Volume 31, Number 6 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
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY Annual
trips to Washington D.C. have raised
concerns about the applicability of the
Open Meetings Law when local officials
lobby federal decision makers.
Several Miami-Dade commissioners
and the county mayor recently attended
meetings with members of Congress.
The press was barred from many
meetings because Congress members are
not required to conduct meetings in the
"They've made it clear that they don't
care what the state's open records law
might be," Lucy Dalglish, executive
director of the Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the
ACCESS Press, told The
said, 'This is the federal government, and
if we are sharing federal information with
you, federal law applies,'" Dalglish said.
Miami-Dade County commissioners
defended their trips, saying the visits
with federal officials are important for
the county's wellbeing, and that they
researched the legality of the trips before
scheduling them. Commissioner Sally
Heyman said the commissioners only talk
about issues the commission has already
County Attorney Murray Greenberg
said he approved the trips, noting that the
public is provided with a schedule of the
meetings, locations and attendees.
"I have said it's seemingly OK. We
don't want to be the only county in
the country that doesn't get an ability
to communicate with leaders in D.C."
Greenberg said. "We can't control what a
federal agency does or doesn't do."
A 1980 Florida Attorney General
opinion states that the Open Meetings
Law applies when officials travel out of
Critics question sealing of
settlement under new rules
BROWARD COUNTY Tv
after the Florida Supreme Cour
new rules for the sealing of civ
records, a Broward County circ
sealing of a civil settlement ma
been specific enough, according;
by The Miami Herald and the S
Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort
Judge Mark Speiser sealed
the settlement details in a
civil rights case against the
Broward Sheriff's Office.
The lawsuit stems from the
2004 shooting of a Mexican mi
worker whom a deputy mistook
The shooting victim, Germa
has needed constant care since
shooting and resides at a $275-
Gomez's $15 million federal lawsuit
was settled the day before it was set to go
tui juage s to trial.
y not have The large amount of the settlement was
g to reports a factor in Speiser's decision to keep the
,outh decision confidential.
"It was indicated that
ACCESS because of the large sum
of money, they had a very
COURTS strong concern and fear
that [Gomez's] wife and
children [in Mexico] could be
Nov. 3, kidnapped and held for ransom," Speiser
k for a New rules for sealing civil cases
require the orders to include specific
n Gomez, grounds and justifications for the sealing.
the Speiser's order apparently did not contain
a-day these elements.
MIAMI A reporter photographing
police officers on a public street was
arrested on multiple charges.
Carlos Miller, a freelance photographer
and journalist, said he was in a
construction zone and photographed the
officers as they interrogated another man.
The officers who arrested Miller
claimed he was standing in the middle of
the busy street obstructing traffic.
disobeying officers, obstruction of justice,
disorderly conduct and resisting arrest
Some of the charges of disobeying
officers were later dropped.
Miller said the arrest was a violation
of his First Amendment rights and that
he should not have been prevented from
taking photographs on the public street.
Miller said in a written statement that
he was not resisting arrest but trying
to protect his camera equipment when
the police "slammed [his] head into the
Miller spent a night injail and said he
suffered injuries during the arrest.
the Society of Professional Journalists
wrote the Miami police chief, requesting
the arrest be reviewed at the "highest level
of the police department and the city."
SPJ contributed $1,000 to assist Miller
with his legal defense.
Reporter arrested while taking
photographs of police officers
ACCESS COURTS CONTINUED
Judge reverses ruling on sealed trial documents
ORLANDO Hours after ordering
court documents in the trial of former
astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak sealed, a
circuit judge reversed his ruling and
approved their release.
"I further reconsidered my position
and decided that everything should
be released except the psychological
reports," Orange Circuit Judge Marc
ORLANDO More than two
years after NASA paid $26.6 million
to survivors of seven space shuttle
Columbia astronauts, the space agency
released limited details of the settlements.
The Orlando Sentinel finally received
documents after making Freedom of
Information Act requests in 2005 and
The documents do not reveal exactly
when the settlements occurred, but the
money came from the agency's 2004
Lubet said. "The state can send out
whatever they want."
Lubet reversed his ruling preventing
the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's
Office from releasing documents
requested under the Public Records Law.
Nowak, 43, is charged with attempted
kidnapping, burglary with assault, and
battery. The charges stem from a Feb. 5
NASA spokesman Allard Beutel cited
family privacy concerns for the lack of
details surrounding the settlement.
"Our concern always has been with
the crew's families and their loss, and as
a result NASA didn't announce details
of the settlement in an effort to protect
the personal privacy of the Columbia
families," Beutel wrote to the Sentinel.
Seven astronauts died Feb. 1, 2003,
when the shuttle came apart on re-entry.
Lawmaker wants report sealed
WEST PALM BEACH A member
of the state House of Representatives is
fighting the release of a grand jury report
to the public, though her attempts have
failed at the circuit court level.
Rep. Mary Brandenburg (D-West
Palm Beach) testified before the grand
jury during its investigation of "pay to
play" city politics.
The grand jurors focused on large
campaign contributions from developers
to officials, especially to Mayor Lois
Frankel, according to The Palm Beach
Post. The grand jury found no criminal
activity but concluded a member of an
ethics committee created by Frankel
Brandenburg is one of 10 members
of the city's ethics panel. She has
maintained that she opposes the release
of the report's details in order to avoid
distractions during the legislative session.
"I am confident that I will not have
any problems with doing anything that
was illegal or that breaks any rules of the
Florida House," Brandenburg said.
incident where Nowak drove from Houston
to Florida and allegedly confronted a
woman in the parking lot of an Orlando
airport. Police say Nowak had a BB gun,
mallet, knife and rubber tubing in her car.
Nowak's affections for a fellow
astronaut spurred the confrontation,
according to police. NASA fired Nowak
after her arrest.
seek access to
ORLANDO The Florida Office of
Statewide Prosecution wants a judge to
reverse his order sealing medical records
seized from Florida pharmacies. The
records were seized as part of a national
inquiry into the sale of illegal steroids.
Circuit Judge John Marshall Kest
ordered the medical records to be used
only to obtain contact information to
notify people that the government had
possession of their private medical
records. Florida prosecutors argued that
law enforcement agencies should have
full access to the records to investigate
wrongdoing and follow leads.
A lawyer for the pharmacies where
the records were seized, Signature,
argued that sealing the medical records
would protect patients' privacy.
Signature is accused of filling online
prescriptions for steroids and shipping
them across the country, especially to
New York. Authorities have indicated
they primarily intend to prosecute
distributors, not steroid users.
Commission's rules limit member comments
SOUTH MIAMI The South Miami
City Commission has tentatively
approved new rules that include a
provision for 30-day expulsion from
meetings if anyone repeatedly disrupts a
The new code of ethics was drawn
from similar ones in Atlanta, New York
and California, according to The Miami
The code prohibits board members
from making public comments on items
they have voted on. An earlier draft
included a provision that recommended
commissioners not go off the record with
Yvonne Beckman, a planning board
ACCESSrl opposed the new
MEETINGS "In this
rights to speak
are suddenly taken away because I am
a board member," Beckman wrote in a
memo to Mayor Horace Feliu.
Prior to becoming a member of the
planning board, Beckman was arrested for
disorderly conduct and resisting arrest while
commenting at a 2005 commission meeting.
The charges were later dropped and
described by prosecutors as "unlawful."
City Attorney Luis Figueredo said the
city's goal in adopting the new rules was to
give all residents an opportunity to speak.
"It's not intended to keep an individual
from participating," Figueredo said. "The
city's main goal is to get through the
2 The Brechner Report U June 2007
NASA reveals few details of 2004
deal with astronauts' survivors
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
ESCAMBIA COUNTY A month-
long inquiry into an Escambia county
commissioner's redistricting attempt
revealed no violation of the Sunshine
Commissioner Mike Whitehead
was cleared of allegations that he
had unauthorized direct contact with
other commissioners during his failed
attempt to redraw district lines.
The State Attorney's Office said
it found no evidence that he had
manipulated his communications with
a county administrator and the chief
of the mapping department in order to
measure support for his redistricting
"I knew from the beginning we had
done nothing wrong. It was purely
politically motivated," Whitehead said,
according to the Pensacola News-
The citizens who filed the complaint
against Whitehead are associated with
the local civil rights group Movement
for Change. The group's leader, Leroy
Boyd, said Whitehead was attempting
to redraw districting lines in order to
eliminate an opponent.
The State Attorney's Office reported
that the manner in which Whitehead
communicated with the county
administrator and the mapping director
complied with the Sunshine Law.
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
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College of Journalism and Communications
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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
Comment plan includes ID form
in order to address city council
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS Attendees
who wish to address local officials at a
Keystone Heights City Council meeting
will now be required to complete an
information card prior to the meeting.
The change came about as the city
changed its form of government and has a
city manager for the first time.
Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth said the
change was experimental and might not be
"We probably won't penalize you tonight
[for not filling out the card], and probably
not much in the future," Hildreth said,
according to The Florida Times-Union
Fired city manager turns in USB
drives after city demands review
LARGO Fired City Manager Steve used to store documents from the computer.
Stanton turned in two portable storage Stanton was fired about a month after
devices to the city of Largo after the city revealing he planned to become a woman
demanded to review the named Susan Stanton.
devices to determine if any A C C E SS Stanton's attorney, Karen
public records had been Doering, said the city was aware
removed from Stanton's RECORDS that he was going to remove
city-issued laptop computer. personal items from the computer
A computer forensic file. Doering also blamed the St.
expert who examined the laptop found Petersburg Times for inflating the issue by
that two portable storage devices were requesting records from the laptop.
Court refuses letter-to-editor case
WASHINGTON D.C. The U.S.
Supreme Court declined to review
a verdict against a newspaper for
publishing a prisoner's letter without
investigating allegations about a
Ajury found that the Buzz newspaper
of Martinsville, Va., should pay
prosecutor Joan Ziglar $75,000.
Ziglar sued the newspaper after
inmate Zakee Tahlib alleged that Ziglar was
encouraging false testimony in a murder
investigation of Tahlib.
The Buzz conceded that it did not attempt
to verify Tahlib's identity or contact the
prosecutor before publishing the letter.
The newspaper wanted the Supreme
Court to take the case to clarify whether the
press has a duty to investigate claims made
in letters to the editor.
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 deadline
for nominations is July 1, 2007.
The Hall of Fame honors individuals
who have helped develop and defend
Florida's public records and open
meetings laws, and the public access
Nominators must describe the
nominees' contribution to Florida's
freedom of information and government
in the sunshine. To submit a nomination,
please visit brechner.org. You may
submit the nomination online or
download a nomination form.
The Brechner Center's 11-member
inaugural class included the late Florida
Gov. Lawton Chiles, Ralph Lowenstein,
Pete Weitzel, and Joseph L. Brechner, for
whom the Center is named.
The Brechner Report U June 2007
U.S. ranked low in global survey of press freedoms
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently ranked those unethically seeking comfort from criticism.
the United States at 53rd in terms of press freedom out Liberty protects violent speech, racist speech and
of 168 countries. We tied for that honor with Botswana, all kinds of speech that makes "us enlightened ones"
Croatia and Tonga. According to RSF, the United States uncomfortable or even disgusted. I like living in a
looks enviably at Serbia and El Salvador when it comes country where I have liberty, but I have never craved
to freedom of the press. I am willing to believe (or I just the comfort of having my views on race, gender and
want to believe) that there is bias and error in a study that equality unchallenged. I trust the marketplace of ideas
places the United States 30 slots below Benin in a survey to handle that challenge for me, and my egalitarian
of First Amendment-protected freedom. Nevertheless, Marc J. ideas are strong enough that they can withstand even the
RSF is not a crackpot group, and even if we do a little Randazza speech of the Ku Klux Klan.
adjustment for bias, the findings are nothing short of No discussion of the erosion of the First Amendment
disturbing. is complete without ajab at the so-called "moral values" crowd.
However, freedom of the press is not the only First The Bush Administration interpreted its razor thin majority
Amendment value under siege in America. The First Amendment in 2004 as a mandate approving its repressive "moral" and
The is ailing, and there is plenty theocratic agenda, and our Constitution has suffered ever since.
S-Pe of blame to go around. In Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) immediately held pornography
Bk P a ge the name of profits, political "witch hunt" proceedings that would have made McCarthy proud.
S correctness, and "moral Alberto Gonzalez made obscenity prosecutions a top priority.
By Marc J. andazza values," our venerable mother Some U.S. Attorneys chose to adhere to their oath to uphold and
of all liberties is thrown on the sacrificial altar for purposes that defend the Constitution, or simply considered actual crime to take
are hardly worth the change in my pocket, let alone our most priority over prosecuting "dirty pictures" of consenting adults,
cherished freedom. and thus refused to participate. That appears to have cost some of
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP suits) them their jobs, but not their integrity.
are proliferating, and the penalty for such abusive litigation is far Liberty gives us the ability to refute nasty things that may be
too light. These lawsuits are often filed by large organizations said about us. Liberty protects children and adults alike. Liberty
to silence vocal critics. California's strong anti-SLAPP law is the most moral of values. I am not one to stand idle while
provides a strong disincentive for SLAPP suits and elevates America begins to cast an envious eye toward nations that once
free speech to its proper place. Unfortunately, most states' sent us immigrants seeking freedom. When my ancestors came
anti-SLAPP legislation is anemic. In Florida, our anti-SLAPP to this country, they did not stand on the deck of the Oceania and
legislation is so watered down that it is rarely used, and almost gaze upon the Statue of Morality. As J.D. Obenberger described
useless, therefore plaintiffs file SLAPP suits with relative it, "they saw the Statue of Liberty, and if co-existing with some
impunity. perceived indecency [or discomfort] was the price of breathing
Winning a defamation case is difficult, as it should be. their own free air, it was a choice they were generally delighted
Unfortunately, in most states, a "victorious" SLAPP defendant to elect because the price of freedom includes tolerance of the
walks away with his finances in ruin, a case named after him, freedom of others."
and a bewildered feeling of "with victories like this, who needs
losses?" When citizens fear to use their right to free speech lest it Marc J. Randazza is an attorney with the FirstAmendment
drive them into bankruptcy, we have failed to become a "shining law firm of Weston, Garrou, DeWitt & Walters and an adjunct
city on a hill." All states should enact strong anti-SLAPP professor of law at Barry University School of Law in Orlando,
legislation modeled after California's, lest our liberty be lost to Florida.