and "disorderly or disruptive
conduct" anywhere on the U.S. Capitol grounds or in
any of the Capitol buildings. The law carries a maximum
sentence of six months in jail.
For now, all we have is Sheehan's version of the
events. She claimed on her blog that when she unzipped
her jacket in the gallery and revealed her shirt, an officer
yelled "Protester" and hauled her out of her seat.
I made repeated requests to the Capitol Police for the
ra Hering arrest report, hoping to shed light on the events leading to
Sheehan's arrest. Instead of complying with my request,
Capitol Police officials gave me conflicting answers and confusing
rationale. At one point, the Capitol Police public information
officer told me the "report was unavailable." When asked what
that meant, she said, "Unavailable means unavailable means
Two attorneys with the Capitol Police Office of the General
Counsel gave me conflicting information as to whether the report
was public at all. What I thought could be attributed to overzealous
protection of the president's reputation during his annual address
actually had become worse.
My inquiry into the police report revealed a larger, systematic
loophole that allowed the Capitol Police to go unphased by my
appeal for transparency. Technically, the Capitol Police was able to
refuse my requests for the Sheehan arrest report because it is part
of the legislative branch, which is exempt from the Freedom of
Information Act. The intent of the exemption, I doubt, was to group
basic law enforcement functions, like a routine arrest of a so-called
protester, with more sensitive security-related information that
could make the Capitol building vulnerable.
The Capitol Police was able to take advantage of the vagueness
of the law to avoid disclosing the official version of the events
leading to Sheehan's arrest.
By the letter of the law, the Capitol Police acted in its full
authority when it denied me a copy of Sheehan's police report.
But the law isn't doing the Capitol Police any favors when it
comes to earning the people's trust.
Ana-Klara Hering is a joint Ph.D/J.D. student at the University of
Florida. She interned in the office ofSen. Connie Mack at the U.S. Capitol
in 1996 and 1997. She has been frequent contributor to The Brechner
Report and works for the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project.