Volume 31, 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
District Court overturns restraint on documents
ORLANDO An Orlando television
station prevailed in a lawsuit challenging
a trial court's order
prohibiting it from airing PRI
stories about a political
consultant. The 5th REST]
District Court of Appeal
ruled that consultant Doug
Guetzloe did not prove that his privacy
concerns outweighed WKMG-TV's First
Amendment rights. The station
received documents belonging
Sto Guetzloe after he failed to
INT pay rent on a self-storage unit.
Guetzloe was at the center
of an election-law scandal
Paper wins access to settlement
FORT MYERS The News-Press
(Ft. Myers) prevailed in a public records
lawsuit against a city councilman,
winning the right of access to a settlement
Fort Myers City Councilman Warren
Wright sued the city and a developer over
the construction of a 14-story tower near
a lot Wright owned in a historic district.
Wright later settled the suit, but the
agreement was not made public.
The News-Press sought the settlement
agreement under the Public Records
Law, contending it was a record made in
connection with official business. Circuit
Judge Margaret O. Steinbeck sided with
Judge denies bid
ATLANTA A federal judge denied
a request to bar the news media from a
suppression hearing in a terrorism case.
U.S Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn
Brill ruled that the news media have
a First Amendment right to attend the
of terrorism suspect C O U
Syed Ahmed. Ahmed's
lawyer filed a motion
seeking to have the media barred from the
hearing, which would consider whether to
suppress statements Ahmed made to law
enforcement. The government planned to
play 12 hours of recorded conversations
"Defendant's motion does not come
close to giving the court grounds to make
the newspaper, finding that Wright cited
his status as councilman as a basis for
bringing the suit.
After Steinbeck ordered Wright to give
a copy of the agreement to The News-
Press, it reported that Wright settled the
suit for $100,000. Wright said most of
that money will go towards legal fees he
spent bringing the suit.
Wright also said that it was the
developer who wanted the agreement kept
private, not him. "I totally understand and
respect The News-Press' position," Wright
said. "I'm relieved that it's out there. I
don't want the public to feel like I am
to close hearing
the specific findings required by the law
before a criminal hearing may be closed to
the public," Brill wrote in her order.
Ahmed and co-defendant Ehsanul
Sadequee, both U.S. citizens, are accused
of training to carry out a "violent jihad"
against civilian and
RT S government targets.
"Judge Brill was right
to recognize that if we
close the courtroom every time significant
evidence gets considered, we would
quickly undermine the meaning of an open
court system," said attorney Tom Clyde,
who represented The Associated Press
and other news organizations in the case.
"This is an important hearing and it's
important for it to be open."
related to a 2003 mayoral election.
The trial court first barred the station
from broadcasting any stories on the
documents, but later limited the restraint to
documents related to Guetzloe's medical
history and attorney communications.
The case, Post-Newsweek v. Guetzloe,
is available at http://www.5dca.org.
records suit in
favor of county
BUNNELL Ajudge's grant
of summary judgment in favor of
Flagler County may end a lawsuit
by The Fih. r, Times seeking e-
mail correspondence addressed to a
county commissioner at his personal
address. The Times sued for the
e-mails that were not submitted to
ACCESS for record
used commissioners' personal
e-mail addresses to communicate
electronically, according to The
Times. Commissioner James Darby's
aol.com address was the one at issue
in the suit against the county.
"The documents in question
certainly relate to public issues,
unfortunately Judge [Raul]
Zambrano has ruled that we cannot
rely upon Florida's public records
laws to discover them and any
related correspondence that may
exist," said Eric Gayton, publisher of
The newspaper is appealing the
NBA player's case remains open
SARASOTA COUNTY The trial
and related documents involving an NBA
athlete's child support obligations will
be open to the public, even though both
sides argued for closure. The Manatee
Herald-Tribune argued that the desire of
the parties to litigate in private did not
meet the heavy burden required to close
the case, and Circuit Judge Donna Berlin
Tracy McGrady, 28, is a guard for the
Houston Rockets. He and Pearl Vega,
35, of Bradenton, are in court over how
much child support he should pay for their
McGrady's attorney, Mark Sessums,
first argued to close the proceedings after
a reporter for the Herald-Tribune entered
the courtroom to watch the trial.
Sessums said McGrady's endorsement
contracts could contain trade secrets. Both
sides also argued that closure of the case
would protect the best interests of the
POLK COUNTY The disappearance
of 1,000 archived e-mails from Eagle
Lake City Hall has prompted an
investigation by law enforcement. The
Polk County Sheriff's Office is looking
into the missing e-mails, apparently
from former Mayor Suzy Wilson to city
The absence of the archived e-mails
came to light when local attorney Thomas
Saunders made a public records request
for all e-mails from Wilson from Jan.
1, 2004 through the present. Saunders
requested the e-mails in connection with
TALLAHASSEE- Florida Attorney
General Bill McCollum has released
the results from the first stage of the
"Governmental Accountability Project"
(GAP), developed in partnership with The
GAP was launched earlier this year to
encourage government entities to provide
citizens with more information, especially
regarding government spending and
contact persons for public records issues.
Researchers at the University of
Florida, led by Dr. Cory Armstrong and
Prof. Sandra Chance, performed a content
analysis of the Web sites of Florida's
67 counties. School district Web sites
his objections to a proposed development
in Eagle Lake, according to The Ledger
While detectives questioned city
officials and commissioners, Saunders
sued the city in hopes of ensuring that data
are not destroyed when the city installs
The Sheriff's Office said that its
information technology specialist is
working to find the deleted e-mails. It
is not known whether the e-mails were
intentionally deleted or are missing
because of a computer problem.
were also analyzed by the seven-person
The results showed that 75 percent of
counties and school districts have public
records available on their Web sites.
However, only 8.8 percent of counties
and 21 percent of school districts post
individual contracts online.
The study also found an overall
absence of clearly labeled information
regarding a particular person in charge of
Phase Two of GAP will include a series
of citizen forums. The full GAP report
and links to government contracts are
available at www.myfloridalegal.com.
but at a price
independent publisher who
successfully fought back after the
Florida Elections Commission tried
to shut down her newspaper is still
stuck with legal fees, although the
ACLU and Tallahassee lawyer
Robert Rivas stepped in to help.
Julia Hanway, publisher of the
Wakulla Independent Reporter,
fought the Commission's decision
accusing her paper of being an
and putting her on notice that if she
continued to publish, she would face
The Commission later backed
off their decision, promising U.S.
District Judge Robert L. Hinkle
against Hanway and the Reporter
Hinkle eventually dismissed
Hanway's First Amendment lawsuit
against the Commission, based on its
promise not to pursue a case against
However, Hinkle did not allow
Hanway to recover the $80,000
in legal fees it took to fight the
Commission's original decision.
"It's a mystery to me how
Hinkle could have come up with
this determination, because the
[Commission] would never have
relented if I had not had attorneys
who were willing to fight the
[Commission's] original decision,"
Hanway told the St. Petersburg
Hanway's attorney, Robert Rivas
of the law firm Sachs & Sax, was
still pleased with the overall outcome
of the case.
"At least we accomplished shining
a light on the lack of competence
and integrity of the Florida Elections
Commission," Rivas said, according
to the Times.
2 The Brechner Report U December 2007
Polk sheriff's office investigates
disappearance of 1,000 e-mails
First phase of GAP finds online
presence of records is lacking
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
of Bush order
WASHINGTON, D.C. Former
presidents and vice-presidents don't have
indefinite power to review executive
records before they are released under
FOIA, according to a ruling by a federal
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-
Kotelly's ruling invalidates part of
President Bush's 2001 executive order
allowing for what could be indefinite
delays in releasing executive records.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit
brought by the consumer-advocacy
group Public Citizen on behalf of several
academic organizations, including the
American Historical Association and the
National Security Archive.
Current law gives the National
Archives final approval of when
presidential records are released.
"The Bush Order effectively eliminates
the Archivist's discretion to release a
former president's documents while
such documents are pending a former
president's review, which can be extended
- presumably indefinitely upon the
former president's request," Kollar-
A former president's review causes an
average six-month delay in the release of
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
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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
Coast Guard's new policy limits
access to identities of rescued
WASHINGTON, D.C. The
U.S. Coast Guard has issued a new
policy on disclosing names of rescued
persons, erring in favor of secrecy in
order to protect the privacy of those
Prior to the nationwide policy, Coast
Guard policies varied among districts,
according to the First Amendment
Center Online. The new policy
requires a request under FOIA in order
to obtain the names of rescued persons.
"We wanted to balance the privacy
right of individuals with the public's
need to know when search-and-rescue
cases are active," said Coast Guard
spokeswoman Angela Hirsch. "[O]nce a
case is resolved, it is no longer open, and
names are then not releasable without an
The new policy was a result of a
two-year review following the Cleveland
Plain Dealer's unsuccessful attempt
to learn about names of individuals
repeatedly saved by the Coast Guard on
Lake Erie, according to the Navy Times.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Requesters
of information regarding Hillary
Clinton's time in the White House will
probably have to wait until after the 2008
presidential election to look at phone
logs, schedules and other documents from
Clinton's tenure as first lady.
The documents are held at the Clinton
Presidential Library in Little Rock, which
is operated by the National Archives.
There are nearly 2 million pages of logs,
schedules and similar files at issue, the Los
Angeles Times reported.
In total, there are some 80 million
WASHINGTON, D.C. The
Federal Communications Commission
has issued an unprecedented fine on a
cable company for airing a video news
release without also airing sponsorship
A video news release is a short
production made to appear as a newscast
but is actually an advertisement.
This is the first time the FCC has
fined a cable station for airing a video
news release. The FCC has historically
avoided sanctioning the cable community.
CN8's parent company, Comcast
Corp., is challenging the FCC's $4,000
fine. Comcast argues that the FCC is not
allowed to regulate cable programming,
pages of documents and 20 million pages
of e-mails from Bill Clinton's eight years
"My sense is that it's going to be a
very long time," said National Archives
spokeswoman Susan Cooper. "We're
working very hard on this ... It's going to
require a lot of work and there are other
people with other requests who have been
The library began accepting FOIA
requests in 2006, and has more than 250
currently waiting. Eleven archivists are
sorting through the documents.
and even if it is allowed to do so, the
fine was improper because CN8 did not
receive compensation for airing the video
The Center for Media and Democracy
initiated the complaint as part of its
review of 140 video news releases and its
subsequent request that the FCC review
broadcasters and cable companies that
failed to clearly identify sponsors.
The FCC has a rule requiring cable
operators to announce sponsorship of
programs when the operator receives
Comcast spokeswoman Sena
Fitzmaurice said the cable company will
appeal the fine.
The Brechner Report U December 2007
Hillary Clinton papers stuck in
backlog of library's FOIA requests
FCC fines cable company for VNR
University of Florida
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Gainesville, FL 32611
Permit No. 94
UF UNIVERSITY of
"Sunshine" should shine just as bright on Florida Legislature
These days, lots of important decisions about your
life are being made in Tallahassee. How much property
tax you will pay, what kind of insurance you can buy,
whether public education and health care will be funded
Increasingly, however, these decisions are being
made in private, without the scrutiny of the public and
The Florida Legislature needs to conduct more of Dan
its business in the sunshine. Nearly every day we hear
a news report that legislators are "negotiating" some
issue, or that some "agreement" has been reached about
For instance, for months legislators have been negotiating
The whether the state's no fault
S k P auto insurance law was going
Sto end because the Legislature
By Rep. Dan Gelber could not agree on what
needed to be done about it.
And this fall, it was reported that the Legislature, after
tumultuous "talks," had agreed on how to cut Florida's budget.
Amazingly, all of these decisions and negotiations, and the
talks that preceded them, were made in private. No media
members were present to hold people accountable, or to report
who was part of the decision. No one from the public was
present to ask questions or testify whether these decisions
were good for Floridians. More and more, this is the way the
people's business is being conducted in Tallahassee.
One of the great traditions in Florida is our Government-in-
According to Florida's constitution, city and county
commissioners cannot retreat to a back room out of the view
of the media and the public to make decisions that impact
the lives of our residents. All their discussions with each other
about the public's business must be in the open at a meeting
that is available to the public.
Yet, when they voted to place the constitutional amendment
mandating government in the sunshine on the ballot, the
Florida Legislature opted to exempt itself from much of its
reach. The argument was that the legislative process that is
usually compacted into a 60-day session is not suited
for all the kinds of notices and requirements that other
governmental bodies and commissions must abide by.
Just because the Legislature exempted itself from a
fully open and transparent process doesn't mean it
should avoid public scrutiny.
When the public and media are shut out of
government, the vacuum is usually filled by special
Gelber interests who perform best for their clients when no
one is there to take notice. And when things are rushed
through after the conclusion of secretive negotiations,
as they have been in the property tax debates, mistakes are
made usually at the expense of citizens.
I believe it is time for Florida to reconsider whether giving
the Legislature a pass on compliance with Florida's Sunshine
Law is a good idea.
We need to level the playing field and change the rules so
that citizens have the same opportunity to participate in the
legislative process as special interests. This requires that the
public get advance notice and opportunity for comment on final
substantive changes to all legislation.
We need to change the rules governing the budget and
appropriations process to afford greater transparency so
Floridians can see how the legislature allocates the people's
We also need to be sure that the proposed laws being
discussed are available to interested parties and the public well
in advance of the time they are discussed.
In sum, unless the Legislature can demonstrate it will not
abuse its exemption to the sunshine laws, it should be held to
similar standards of openness as local governments.
The bulwark of any democracy is an informed citizenry.
Conducting business in the shadows may be easier sometimes,
but it is neither better nor fairer, and it shortchanges the very
people we seek to serve.
Dan Gelber is the Democratic leader of the Florida House of