Volume 31, 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
Chief Justice: Secret cases are not widespread
TALLAHASSEE Secret court Bar to recommend changes to the rules for
records at the center of several news sealing cases.
reports last year are not widespread, The investigation found that most
according to Florida secret files were the result of
Supreme Court Chief C O RTS failure to follow the rules,
Justice R. Fred Lewis. C U T misinterpretation of the rules
Lewis ordered an inquiry and miscommunication.
into the practice of secret dockets and "There weren't really malicious, nasty,
super-sealed cases and asked the Florida horrible people running around trying
Two commissioners charged
with violating Sunshine Law
MONROE COUNTY Two Monroe
County commissioners have been
charged with violating the Sunshine
Law. Mayor Mario Di Gennaro and
Commissioner Sonny McCoy each face
a civil infraction carrying a
fine of up to $500. A (
The charges stem from A C
a September post-meeting MEET
discussion regarding an
upcoming mayoral election.
Di Gennaro and then-Mayor McCoy
allegedly had a brief conversation about
Di Gennaro's plans to run for mayor.
The next day, McCoy participated
in a radio interview and mentioned his
talk with Di Gennaro after the meeting.
When the show moderator asked if that
was a Sunshine violation, McCoy said,
"No, no. I doubt it. If it is,
ESS go ahead and bring charges."
State Attorney Mark Kohl
NGS wants the charges to send a
message to other officials. "I
hope every elected official in
Monroe County clearly understands that
I intend to enforce Florida's Sunshine
statutes," Kohl said.
FDLE concludes Cooper City
commission dinners not illegal
COOPER CITY City commissioners
have been cleared of any criminal
wrongdoing in connection with their pre-
meeting dinners and drinks paid for by
The Florida Department of Law
Enforcement, citing lack of evidence,
ended its three-month investigation of the
Cooper City Commission.
Then-Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the FDLE
investigation of potential misspending and
violations of the Sunshine Law.
Commissioners had maintained they
broke no laws. Cooper City officials
ended their 15-year practice of dining
together before meetings after a South
Florida news station reported on the
A South Florida Sun-Sentinel
investigation found that commissioners
spent more than $5,000 on the dinners in
the past two years.
to do intentionally horrible things to
everybody in the world," Lewis said.
The Miami Herald broke the story of
secret court dockets in Florida, reporting
on the problem in Broward County.
After public comment and a hearing on
the matter, the Florida Supreme Court will
consider adopting new rules for sealing
could be ready
starting May 1
MANATEE COUNTY The pilot
program to restore electronic access to
court records in Florida could begin as
soon as May 1. Manatee County Clerk
of Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore
volunteered to conduct the pilot program
and has been working on the details for the
past several months.
The Florida Supreme Court currently
has a moratorium on Internet access to
most court records until adequate privacy
safeguards are in place.
Safeguards proposed by Shore include
software to redact confidential information
such as Social Security numbers and
limiting access based on the type of user,
from judges to public subscribers.
If Shore's plan is approved by
the Florida Trial Court Technology
Commission and the Supreme Court,
Manatee County court records will be
available for online viewing. The pilot
program is expected to last for one year. If
successful, the program could be a model
for other clerks of court.
"If [the public] can access it from home
as opposed to coming in here, it saves
resources," Shore said. "For example, if
you need something here on paper you
have to have a clerk get it. This program
will save money."
Charges dropped against freelance photographer
WEST PALM BEACH Criminal camera from him outside the main
charges have been dropped against a elections office in West Palm Beach.
freelance journalist arrested in 2004 for Henry reportedly ran about 100 feet, fell
photographing voters waiting in line at and then was arrested.
the polls. In effect at the time was a rule
James S. Henry, 56, was arrested on preventing journalists from coming
charges of disorderly conduct, unlawful within 50 feet of voters outside polling
solicitation of voters and resisting arrest sites.
without violence. Henry said he was about 125 feet
A sheriff's deputy tried to take Henry's away from voters at the time of his arrest.
The disorderly conduct charge was
dismissed in 2005. In exchange for the
dismissal of the remaining two charges,
Henry waived his right to sue and will
complete 15 hours of community service.
"I would have liked to have seen an
outcome more supportive of the First
Amendment as I understand it," Henry told
The Palm Beach Post. "But I'm delighted
the case has been resolved."
Sheriffs, prosecutor clash over grand jury report
FLAGLER COUNTY Sheriffs in
four counties spoke out to the media,
calling for the opening of a secret grand
jury report on a prosecutor's inquiry into
the Flagler County Jail.
State Attorney John Tanner began
an investigation of abuse at the jail, but
stepped down after some questioned his
motive for the probe. Tanner's daughter
alleged she had been mistreated at the jail
after an arrest.
The result was a grand jury review
of Tanner's conduct during the
investigation. The grand jury did not
indict Tanner on any charges. The grand
jury's report has been sealed because
Tanner, based in Volusia County, argued
that the report is improper and unlawful.
After the sheriffs' call for unsealing
the report, Tanner requested parts of the
report containing some of his objections
These court documents suggest the
grand jury reprimanded Tanner for his
behavior. The documents also include
Tanner's argument that the grand jury
DOJ wants plea deals offline
MIAMI The Department of Justice to identify government informants,
wants to halt online access to federal plea according to The Miami Herald.
agreements, a move already taken by Who's A Rat (whosarat.com) is a
federal courts in South Florida. Though subscription site that claims to be the
the plea agreements in South Florida are "largest online database of informants
not available on the Internet, they are still and agents."
available at courthouses. The DOJ recommended the ban
Judges and attorneys have expressed on electronic access to federal plea
concern about a Web site that uses agreements in a December letter to the
court records such as plea agreements U.S. Judicial Conference.
Hall of Fame nominees sought
In celebration of its 30th anniversary,
the Brechner Center is currently seeking
nominations for the Florida Freedom
of Information Hall of Fame. The Hall
of Fame honors individuals who have
helped develop and defend Florida's
Public Records Law, Open Meetings
Law, or the public access constitutional
The deadline for nominations is July
1, 2007. Nominators must submit a
nomination form and a letter of support
describing the nominee's contribution to
freedom of information and government
in the sunshine. To obtain a nomination
form, visit www.brechner.org.
The Brechner Center inducted an
11-member inaugural class to the Hall of
Fame in 1997. The inductees included the
late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, Ralph
Lowenstein, Pete Weitzel and Joseph L.
Brechner, for whom the Center is named.
The second class of inductees will be
honored at the Center's 30th anniversary
conference in the fall at the University of
relied too much on "emotionally charged
characterizations of lawful acts" and
Tanner argues that the grand jury did not
have the authority to investigate him and
that it received the investigation after its
term had expired.
State Attorney Harry Shorstein, of Duval
County, began the investigation of Tanner
and argues it was always part of the larger
The report will remain sealed unless a
judge rules it should be released.
ALACHUA The practice of
placing items on a "consent agenda"
allowing Alachua city commissioners
to automatically approve items without
public discussion is the target of a
lawsuit alleging Sunshine Law violations.
Residents who attempt to speak on
consent agenda subjects are ruled "out
of order" at commission meetings. But
residents do have the option of requesting
consent agenda items be transferred to
the regular agenda for public comment.
The city commission voted to deny the
requests of two people who asked for a
consent agenda item the minutes of the
2006 election Canvassing Board to be
placed on the regular agenda.
As a result of the denial, the pair
has filed suit against the commission,
requesting the judge to stop the city
from placing mi nuc i of substance" on
the consent agenda. The suit also seeks
invalidation of the commission's approval
of the Canvassing Board minutes.
2 The Brechner Report April 2007
CUTLER BAY A South Florida
town has passed a disclosure law
aimed at exposing deals between
developers and community groups.
The Cutler Bay Town Council
unanimously approved the law
requiring public disclosure of
payments made to community
groups in exchange for not opposing
developments and rezonings.
Details of developer payments to
community groups are not subject to
the Public Records Law.
"This law is about doing things
right and in the open," said Mayor
"It's an anti-extortion ordinance.
I don't know if you can call it that
legally, but that's what it is to me. It's
about preventing people from strong-
arming developers," Vrooman said.
Defenders of the payments say the
funds can be used to make community
For example, in a previous
settlement between developers and
residents, the developers contributed
$45,000 to youth soccer and swim
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
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
Charlotte inquiry shows bid woes
CHARLOTTE COUNTY -Florida's
Public Records Law requires local
governments to publish budget
information, but the practice may be
costing taxpayers, according to a report
by the Charlotte Sun.
Though some state agencies are
exempt from the disclosure requirement,
local governments must make the
information public. This often results
in bids coming in just under the allotted
amount for the project.
In Charlotte County, for example,
three public works contracts illustrated
the problem. A road repaving project
was budgeted at $2.725 million; the bid
was $2.699 million. A contract to dredge
a creek was budgeted at $180,000; the bid
was $179,462.06. The replacement of
stormwater pipes was budgeted at $1.39
million; the bid was $1.382 million.
Because contractors are able to access
the budget information, the bids can be less
In addition, the narrow margin between
the posted budget and the bid doesn't allow
much room for error, resulting in frequent
requests for additional funding, according
to Charlotte County Public Works Director
Center, AG launch access project
TALLAHASSEE The office of
Attorney General Bill McCollum is
partnering with the Brechner Center
to encourage government entities to
provide more information to citizens.
The first phase of the Government
Accountability Project (GAP) will
identify records that are difficult for
citizens to obtain. In the second phase,
GAP will work with state and local
governments to increase access to
records. The project Web site is accessible
"The GAP project and partnership with
the University of Florida's Brechner Center
aim to further advance accountability for
Florida citizens," McCollum said.
Gov. Charlie Crist has also made open
government a priority for his new office.
Crist established the Office of Open
Government and proclaimed March 11-17
"Sunshine Week" in the state of Florida.
Judge denies ban after photo leak
SARASOTA Photos related to the parents' care.
homicide of a 6-year-old girl were leaked Law enforcement officials made four
to a Sarasota news station, resulting in a copies of the disc containing the photos,
criminal investigation of the leak and a intended only for use by lawyers in the
judicial ruling against a ban on case.
publishing the photos. P) Attorneys for the girl's
In September, Coralrose PR IO R parents, Dale and Ellen-Beth
Fullwood was found dead in a RESTRAINT Fullwood, asked a judge to
wooded area near her home. prevent WWSB ABC-7 from
The leaked photos are of the showing the photos.
girl's home and were used to justify the The judge declined to impose a prior
removal of Coralrose's siblings from her restraint on the news station.
Days later, station gets to air story
ORLANDO Ajudge ordered appellate court. The station's initial
an Orlando television news station expedited appeal was denied.
not to air the contents of documents Political consultant Doug Guetzloe
that once belonged to a controversial sought the injunction against reporting on
political consultant. Several days later, his files after he discovered they had been
Judge Rom Powell modified his prior given to the station following a public
restraint order to allow publication of storage facility auction. After the judge
the information, except for medical and modified his initial ban, the station aired
attorney-client details, a story reporting that Guetzloe may have
WKMG-TV Channel 6 is appealing falsely testified about who offered financial
the judge's modified order to a state support for some of his political operations.
The Brechner Report U April 2007
Series sheds light on impact of "secret weapons"
For nearly 19 years, records of who had a license
to carry a gun in Florida were open to the public.
Abruptly last spring, that changed. State lawmakers
overwhelmingly passed an exemption protecting the
identities of everyone who has a concealed weapon
permit. Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law.
Now, if someone wants to know if their neighbor, ex-
spouse, nanny, coworker, or child's school bus driver has
a license to carry a gun in public, they won't be able to
find out without the person's permission or a court order.
Megan 0 'Matz
Before the law took effect, the South Florida Sun-
Sentinel obtained the database of licensees, providing a last look
at who is legally allowed to pack heat on Florida's streets. We
found that not all of them are law-abiding.
The My colleague, John Maines,
and I matched the names,
B ack P a ge addresses and dates of birth of
concealed weapon licensees
By Megan 0 'Matz against other databases of
felons, domestic violence injunctions, warrants, jail bookings and
registered sex offenders. We found that more than 1,400 people
had valid licenses despite having pleaded guilty or no contest to
felonies as serious as assault, burglary, drug possession, child
molestation and, even, manslaughter. Six were registered sex
offenders. Hundreds of others continued to legally carry weapons
despite active warrants for their arrest or convictions for behaving
recklessly with firearms, such as firing into the air on the Fourth
of July. Still more had their licenses repeatedly suspended or
Clearly, the state was not living up to its promise, made in
1987, to license only "law-abiding" people. Instead, loopholes
in the law, miscommunication with cops and courts, and simple
bureaucratic errors enabled people with criminal histories to
legally carry guns.
The Sun-Sentinel four-part series, published in late January,
received intense reaction from readers, interest groups and state
officials. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the
country's leading gun control organization, released a statement
saying: "The Sun-Sentinel has published information the gun
pushers do not want the public to have, which is why the gun
lobby pushed through a law locking up this information
and making it impossible to get in the future."
Not surprisingly, lawmakers have shown little
interest in re-opening the records to enable greater
scrutiny of the licensing process. After all, Florida
has long been known as the Gunshine State, for its
lenient gun rules. And the National Rifle Association
holds considerable sway in Tallahassee, working to
defeat lawmakers who oppose the group's proposals.
Legislators sealed the concealed weapon records at the
prodding of the NRA after an Orlando television station
published a list of local licensees on its Web site.
At public hearings, the NRA and its supporters argued that
the publication of the names embarrassed the individuals and
subjected them to potential danger. Burglars could use the list to
find homes with guns to rob! Sex offenders could see who has a
gun and target someone else instead! Thieves could steal people's
identities! Stalkers could unearth their victims!
Yet none of this had been a crying problem in the 19 years
the records were open. The records were never posted on the
Internet by the government but were available only through a
public records request.
The question now is: If lawmakers won't reverse the law,
will the courts? Open government advocates argue that the
secrecy law is ripe for a legal challenge on grounds that it is
unconstitutional. In Florida, records must be open unless the
Legislature passes an exemption that narrowly addresses a
specific need. By exempting every bit of personal information in
the concealed weapon database, critics say, lawmakers passed an
exemption that is overly broad.
But other states also will not release the names. In
Pennsylvania, in fact, the restriction applies even to dead people.
Did Charles C. Roberts IV, the man who killed himself after
shooting five Amish school children to death last October, have
a concealed weapon license? Pennsylvania officials won't say.
Said a State Police spokesman: "Under our law I can't release
Megan 0 'Matz is an .. ',l1'a I,.. reporter at the South Florida
Sun-Sentinel. She and her colleagues were Pulitzer Prize finalists
last year for uncovering massive fraud in FEMA aid.