Volume 31, Number 9 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
FOI Summit celebrates anniversary, draws experts
GAINESVILLE The 2007 Florida
FOI Summit, Sept. 20-21, 2007, will bring
together access advocates, government
officials, media lawyers, journalists,
educators, citizens and students to discuss
the latest issues and developments in
freedom of information in Florida, the
nation and the world.
More than a dozen speakers including
Florida's Governor Charlie Crist (invited)
and Florida Attorney General Bill
McCollum will be present. Ken Paulson,
editor of USA Today, will kick off the
FOI experts, including award-winning
journalists, media lawyers and access
advocates, will give advice on utilizing
public records in day-to-day reporting.
Participants will have an opportunity
to explore ways to work effectively with
legislators on open government issues.
The Summit is sponsored by The
Brechner Center for Freedom of
Information, located in the College of
Journalism and Communications at the
University of Florida.
As part of the Summit, the Center
will celebrate its 30th anniversary, the
induction of a new class into the Florida
Freedom of Information Hall of Fame, and
the presentation of the Brechner Center
for Freedom of Information's 22nd Annual
The conference will also include
recognition of the top 30 freedom of
information stories published in Florida in
the past 30 years.
The cost of the conference is being
underwritten by a grant from Mrs. Marion
Registration information is available at
Florida Supreme Court approves experimental
electronic records program in Manatee County
MANATEE COUNTY The Manatee Shore said the program is intended to are their records," Shore said.
County Clerk of Court launched a one- demonstrate to the Court and skeptics The program will provide experimental
year pilot program in public access to that it is possible to protect confidential electronic access to court records through
paperless court records. information while opening court records its Web site in order to gather information
The Florida Supreme Court, which to public scrutiny for the court so it can develop rules for
halted all other electronic access initiatives through online A C C E SS access based on real data.
in the state because of privacy concerns, convenience. Shore said he hopes Manatee
granted Manatee County a "modified "I need the public RECORDS County's pilot program will be the
limited moratorium," allowing it to serve to be involved to basis for the rest of the state to open
as the testing ground for public access to test the system so we can report to the up their records. More information about
electronic court records. Court what works and what doesn't. This the pilot program is available at www.
Manatee Clerk of Court R.B. "Chips" needs to work for the public because these manateeclerk.com.
Missing toddler's file made public for 'good cause'
ST. PETERSBURG The child-
welfare records of a 2-year-old girl whose
disappearance from a Lake County foster
home went unreported for months were
released after a Pinellas Circuit judge
found "good cause" to open them to the
The 900-page case file of Courtney
Clark was released by Chief Judge David
Demers after the St. Petersburg Times
and The Tampa Tribune asked the court to
make the records available to the public.
The Department of Children and
Families said it supported the release
of the records in order to show that the inspector general's office, some
agency is being "transparent" and working individuals "should be held accountable"
to make sure this incident is not repeated. for mistakes, but the ultimate failure
Courtney's disappearance triggered a was attributed to "poorly established
nationwide hunt for her. Courtney was protocols within the provisions of the
found in June in contract, lack of proper oversight, weak
Portage, Wis., in A C C E SS internal controls, and ineffective
a home where an A communication by all parties
11-year-old boy had COURTS involved."
been held captive DCF announced it will hire five
and tortured. The missing-children caseworkers.
boy's mother had been buried in the The Department also plans to form a
backyard. committee to study problems within the
According to a report by the DCF foster care system.
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
State agency launches paperless
program for consumer disputes
TALLAHASSEE For one year, Sink's spokeswoman, Tara Klimek.
the Department of Financial Services Sink's office plans to use the
has been routinely destroying records electronic database to track trends and to
of consumer disputes with insurance alert regulators when potential problems
companies. appear with certain businesses.
Although the law does not require the Florida law requires consumers to file
agency to save the civil remedy notices, the civil remedy notices of their intent to
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex sue their insurers, giving companies 60
Sink halted the practice until she could days to settle before the cases proceed
determine whether the documents were to court. About 10,000 such notices are
critical to tracking industry practices. filed each year.
In response to complaints by The files often include detailed
attorneys about the destruction of public explanations of the disputes, court
records, Sink has launched a system pleadings and insurance company
to electronically track lawsuits against responses.
insurance companies. As part of the revised program, the
"Our goal is to make it easier for Department of Financial Services also
regulators to know what's going on in the will stop collecting thousands of pages of
marketplace, (and) also the public," said litigation details it did not need.
ABA discards proposal to seal some criminal records
SAN FRANCISCO The American
Bar Association has abandoned
consideration of a proposal that called for
making certain arrest and court records
closed to the public.
Sponsors of the proposal argued
that public access to court records has
contributed to employment and housing
discrimination against applicants who
were arrested but never convicted of
crimes or who have completed jail
The proposal was supposed to be
considered at the ABA's annual meeting
in August, but it was withdrawn after
widespread criticism from media, business
and other groups, said George Washington
University law professor Stephen
Saltzburg, a sponsor.
Foi no\\ we threw in the towel,"
Saltzburg said. "People agree there's
a problem. Everyone agrees there's
unfairness. But we don't have a solution
that gets people saying that's one we can
Saltzburg is co-chairman of the ABA's
Commission on Effective Criminal
Sanctions. He said the panel spent two
years looking at ways "to improve the
chances of people who have criminal
records getting jobs and balancing re-
entry versus safety."
The proposal called for governments
to seal the records of people who
were arrested but never convicted, or
whose convictions were later set aside.
Misdemeanors and felony records would
be sealed after an undefined period of
law-abiding conduct. However, violent
crimes and large-scale drug trafficking
remain public record.
Opponents to the proposal said limiting
public access to records would make it
harder to expose misconduct by police and
"We've always said that if discrimination
is the problem, then directly address the
problem, don't try to hide reality or hide
the historical record," said Lucy Dalglish,
executive director of the Reporters
Committee for Freedom of the Press.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Oldest FOIA requests collecting dust for two decades
WASHINGTON, D.C. The oldest
pending Freedom of Information request
has been awaiting a response for 20 years,
and 16 other requesters have been waiting
more than 15 years for results, according
to a survey by the National Security
Archive of 87 agencies and departments.
The survey found the State Department
was the worst offender with the most
2 The Brechner Report U September 2007
pending requests over 15 years old.
Ten agencies misreported their oldest
pending FOIA requests to Congress in
their fiscal 2006 Annual FOIA Reports.
Several agencies contradicted their
own responses to the Archive's two
previous "10 oldest" audits by reporting
requests in the current survey that were
significantly older than those they
admitted to in 2003 and 2005.
After the Archive reported the delays,
Congress passed legislation to strengthen
FOIA, including requiring tracking numbers
for FOIA requests.
The report, called the Knight Open
Government Survey, is available at http://
OSCEOLA COUNTY A state
attorney's investigation cleared Osceola
County School Board members of two
complaints by the public of possible
Sunshine Law violations.
The three board members targeted
in the inquiry, John McKay, David
Stone and Tom Greer, said no violations
Two of them accused fellow board
member Jay Wheeler of instigating the
allegations. Both the residents who filed
the complaints pointed to Wheeler as the
source for their information.
"It's a sad day when an elected school
board member like Mr. Wheeler abuses
the Sunshine Law in an effort to discredit
the school district and the school board
when all he had to [do] was ask for
a clarification while we were in our
meeting," McKay said.
Students protest flag ban, threatened with expulsion
INTERLACHEN Almost 20 students remove the Confederate flag from his school might be offended by the battle flags.
at Interlachen High School protested their car by Putnam County Superintendent of Students were ordered to remove the flags.
school's policy banning the display of the Schools David Buckles. The student was "The next person he saw with a flag,
Confederate flag by hanging the flag from threatened with suspension and complied, including the American flag, could be
their vehicles in the school parking lot. IHS Dean Andrew Burnett told expelled and/or lose parking privileges,"
The students were responding to an students the reason for the ban was Suggs told the Palatka Daily News after the
earlier incident in which Justin Suggs, a Buckles' concern that motorists driving 20-student protest ended with compliance to
17-vper-old IHS senior was ordered to on the road mnning adiicent to the the dean's order.
Flag mutilation arrests persist, despite Court's ruling
TAMPA A Tampa man spent three
nights in jail after rubbing a U.S. flag
across his body, stomping on it, and
dragging it down the street.
Donnie James White was charged
with flag mutilation, a first-degree
misdemeanor in Florida.
The crime carries a punishment of up
to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000
fine even though the U.S. Supreme Court
invalidated laws banning flag desecration
Florida never purged the law after it
was found unconstitutional 18 years ago.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has
made it clear that this type of statute
is unconstitutional. This defendant's
conduct is protected under the First
Amendment," said Assistant State
Attorney Pat Bondi.
The charges against White were
dropped, but he is the third person in the
past two years to be charged with flag
mutilation by Tampa police.
Tod Redman Steward was arrested
twice by Tampa police last fall after he
burned American flags in front of the federal
The Tampa police spokeswoman, Laura
McElroy, told the St. Petersburg Times
that the agency will seek to get the flag
mutilation charge expunged from White's
record and will alert officers that the law is
A spokesman from the Florida Secretary
of State's office said the only way to remove
unconstitutional language, like the law
banning flag mutilation, from Florida statutes
is through the legislative process.
Prosecutors drop Sunshine charges against mayors
KEY WEST Prosecutors will not
pursue charges against the Key West and
Monroe County mayors after allegations
that they violated the state open
government law when they privately
discussed a way to raise more tax money
to build affordable housing.
County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro and
Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson
came up with an idea to increase
the county's bed tax, but they never
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, PO Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
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e-mail brechnerreport@jou ufl edu
Sandra F Chance, J.D., Exec. Director/Exec. Editor
Ana-Klara Hering, Editor
Alana Kolifrath, Production Coordinator
Christina Locke, Production Assistant
The Brechner Report is published 12 times a
year under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation The BrechnerReport is a joint 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
discussed it in a public meeting. Then the same open government laws that apply
they pitched it to at least two House to elected boards, even if such boards have
representatives. Both mayors serve on no authority to pass legislation.
the Tourist Development Council, which Nonetheless, State Attorney General
advises the County Commission and is Mark Kohl said he didn't believe the mayors
subject to open meetings broke the law when they discussed
laws. A C C E SS privately an item that could
But prosecutors said eventually come before the TDC
the mayors' behind- MEETINGS board.
the-scenes negotiations Kohl made the statement
did not constitute a Sunshine Law the same day he dropped Sunshine Law
violation because the council only makes civil infractions in another case in which
recommendations. Di Gennaro and County Commissioner
However, the Florida Attorney Sonny McCoy admitted an off-the-record
General's Office has ruled in several conversation about the board electing
cases that advisory boards are subject to Di Gennaro as its next mayor.
Melbourne televises meetings
MELBOURNE The Melbourne production company for four hours of
City Council began airing its bi-monthly coverage with additional funding if meetings
meetings on public television in June. run overtime.
Melbourne joined the county The city rejected the option of buying
government and four other Brevard its own equipment, which would have cost
cities, which already air their council $55,000. Hiring a videographer would have
meetings on the Space Coast Government cost an additional $37,000 per year.
Television channel. Each meeting will be re-broadcast at least
The Viera-based channel broadcasts six times each month.
gavel-to-gavel meetings around the "I think it's a matter of prioritizing. And
clock to about 180,000 households, free I think it's a priority for us as a council
of charge. The city council earmarked to communicate to our residents," said
$900 per meeting to hire a private video Councilwoman Joanne Corby.
The Brechner Report September 2007
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University of Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
Gainesville, FL 32611
Permit No. 94
UF UNIVERSITY of
Governor's office strives to bring state into the Sunshine
Florida enjoys a long history of open government.
Citizens and lawmakers alike have fought to keep state
and local government actions accessible to the public.
Citizens deserve to have public officials and governmental
bodies that are beyond reproach. This transparency builds
trust in leadership, just as secrecy builds distrust. Florida's
broad interpretation of open government ensures that
government agencies operate in the sunshine.
Governor Charlie Crist's dedication to the Sunshine JoAn
Law dates back to his early experiences in high school and
college student government. Florida's 44th governor made
open government a top priority in his inaugural address. He quoted
President Abraham Lincoln, pledging that under his watch Florida
government would be "of the people, by the people and for the
people." On his second day in office, Governor Crist acted on his
promise by creating the Office of Open Government. The office
The falls under Executive Order 07-
01, which states in part:
S"The Office of Open
B k Page Government is charged with
By JoAnn Carrin providing the Office of the
Governor and each of the
executive agencies under my purview with the guidance and tools
to serve Florida with integrity and transparency.
"To that end, the Office's primary functions will be: (1) to
assure full and expeditious compliance with Florida's open
government and public records laws, and (2) to provide training
to all executive agencies under my purview on transparency and
accountability. The Office will also have primary responsibility
for ensuring that the Office of the Governor complies with public
records requests in an expeditious manner."
An immediate sense of interest and excitement grew as the
news of this initiative spread. As director of the new office, my
first task was to streamline the public record response process
within the Governor's Executive Office. We started tracking the
response time for Executive Office of the Governor document
requests. We are often able to respond on the same day that the
requestor contacts us.
In addition, the office created a public records contact list
that includes 36 agencies and the State University System.
Two contact persons are included for each office: a "main" and
"backup." At least one of these contacts is in the general
counsel's office. We have listed the agency contacts
on the Office of Open Government Web site. This list
makes the public records request process easier and
In addition to contacts, the Open Government
Web site includes other helpful information on
Florida's Sunshine Law and Public Records Act. This
arrin includes outside links to the latest Government-in-the-
Sunshine Manual and Attorney General Office's Open
Government Mediation Program. This information is
included so that the people of Florida may be fully aware of the
information they have accessible to them.
In cooperation with the Florida Institute of Government, we
provided free Sunshine Law training to 500 state agency managers
in February. One month later, the Governor issued a proclamation
to officially designate March 11 17, 2007 as Sunshine Week for
the citizens of Florida. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors
traditionally sponsors Sunshine Week during the legislative
session each spring. Events such as the Florida First Amendment
Foundation's Sunshine Recognition Luncheon raised public
records awareness among consumers, state agencies, and the
media. We look forward to expanding and strengthening our
partnerships with such organizations in the future.
The Governor reached even further into the sunlight in
June when he issued Executive Order 07-107, creating the
Commission on Open Government. The order charges the
Commission to ic'\ ict\ evaluate, and issue recommendations
concerning policies, statutes, and Article 1, Section 24 of the
Florida Constitution, relating to the public's right of access to
government meetings and records." The Commission will hold at
least three public hearings around the state. The meeting schedule
is listed on the Commission's Web site. They will report to the
governor, the Senate president, and the speaker of the House of
Representatives by Dec. 31, 2008. I encourage you to attend
these meetings. Written recommendations are also helpful as the
Commission begins their work.
JoAnn Carrin is the first director of the Office of Open
Government. She served as the Attorney General 's director of
communications since 2003.