Volume 31, Number 10 i 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
Open government panel holds first meetings
officials and citizens spoke o
government issues in late Au
first set of hearings by
the Commission on Open
commission, appointed in
July by Gov. Charlie Crist,
will use the input from the he
ut on open
gust at the
urged more transparency in government,
including daily posting of state agency
Gov. Crist said he supports
ACCESS the idea as long as it does
S not create security problems,
LAW S according to the St. Petersburg
Times. However, commission
member Renee Lee recalled
hearings to her experience with a similar system in
Other concerns shared with the
commission included local officials'
refusal to fulfill records requests, limits
on inter-agency sharing of information
and a lack of compliance with the Open
"Our Sunshine Law is under attack,
and so is open government," said Pat
Yack, editor of The Florida Times-Union
make legislative recommendations by the Charlotte County and warned of offensive Future hearings for the Commission
end of 2008. content and false rumors spread through on Open Government are planned for
Speakers at the two-day hearing e-mail. Orlando, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale.
Argument in false light suits delayed until March
TALLAHASSEE The Florida some guidance to Florida attorneys as to The Fourth District Court of Appea
Supreme Court was set to hear oral the status of false light, which provides a Rapp reversed a lower court's dismiss
arguments Oct. 10 in the false light cause of action when published materials Rapp's false light claim alleging a Jews
invasion of privacy case involving portray a person in a "false light" even if Jesus newsletterimpliedthat she converted
Pensacola businessman Joe Anderson Jr. the information is true. Christianity. The FourthDistrict also certi
and the Pensacola News-Journal, but the The First District Court of Appeal in to the Florida Supreme Court a quesl
Court decided to delay Anderson reversed an $18.2 of great public importance: "Does Flo
arguments until March 6, P RTV A C Y million verdict in Anderson's recognize the tort of false light invasion
2008, so that arguments favor, holding that the case privacy, and if so, are the elements of
could be heard at the was essentially a libel claim tort set forth in section 652E of Restaten
same time as the case Jews for Jesus Inc. and therefore subject to libel's two-year (Second) of Torts?"
v. Edith Rapp. statute of limitations. False light claims The 2007 legislative session saw twc
The outcomes of the two appeals to
the state's highest court should provide
have a four-year statute of limitations as
"unspecified torts" in Florida.
Sealed criminal records reach high
ORLANDO A record number of arrested but never charged, or the charges
people were successful last year in were dropped.
getting their criminal records sealed or However, some applicants who were
erased, according to data from the Florida charged, entered a plea and served a
Department of Law Enforcement. Of the sentence still had their records expunged.
15,000 individuals who requested their The Orlando Sentinel reported that in
arrest or court records be Central Florida, a man
sealed, 9,516 succeeded. C O U R T S accused of pulling a gun
That is three times the on another driver and a
number reported ten years man who had sex with a
ago. 13-year-old girl were examples of sealed
The FDLE employs more than a dozen cases.
full-time workers to screen applications Sealed cases are still available to the
from individuals who want their records FDLE, law enforcement agencies and
sealed or erased. Many applicants were some state agencies.
bills that would have eliminated the false
light tort in Florida, but neither bill passed.
Thank you to all who were able to
attend the 30th anniversary celebration
of The Brechner Center for Freedom
of Information. This issue of The
Brechner Report features a special
report on the Florida FOI Summit.
For more information about the
Summit, visit www.brechner.org.
We appreciate your support and
look forward to another 30 years of
service, advocacy and research in the
field of open government laws.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
FEMA releases aid information to newspaper
FORT MYERS Two months after a
court ruling in its favor, The News-Press
(Fort Myers) finally received disaster aid
information from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA).
In June, a panel for the 11th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that FEMA must
provide The News-Press and other Florida
newspapers with addresses of households
that received disaster aid between 1998
TEQUESTA- The Village of Tequesta
is seeking $69,000 in attorney's fees from
one of its council members following a
legal dispute over the village's oath of
office. Council member Basil Dalack won
the uncontested council seat in 2006, but
he objected to the oath of office, saying
the pledge to support the government
violated his First Amendment rights by
forcing him to say he supported President
Bush and the war.
When the village refused to alter its
oath of office, Dalack filed suit in federal
court, where he lost at the trial level. The
11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against
Dalack in April 2006, and in July it denied
his request for a rehearing.
Before it released the information,
FEMA spent $1.1 million to notify the aid
recipients that their addresses would be
disclosed. Based on the first set of data
released by FEMAAug. 27, The News-
Press found that many Floridians received
less than $10 in aid. Analysis of the
information also showed that of more than
one million people who requested FEMA
Tequesta has spent $130,539
defending Dalack's suit. The village
decided not to pursue reimbursement
for attorney's fees at the trial level
because fees are often very difficult to
obtain, said Ed Guedes, attorney for the
village. However, officials later felt
Dalack's arguments were more and more
frivolous, and decided to pursue the fees.
"Because the obligations a public
official undertakes constitute a matter
of great national importance ... I
have a moral obligation to petition the
Supreme Court of the United States to
reverse those decisions," Dalack said in a
statement, according to The Palm Beach
Lawmaker seeks disclosure of
Fla. bridge inspection reports
NICEVILLE The Office of Open reports like the secret Bush family recipe
Government has been charged with for baked beans," Gaetz, a Niceville
helping reach a compromise between republican, said.
state transportation officials and Sen. Open government advocate Barbara
Don Gaetz regarding access to bridge Petersen, who worked with lawmakers
inspection reports. to narrowly craft the law, says the
Bridge inspectors are working to Florida Department of Transportation
complete a status report on A C C E- S is misinterpreting the law.
the condition of Florida's A C C E SS And even though bridge
more than 11,500 bridges, inspection reports contain
according to the Tallahassee R CORDSi diagrams of bridges, those
Democrat. can be redacted, Petersen
Transportation security chiefs have said.
refused to release the reports, citing The Office of Open Government and
a 2002 anti-terrorism law that keeps the DOT "are trying to find a balance
diagrams and blueprints of bridges and that both protects the safety of Florida's
other public structures secret, drivers while protecting the integrity of
"I don't think the intent of that our domestic security," said Erin Isaac,
legislation was to treat bridge inspection spokeswoman for Gov. Charlie Crist.
aid after the devastating 2004 hurricanes,
fewer than one in three received cash
In opposing the release of the
information, the government argued that
disclosure would violate the privacy of aid
recipients, stigmatize victims and potentially
be used for identity theft. The media argued
that specific information was necessary to
investigate claims of abuse of the system.
to Sunshine Law
MIAMI BEACH A South Florida
museum is learning to operate in the
Sunshine after the Attorney General's
Office mediated on behalf of a freelance
journalist investigating a controversial
The Bass Museum's board members
and trustees recently learned that their
board meetings must be open, members
can only discuss Bass business in
public, and museum records must be
open to the public, according to the The
SunPost (Miami). The Bass Museum
has a $2.7 million annual budget, with
approximately $1.5 million of that funded
by Miami taxpayers.
"Because the Friends of the Bass have
been using museum staff, they do have
to come into the Sunshine," said Gary
Farmer, cultural affairs program manager
for the city of Miami Beach and interim
director of the museum. "If they were
acting with their own staff like most
Friends [type] groups, they wouldn't have
to act in the Sunshine."
Freelance journalist and art historian
Justo Sanchez contacted the Attorney
General's Office after he was unable to
get board minutes from the Bass related
to the approval of the exhibit titled The
Private Jade Collection of Her Imperial
Highness Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.
Sanchez is investigating whether the
exhibit is a conflict of interest, because
Princess Thi-Nga is president of the
Friends of the Bass and chairperson of the
Bass Board of Trustees.
When the Attorney General's Office
approached the Bass in April to participate
in its public records mediation program,
the museum declined to participate but
did give Sanchez the records he requested.
2 The Brechner Report U October 2007
Official loses objection to oath
2007 FLORIDA FOI SUMMIT
Paulson announces new project
USA TodayEditor Ken Paulson delivered the
Sept. 20 keynote address at the Summit.
Expressing concerns regarding the
future of a free press and Americans'
views of the news media, USA Today
Editor Ken Paulson advocated the
importance of the First Amendment during
his keynote address at the 2007 Florida
FOI Summit. Paulson spoke to a crowd
of more than 200 journalists, scholars,
attorneys, students and citizens to close out
the first day of summit activities.
Paulson announced that he is working
with news media groups including the
Knight Foundation and the American
Society of Newspaper Editors on a new
idea they are calling "The Liberty Tree
Initiative." He said the idea is to start a
nationwide campaign that would market
the First Amendment to the public.
However, journalists must accept some
of the blame for the recent downturn in
public approval, Paulson said, adding that
news media outlets are sometimes far too
hesitant to admit their mistakes and that
does not improve rapport with the public.
Panels encourage discussion, debate of FOI issues
The Florida FOI Summit featured
panelists from across the country who
traveled to Gainesville to discuss freedom
of information laws. The conference
began on Thursday, Sept. 20, with a panel
moderated by Gregg Thomas (Thomas &
LoCicero). The panel featured FOI advice
from experts Pat Gleason (Director of
Cabinet Affairs and Special Counsel for
Open Government for Gov. Charlie Crist);
Jon Kaney (Cobb & Cole); Jane Kirtley
(University of Minnesota); Jim Leusner
(Orlando Sentinel); and Philip Ward (South
Florida Sun-Sentinel). Panelists discussed
access to autopsy photos, the best way to
build rapport with records custodians, and
the lengthy delays that often accompany
requests under the Freedom of Information
Professor Kirtley focused on global
FOI issues during her Friday morning
presentation, \\ indo\ S on the World:
A Global Perspective on FOI." Florida
was the focus of another special
presentation Friday morning, with JoAnn
Carrin (director of the Office of Open
Government), Pat Gleason, Simone
Marstiller (associate deputy attorney
Yf~ 7 -
Drew Shenkman and Florence Snyder Rivas
prepare recommendations for improving
access laws during a small group session
general), and Barbara Petersen (president
of the First Amendment Foundation)
discussing "The 'Real' Sunshine State:
FOI in Florida."
Also on Friday, attendees were able
to choose from three different breakout
sessions. "Capitol Conversations:
Working with Florida Legislators"
featured Barbara Petersen, Professor and
Director of the Center for Governmental
Responsibility Jon Mills, and Orlando
Sentinel State/National Editor Bob Shaw.
"FOI on the Horizon: A National
Outlook on FOI Issues" offered a national
perspective on open government laws.
This panel was led by Charles Davis,
executive director of the National Freedom
of Information Coalition; John Dunbar,
reporter for The Associated Press; and
Pete Weitzel, coordinator of the Coalition
for Journalists for Open Government.
The third breakout session, titled "Top
10 Tools for Your FOI Toolbox" offered
practical tips for taking advantage of
FOI laws. Professor Sandra Chance,
executive director of The Brechner Center,
moderated the session. Panelists included
Florida Times-Union Opinions Editor Joe
Adams, Attorney Carol LoCicero, Florida
Society of Newspaper Editors Executive
Director Gil Thelen, and WikiFOIA
Director Sara Key.
Everyone attending the Summit had
the opportunity to weigh in on the issues
during a small group session Friday
afternoon. Prof. Chance will present the
recommendations of the small groups to
the Commission on Open Government.
The conference was brought to a close
with student presentations on the history
of Florida's Open Meetings Law and the
Top 30 FOI stories, followed by an update
on the MBCAP by Dr. Bill F. Chamberlin.
AttorneysGregg Thomas (left) andJon Kaney
n' ,'i offered their expertise during the
opening session of the FOI Summit.
Pete Weitzel and (C I, ., Davis discuss
nationalFOlissues during a breakoutsession
JoAnn Carrin and Simone Marstiller
participatedin panel on Florida FOlissues
The Brechner Report U October 2007 3
CENTER HONORS INDIVIDUAL EFFORTS
Second FOI Hall of Fame inducted at Summit
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum
delivered the keynote speech during the
awards luncheon Friday. McCollum
The 2007 FOI Summit offered an
opportunity not only to discuss the current
condition of open government laws, but
also to recognize those whose efforts have
helped make Florida's laws the toughest in
Friday morning, Patrick Danner and
Dan Christensen of The Miami Herald
were recognized for their reporting on
"supersealed" cases in Broward County.
Their reporting spurred statewide reforms
in case-sealing practices.
At the awards luncheon Friday,
following a keynote address by Florida
Attorney General Bill McCollum, The
Brechner Center inducted six individuals
into its Florida Freedom of Information
Hall of Fame and recognized the Top 30
FOI stories of the past 30 years.
The six Hall of Fame inductees are:
James C. Adkins Jr., Marion B. Brechner,
Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, H.G.
"Buddy" Davis, Louis Michael "Skip"
Perez and Gregg D. Thomas.
The late James C. "Jimmy" Adkins Jr.,
a Florida Supreme Court justice, earned
the nickname "Justice Sunshine" for his
interpretations of Florida's fledgling Open
Meetings Law in favor of the public.
Philanthropist and former media
executive Marion B. Brechner was
inducted for her continuing support of FOI
and the First Amendment.
President Emeritus of Florida State
University Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte
was a key figure in several important
events in the history of freedom of
information in Florida including the
passage of the Sunshine Law and the
success of the cameras in the courtroom
Longtime journalism professor at the
University of Florida and a Pulitzer-
Prize winning editorialist, the late H.G.
"Buddy" Davis Jr. played a key role in the
development of Florida's Open Meetings
Law, which he helped draft.
Louis Michael "Skip" Perez, executive
editor of The Lakeland Ledger, has
consistently fought for the right to
government information and been a leader
in Florida's FOI movement.
Gregg D. Thomas is a media attorney
with the law firm Thomas & LoCicero
in Tampa. Thomas has spent the past
30 years advocating for the media in
courtrooms across the state and in the U.S.
More information about the 2007 class
of Hall of Fame inductees can be found at
In addition to the Hall of Fame
presentations, publications and authors
of the "Top 30" stories of the past 30
years were honored. The 11 publications
publishing the stories were: South Florida
Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald The Palm
Beach Post, Florida Times-Union, Fort
Myers News-Press, Gannett News Service,
Orlando Sentinel, Florida Trend, The
Lakeland Ledger The Tampa Tribune, and
St. Petersburg Times.
Several individual journalists were
also on hand to receive recognition for
their industrious reporting: Joe Adams,
Cynthia Barnett, Dan Christensen, Patrick
Danner, George Diaz, John Dunbar,
Sydney Freedburg, Margo Harakas, family
members of the late Mike Hoyem, Connie
Humburg, Jim Leusner, Pat Moore, Steve
Patterson and Paige St. John.
More information about the winning
stories in the "Top 30" and their authors is
available at www.brechner.org/top30.
Marion BrechnergreetsKen Paulson during
the Thursday evening reception.
Patrick Danner and Dan C i, ,,rt..,, a
accepted the 2007 Joseph L. Brechner
Freedom of Information Award during a
special breakfast Friday morning.
4 The Brechner Report U October 2007
Students honor retiring professor
Brechner Center Executive
Director Prof. Sandra Chance
ended the FOI Summit with a
surprise presentation of a lifetime
achievement award to Dr. Bill F.
Chamberlin for his mentoring and
work in freedom of information.
Prof. Chamberlin (pictured at right
with his wife, Jeanne, and a group
of his current and former students),
founding director of The Brechner
Center and Joseph L. Brechner
Eminent Scholar, is retiring in 2008.
LAKELAND Members of the Polk
County Opportunity Council (PCOC)
may have reached the end of the road in
their effort to overturn a ruling that they
violated the Open Meetings Law. The
2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the
PCOC's motion for rehearing. Because
the 2nd DCA did not issue a written
opinion, the PCOC has nothing to appeal
to the Florida Supreme Court.
The civil infractions against the
10 board members stemmed from a
September 2005 meeting where the
board paused a public meeting to discuss
reprimanding its executive director and
then resumed the public meeting.
The PCOC works to serve the area's
communities, mainly through the Head
Start program. However, the PCOC has
lost its federal and state funding.
A county judge fined each member
$250 for the civil infraction, plus $28.60
in court costs. A circuit court judge
upheld the ruling, as did the 2nd DCA.
The PCOC has paid $20,000 toward legal
expenses. The remaining costs have been
covered by the PCOC's insurance.
PCOC attorney Bill Grob contends
that the 10 defendants should have
been granted a jury trial, and that the
determination that board members, who
volunteer, are public officers violates the
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
Ana-Klara Hering, Production Assistant
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
Society of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L
Husband ousted from wife's panel
LEE COUNTY A county
commissioner is seeking a
replacement for one of his advisory
board members, citing a presumption
of Sunshine Law violations when a
husband and wife serve on the same
Commissioner Frank Mann wants
to replace Ernie Hartman, chairman of
the Lehigh Acres Streetlight District.
Hartman has served on the board
since 1992. Hartman's wife, Dolly,
joined the board in 1994. But
Commissioner Mann said it was not
until 2007 that he realized there was a
"Fundamentally, I don't think it's a
good idea or good policy," Mann said.
"You automatically get into questions
about violations of the Sunshine Law."
Hartman, who was reappointed by
Mann in January, said he has never
spoken with his wife about board issues
outside of meetings.
"We don't discuss anything other
than what's at the meeting," Hartman
said. "That would be a violation of the
Sunshine Law. We're volunteers. We're
not paid. It's never been a problem
City moves to settle Sunshine suit
JACKSONVILLE The Jacksonville was not disclosed at a regular council
City Council wants to settle a lawsuit that meeting.
alleges five council members violated The lawsuit requests invalidation of the
the Sunshine Law when they met at a council's decision to grant the exception.
restaurant for dinner and a tour. Smith is also seeking legal fees. A
The restaurant, Arielle's, was seeking settlement could allow the city to resolve
a zoning exception from the council so the matter without admitting guilt or paying
it could serve alcohol until 2 a.m. The legal fees. The city is now willing to repeal
exception was opposed by neighbors but its decision and hold a new hearing.
eventually approved by the council. "It was a recognition that it's a lot
Donald Smitha, whose dental practice simpler and more final to handle it this
is across the street from Arielle's, filed the way than it is to go through the time and
suit in 2005. Smitha's suit alleges council expense of [a] lawsuit," said Jacksonville
members Reggie Fullwood, Suzanne Deputy General Counsel Tracey Arpen.
Jenkins, Mia Jones, Pat Lockett-Felder Arielle's owner, Aaron Hill, told The
and Lake Ray violated the law because Florida Times-Union that the restaurant
their dinner was not noticed to the public, has been a good neighbor and made
no minutes were taken, and the meeting improvements to the building.
Council upset over letter to editor
BRONSON A month before he
was fired, the town attorney for Bronson
expressed his concerns about potential
Sunshine Law violations in a letter to
the local newspaper. In a letter to the
Chiefland Citizen, Town Attorney James
A. Cornelius, who was also the city
manager, wrote that two town council
members met at an old water plant, where
they made official decisions. Cornelius
also alleged that a council member
illegally gave away old water meters.
Cornelius did not name specific council
members in his letter.
Bronson Mayor Beatrice Mongo
said the matter had been blown out of
proportion and that Cornelius should have
approached the council before contacting
the media. "That wasn't the right way to
go about it," she said.
Council members defended the meeting
at the water plant, where two members
reportedly approved additional fencing at
Vice Mayor Aaron Edmondson said he
allowed old water meters to be removed
free of charge to avoid removal costs. But
some citizens objected to the practice,
questioning whether the scrap could be
worth money for the town. Mongo said a
new policy would be created.
Cornelius defended his letter,
maintaining that he has to walk a fine line
between serving the Town Council and the
public. The Chiefland Citizen reported that
Cornelius, who was hired in January 2007,
will seek compensation for the remainder
of his two-year contract.
The Brechner Report U October 2007
University of Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
Gainesville, FL 32611
Permit No. 94
F UNIVERSITY of
Government must learn from its mistakes at Guantanamo
Five years have passed since the first detainees arrived
at Guantanamo Bay, yet the American government seems
unwilling to learn from mistakes made at its faraway
outpost. I spent nearly four years covering Guantanamo
- an assignment punctuated by The Associated Press'
legal victory that shed a light onto the otherwise opaque
world of Guantanamo and forced the Pentagon to
name hundreds of detainees it had held and to release
thousands of pages of secret tribunal testimony. Pal
The dispatches from the prison camp have resonance
today even though I'm posted now in Britain an ocean
away from the barbed wire and blinding sunshine of the camp
that opened in early 2002, a little over four months after the
Sept. 11 terror attacks. Although roots of extremism have been
The exposed and links have been
Bk Pestablished between terror cell
B a k Pa e around the world, the so-calle
By Paisley Dodds war on terror has yet to be wo
It is nnli!keol that cnrch a hnttle
ever will in our lifetimes.
The key question is how to proceed in the fight for security
while forcing the government to be transparent and refusing to
forfeit the ideals that set us apart from others. This is the moment
to be asking tough questions.
While the courts are challenging Guantanamo's shaky legal
foundations, there is no immediate end in sight for the detention
camp that is still shrouded in secrecy. Journalists are no longer
allowed to witness tribunals for detainees the government views
as "high-value." Lawyers too, are still banned from many of the
hearings. There are seldom independent observers. The public
is asked to take the government's word for what happens in the
There is little that can be done without relentless question-
asking and arduous legal battles, but it is not hopeless. In these
challenging times, governments and militaries should be put
under the highest scrutiny. People should be asking why more
than ever before.
The threat of terrorism makes it more necessary for the public
to be informed. People should know who is being held in U.S.
regardless of whether they have been charged or if they are
foreign nationals. The public has a right to know the
un-redacted story. About 380 men are still being held
at Guantanamo Bay, most accused of links to al-Qaida
or the Taliban. Many have been held at the prison for
more than five years. Only three have been charged
with crimes. The government has yet to release an audio
tape where the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept.
11, 2001 attacks allegedly confessed to some 31 plots.
Dodds It has been reluctant to release any audio or video of the
detainees. The Pentagon has said it fears releasing the
tape of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from a secret March
hearing could boost morale for his supporters. Only a censored
transcript has been released with redacted accounts of alleged
torture at the hands of the CIA. After so long, what is the
government really afraid of?
Yet it is Guantanamo-not the terror trials held in U.S. federal
courts-that makes world headlines. Judges recently ruled
that the Pentagon could not prosecute Salim Ahmed Hamdan
and Omar Khadr because they had not first been identified as
"unlawful" enemy combatants, as required by a law passed
last year. Republicans and the White House pushed through
legislation last year authorizing the war-crimes trials after the
Supreme Court threw out President Bush's previous system as
illegal and in violation of international treaties. The proceedings
continue to draw criticism at home and abroad. And with
detainees representing more than 40 countries, the fight cannot be
We've seen how terror groups are changing-particularly in
Britain where home-grown extremism is on the rise-and we're
seeing them mutate around the world. The public has a right
to know about this threat, and it is crucial that journalists keep
fighting to expose that truth.
Without transparency, the public is kept in the dark. Without
accountability, the United States stands to reverse its hard-won
Paisley Dodds is London bureau chieffor The Associated
Press. She won the 2006 Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of
Information Award for her .,,. i, ,ii, i. ,, i at Guantanamo.