Volume 30, Number 12 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
News Journal wins appeal of false light verdict
PENSACOLA The First District a story stated that he shot and killed his
Court of Appeal reversed an $18.28 wife. Two sentences later, the story stated
million verdict against the Pensacola that the death had been ruled an accident.
News Journal, ruling that the plaintiff's Though Anderson admitted the
false light invasion of story was true, he
privacy claim was governed PRIV A C Y claimed it created the
by the two-year statute of false impression that
limitations for defamation he murdered his wife.
actions. Anderson initially sued for libel but later
Joe Anderson sued the News Journal amended his suit to sue for false light
for false light in 2001, three years after invasion of privacy.
SEBASTIAN Two Sebastian city
council members were cleared of Sunshine
Law violations. Indian River County
Judge Joe Wild ruled that Councilman
Sal Neglia did not violate the law when
he called a fellow council member to ask
about a conflict between tennis players and
lawn bowlers over use of the city's new
ACCESS Chris Taylor
MEETINGS charge against
Andrea Coy after Neglia was found not
guilty. Each member could have faced a
fine of up to $500 for the civil infraction.
"The communication was not a meeting
where discussions were had on matters on
which foreseeable action may be taken by
the city council," Wild said.
Neglia mentioned the January phone
call during a meeting that same month.
The tennis court dispute was discussed at
the meeting. The city council asked the
city manager to review the issue. City
officials agreed to continue to allow the
lawn bowlers to use tennis courts.
"I think the Sunshine Law is great,"
Coy said. "It prohibits the backroom
wheeling and dealing, which was not the
In Florida, the statute of limitations
for unspecified torts is four years, and
Anderson's lawyers argued the four-year
limit should apply.
However, the First District held that
Anderson's claims weren't materially
distinguishable from a defamation claim,
so the two-year statute of limitations
applied. Because Anderson did not file
his suit within the two-period, his verdict
Deputy city manager penalized
FORT PIERCE Deputy City Pierce's Building and Code Enforcement
Manager David Recor will pay a fine Department.
and attend public records training after Four black code enforcement officers
pleading no contest to a Public Records complained that they received negative
Law violation. marks on their evaluations.
The civil infraction will A C C E SS Two white officers hired
cost Recor $100, and he around the same time
must attend a public records RECORDS received positive marks.
management seminar. He Recor said the
could have been fined up to $500. evaluations weren't done correctly and
Recor was charged with failing shredded the originals. Florida law
to properly retain public records. requires original copies of personnel
The charge stems from a racial records to be retained for 50 years past
discrimination investigation of Fort termination of employment.
Center seeks top FOI stories
In preparation for its 30th anniversary,
the Brechner Center is preparing several
projects that enhance and celebrate
the Center's mission to advance
understanding, appreciation and support
for freedom of information.
The "Story Behind the Stories" project
will take an in-depth look at 30 stories
that have impacted Florida and were made
possible by using freedom of information
in the reporting process.
The Center is soliciting suggestions for
stories that used freedom of information
or open government laws in the reporting
process and created community response,
consequent legislation, formation of
new practices or other impact. Story
suggestions will be accepted through
January 17, 2007.
The stories may be based on the federal
Freedom of Information Act or Florida's
Sunshine Laws, but must have been
published in a Florida publication.
The project will be released in October
2007 in conjunction with the Brechner
Center's anniversary activities and will be
presented in a multi-media Web package
and a reference guide handbook.
You may submit story suggestions via
e-mail at email@example.com.
Please include the story's headline, author,
publication and date.
Top justice seeks
TALLAHASSEE The chief justice
of the Florida Supreme Court wants
judges across the state to review sealed
Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis' letter to
Florida's 20 chief judges follows a series
of media reports on improperly sealed
cases throughout the state.
Lewis gave the judges 10 days to
report back to him on what they planned
to do to address the issue of sealed cases.
Lewis also asked the Florida Bar
to expedite its review of proposals to
prevent future sealing of cases. The
Florida Association of Court Clerks
review of cases
and Comptrollers drafted the proposals,
which would require judges to hold a
public hearing before sealing a court
A written explanation would be
required for all decisions to seal
In Broward, Pinellas and Sarasota
counties, courts have already taken some
steps to remedy concerns about secret
"I almost swallowed my tongue when
I read about this," Lewis told The Miami
Herald. "To have such hiding occur
- that's not America, is it?"
Judge invalidates exit poll law
MIAMI A federal judge struck the purpose of protecting voter's ability
down a Florida law that would have to vote.
prevented exit poll takers from standing The state cited citizen complaints of
within 100 feet of voting places. "various individuals soliciting or offering
The Associated Press information."
and five television FIR ST However, Huck said
networks challenged the the complaints were not
law, claiming it violated AMENDMENT about poll takers.
the First Amendment. Huck did not strike
U.S. District Court down the ban on those
Judge Paul Huck noted in his opinion passing out campaign materials or
that reporting on political news would electioneering communications within
be difficult and incomplete if the media's 100 feet of voting places.
ability to interview voters was not The following week, The AP and five
The state argued that the law served
news networks successfully challenged a
similar law in Nevada.
SARASOTA The winner of a
Congressional race who successfully kept
details of a lawsuit sealed prior to the
September primary election finally dropped
his objections to opening the suit.
Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota businessman
who narrowly won Katherine Harris' vacant
seat in the U.S. Congress, settled the suit
in 2001. Details were made public prior to
the midterm elections.
Buchanan sued developers of the
Sarasota Ritz-Carlton condominium and
hotel project for unfairly cutting him out of
the deal, according to the Sarasota Herald-
Buchanan received $1.35 million as
a result of the settlement. Fearing his
opponents would use the case to damage
his reputation, Buchanan fought to keep
the case sealed until after the Republican
primary, according to the Herald-Tribune.
The developers claimed that Buchanan
misrepresented his ability to secure
financing for the $122 million project.
Buchanan said he could have gotten as
much as $9 million in the suit but settled
after the Herald-Tribune wrote a story
about the dispute in 2001, according to the
"My reputation is more important than a
few dollars," Buchanan said.
Prosecutor tries to expel media from courtroom
SEBRING Three sentencing
hearings were postponed after a
prosecutor asked to expel a Highlands
Today reporter from a Sebring
Assistant State Attorney Richard
Castillo made the motion as three people
were to be sentenced on charges of
practicing pharmacy without a license.
Circuit Judge Peter Estrada postponed
the hearing to a later date so that the
newspaper's attorneys could argue the
motion. Castillo said the motion was not
"that big a deal," according to Highlands
Castillo did not explain in court why
he wanted the media removed from the
"We are dealing with the First
Amendment of the United States
Constitution, so to me it is a big deal,"
Castillo eventually chose not to pursue
the motion, according to attorney Gregg
Thomas, who represents Highlands Today.
The defendants pleaded no contest to the
charges in exchange for probation. Their
attorney, a Highlands County commissioner,
did not object to the media's presence at the
South Florida tribe files suit for water records
MIAMI The Miccosukee Indian
Tribe sued the South Florida Water
Management District (SFWMD) to obtain
records it claims are public information.
The suit, filed in Miami-Dade County
circuit court, seeks the release of records
relating to an Environmental Protection
Agency proposed amendment titled
"Regulations Implementing the Clean
The tribe requested the records in
2006, but A ESSQQ
the SFWMD ACCESS
said it was RECORDS
the information, according to the tribe's
The tribe previously sued the SFWMD,
claiming the water regulators violated the
Clean Water Act by pumping water high in
phosphorous into the Everglades without a
The Florida Supreme Court remanded
that case for further trial on whether one or
two bodies of water were involved.
2 The Brechner Report U December 2006
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Judges suspend order to release visitor logs
WASHINGTON D.C. An appellate judges granted the federal government's processing of the request in order to inform
court suspended a ruling that ordered request for a stay. The federal appeals the public before the midterm elections
visitor logs for Vice President Dick judges said the "stringent standards about lobbyists' potential impact on White
Cheney's White House office and required for a stay" were satisfied by the House policy decisions.
residence to be produced by the Secret government. Lawyers for the government argued the
Service. Urbina also had ordered visitor logs visitor records belonged to the Office of the
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina for 12 of Cheney's senior staffers to be Vice President and were not subject to the
had directed the government to process a released, according to The Reporters FOIA. Urbina ruled that the records were
Freedom of Information Act request made Committee for Freedom of the Press. controlled by the Secret Service and should
by The Washington Post, but the appeals The Post had asked for expedited be considered records of a federal agency.
Effort to recall
DEERFIELD BEACH Efforts
to recall a city commissioner for
allegedly violating the Sunshine Law
failed after organizers missed the
deadline to file the required 1,600
Deerfield Beach City Commissioner
Steve Gonot will remain in office, and
Gonot describes the recall effort as
backlash from his attempt to fire the
city manager last year.
Recall election organizers accused
Gonot of violating the Sunshine Law
by talking privately with another
commissioner about an appointment to
a city board.
The Broward State Attorney's
Office found no evidence of
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, PO Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gamesville, FL 32611-8400
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e-mail brechnerreport@jou ufl edu
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Exec. Director/Exec. Editor
Christina Locke, Editor
Alana Kolifrath, Production Coordinator
Kimberly Lopez, 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
New law changes handling of
sensitive security information
WASHINGTON D.C. Information
the federal government deems sniinlll\ c
security information," or SSI, is now
subject to a review process after three
years, according to a new law.
After three years, agencies must
determine "in a timely manner" if SSI is
too much of a security threat to be made
public. The automatic review period is
similar to the automatic review process
required for classified information.
The new law applies to all agencies
but is aimed at the Transportation
Security Administration. Some critics say
the Transportation Security Administration
overuses the SSI designation.
The law also allows for lawyers in civil
cases to access some SSI information if they
show "substantial need" and obtain security
This change is expected to impact
a lawsuit against the airlines and the
government brought by the families of Sept.
11 victims. So far, the TSA's citing of SSI
rules has made it difficult for plaintiffs'
lawyers to obtain information.
Internet defamation lawsuit nets
$11 million verdict for plaintiff
FORT LAUDERDALE A Broward The defendant, Carey Bock, did not
County jury awarded a woman $11.3 appear for the trial. Bock, of Louisiana,
million in damages for being defamed by told USA Today that she temporarily
Internet postings. relocated after Hurricane Katrina and
Sue Scheff, a children's wasn't aware of the trial date
services referral provider, won LIT B E L after returning to her home.
the suit after a mother called L Bock sought Scheff's help
her a "con artist," "fraud" and to withdraw her sons from a
"crook" on a Web site aimed at parents school in Costa Rica. After a disagreement,
with children at boarding schools. Bock posted the critical messages.
Jewell libel suit set to advance
ATLANTA A libel suit against The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution got the go-
ahead from a state court judge, 10 years
after the Olympic park bombing that led
to the suit.
Former Olympic security guard
Richard Jewell can proceed with his
defamation suit against the newspaper,
although most of Jewell's defamation
claims against the paper were thrown out.
Judge John R. Mather ruled that a
jury could decide whether The Journal-
Constitution was wrong to report that
Jewell was suspected of placing a 911
call warning the bomb would go off in
Centennial Olympic Park.
Other media outlets have settled with
Jewell, but The Journal-Constitution stands
by its reporting.
Jewell, now a deputy sheriff in Georgia,
was first praised as a hero for finding a
backpack that contained the bomb and
helping clear spectators from the area. But
it was later reported that the FBI suspected
Jewell. In 2005, Eric Rudolph pleaded
guilty to setting the bomb.
The Brechner Report U December 2006
"Sunshine Sickness" may call for an intervention
There's a 12-step program to help one recover from
just about every form of destructive behavior these
They have 12-step programs for drinking, drugs,
smoking, promiscuity, pornography, eating disorders,
gambling .and so on.
I've decided it's time to create a program designed
to help government officials who have demonstrated
an unwillingness or an inability to follow the state's
These poor souls suffer from the dreaded Sunshine
Sickness, and they are in desperate need of a support group to
help them come out from the dark holes where they've been
hiding and into the public light.
The We'll call the new program
Sunshine Sinners Anonymous.
B ack P a ge I'm going to edit the list of 12
S steps to recovery down to six to
By Robyn Tomlin help ensure a speedy recovery.
Step one: Admit you are a Sunshine Sinner and that you
have done wrong.
Step two: Accept that no government body or public official
is above the state's open records and meetings laws, which were
designed to give the public the ability to scrutinize the decisions
of those elected, appointed or hired to represent them.
Step three: Learn exactly what these laws really say, how
the courts have interpreted them and how to better comply with
Step four: Make a list of all of those harmed by your past
deeds, and ask for forgiveness.
Step five: Question and defy anyone who exhibits signs of
Step six: Transform yourself from a Sunshine Sinner into
a Sunshine Saint by reaching out to others in need of help and
I know you think I'm joking but I'm really serious.
Sunshine Sickness is a wretched disease, and when it is allowed
to go unchecked it can become contagious.
Given recent events in Ocala, I can think of a few people
who should join the inaugural session of this new support group.
In case you missed it, a Marion County grand jury
indicted Munroe Regional Health Systems Inc. on
charges that it violated the state's open records and
open meetings laws during the search for a new chief
The grand jury opted to charge the corporate entity
instead of any individuals, since the board members
involved are all community volunteers and they were
following the advice of their attorney, Gary Simons.
Now, those accused are, of course, innocent until
proven guilty but the six-page indictment issued by
the grand jury lays out a compelling case, going so far as to say
"it is clear to us that the entire process of selecting a new CEO
was done in a fashion designed to thwart public scrutiny as
much as possible."
They later add that they are concerned that "if such extreme
measures were taken to avoid public scrutiny in this matter, they
may have been used, or may be used, in other aspects of the
Given this unfortunate turn of events, I'd like to nominate
a few board members and at least one attorney to serve as
founding members of Sunshine Sinners Anonymous.
But somehow I don't think that's likely, since the first step in
the healing process is admitting you've made a mistake.
When hospital board member Malcolm Duggan was asked
for his reaction to the indictment, he blamed the Ocala Star-
Banner and denied any wrongdoing. He went on to say that
calling the release of the names of the candidates for the top job
at this community's public hospital a matter of public interest is
(and I'm paraphrasing here) a pile of horse manure.
That doesn't sound like someone ready to take the first step,
I think an intervention may just be in order.
Robyn Tomlin is the executive editor of the Ocala Star-
Banner. This editorial is reprinted with permission of the
Star-Banner. Tomlin came to Ocala in April 2005from the
TimesDaily in Florence, Ala., where she served for two years as
executive editor and a year as managing editor She is a 1996
graduate of the School ofJournalism and Mass Communication
at the University of ..., Carolina at Chapel Hill.