Volume 32, Number 11 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
Court awards judgment in anti-SLAPP suit
ORLANDO A circuit court judge The News is an online publication statements saying the company misspent
awarded the operator of the Veranda about issues in Veranda Park, an Orlando homeowners' association dues, unfairly
Park News $180,000 under a Florida development where Giles has a house, enriched itself by changing landscaping,
statute that protects homeowners who According to Giles' suit, the News and partnered with the city of Orlando to
petition "was an attempt to petition public gain a business advantage.
regarding FIR ST officials and institutions to take Giles counterclaimed that the suit was
their action regarding matters of political unlawful under Florida's anti-SLAPP
homeowners' AMENDMENT and public importance" to the statute because it intended to stop him
associations. community, from petitioning.
Florida Circuit Court Judge George Veranda Partners, a real estate The judge ruled that Giles was entitled
Sprinkle entered a default judgment developer with a controlling interest to triple his attorneys' fees, based on
against Veranda Partners, LLC, in favor in Veranda Park, initially sued Giles Florida's strong anti-SLAPP statute.
of News operator Larry Giles. after he published allegedly defamatory Source: Citizen Media Law Project
Court holds White House visitor records public
WASHINGTON A federal court
issued five decisions ordering the Secret
Service to search its computers for records
related to lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits
to the White House.
Two open-government groups filed
FOIA requests for White House visitor
records in 2006.
The Secret Service gave Judicial Watch
some documents, but Judicial Watch
argued in the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia that the disclosed
documents were inadequate.
The Citizens for Responsibility and
Ethics in Washington also complained
that disclosures were inadequate after it
requested documents on White House
visits from the Department of Homeland
The court also held scinsii\ c security
records" created when a background
check on a White House visitor turns up
questionable information prompting Secret
Service officers to
investigate are FREED
not exempt from
FOIA requests. OF INFORM
Service and DHS both argued that even
confirming or denying the records existed
would reveal compromising information.
"The Court is not convinced that the
information plaintiff primarily seeks the
name of a visitor, the dates and times
of his visits, and the persons) visited
- would allow even the most dedicated
would-be criminal to discern what visitor
characteristics trigger" a check, wrote
Judge Royce Lamberth.
CREW also sued the National
Archives and Records
O M Administration for
[ATION a FOIA request on
destruction of White House visitor
records, but Judge Reggie B. Walton said
many of the requested documents were
exempt under FOIA.
Source: The Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press
USDA official refuses to be videotaped
LEE COUNTY A meeting of the
Charlotte County "Iguana Advisory"
board was cut short when a United States
Department of Agriculture representative
refused to be videotaped.
said he could not ACCES S
speak about the
program while MEETINGS
"I know I'm a pain in the rear end, but
if we're going to be filmed I have to get
permission through our legislative public
affairs office for you to film it," said Hall,
according to the Boca Beacon.
Board member Tony Ackerman then
asked whether the Beacon reporter could
be ejected from the meeting. Charlotte
County Public Works representative Tara
Musselman informed Ackerman that the
reporter had a right to be present.
Although reasonable rules ensuring
orderly behavior are appropriate, it is
unreasonable to prohibit "the use of
nondisruptive or silent tape recording
devices," according to the 2008
Board chairperson Lyman Randall,
however, compromised by holding
a closed meeting after the scheduled
meeting and relaying what was discussed.
The Beacon contacted the USDA after
the meeting and was informed that no
USDA policy prohibited employees from
being filmed or photographed.
The "Iguana Advisory" board discusses
capturing iguanas in Charlotte County.
Source: Boca Beacon and the
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
Stadium group vows to operate in sunshine
PINELLAS COUNTY A group
created to search for a new stadium for the
Tampa Bay Rays has agreed to open its
discussions, meetings, e-mails and other
documents to public review.
The 11-member group agreed to solicit
public input at some meetings and hold
public forums in order to combat criticism
that it does not represent the interests
of Tampa Bay residents, according to
Progress Energy Florida CEO Jeff Lyash.
The group also will make its materials
and meetings available to the public
because it ultimately reports to public
officials. It was created at the request of
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.
Some group members expressed
concern about complying with the Public
PONTE VEDRA An outgoing St.
Johns County Commissioner slammed the
Open Meetings law during discussions to
support a resolution to amend the Florida
Constitution to make state legislators
operate under the law.
Ben Rich originally supported extending
the law, saying it was "a slap to the face"
of Tallahassee by making state legislators
contend with the "kind of garbage" local
government does, according to The
Rich, now against the resolution, said
the Open Meetings Law "automatically
Records and Open Meetings Laws. The
members questioned making discussions
about finding corporate support and about
specific potential sites public too soon in
Other members expressed surprise at
Florida's stringent Public Records and
Open Meetings laws. "Are you serious?"
Sembler Co. Chief Executive Craig
Sher asked the stadium group's attorney,
Charlie Harris, according to the St.
Although the group cannot determine
if or where a new stadium will be built,
it will have influence over any decision
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg
indicated he would defer to the group.
suspends the rights of people to talk" and
is like laws "maybe in one of the Middle
Eastern Islamic countries," according to
No vote was taken on the resolution,
though the commissioners expressed
The state's Commission on Open
Government, which Gov. Charlie
Crist created in part to evaluate Open
Meetings Law recommendations, is
slated to report findings on the resolution
on Dec. 31.
Source: The Beaches Leader
Union sues school board
NAPLES The Collier County School
Board and three board members were
sued for violating the Open Meetings Law
by holding secret meetings to fire then-
Superintendent Ray Baker.
Teamsters Local 79 and Collier County
school bus driver Charlotte Locke claim
phone records show board chairperson
Linda Abbott and board member
Richard Calabrese contacted current
Superintendent Dennis Thompson about
the position before the board voted 3-2 to
terminate Baker and discuss the position
The suit also alleges the members,
including board member Steve Donovan,
secretly talked with each other about
No other candidates were interviewed
for the position.
"Our research shows this decision was
made ahead of time. This clearly offends
the Sunshine Law," said Mark Richard,
the attorney representing the union and
Locke, according to the Naples Daily
The school board's attorney dismissed
the suit as an attempt to harass Thompson.
"It's kind of a nutty tactic, and we expect
to dispose of it pretty easily," said Richard
Withers, according to the News.
Baker also sued the board in late 2007
for violating the Open Meetings Law.
That suit was settled in May 2008.
Source: Naples Daily News; also see
The Brechner Report Jul. 2008 issue
"We could play on the middle of the bay
on an island if they think it's the best
idea," said Sternberg, according to the
Source: St. Petersburg Times
PENSACOLA The City Council
unanimously voted to require a board
of trustees to hear public comment
at all meetings after the city attorney
advised it to do so.
City Attorney Rusty Wells wrote
to the attorney for the Community
Maritime Park Associates Board of
Trustees, Ed Fleming, to tell him the
CMPA should allow public comments
at the meetings.
The CMPA chairperson originally
said he had no interest in hearing the
Chairperson Lacey Collier's
comments did not sit well with some
council members. "We can spend
$40 million of public money on the
park and have the audacity to say you
can't have an open forum?" asked
member John Jerralds, according to
the Pensacola News Journal.
Community members also urged
the Council to make CMPA meetings
public. The CMPA board is "working
for the citizens and not the other way
around," said Deborah Nelson, the
president of the League of Women
Voters of the Pensacola Bay Area,
according to the Journal.
"The Community Maritime Park
board will be a board forever, as long
as there is a Maritime Park, which is
a public park. And there should be
an open forum for the public when
they're doing business," said council
member Jewel Cannada-Wynn,
according to the Journal.
Collier said the City Council's
decision was "no big deal" and that
the CMPA would "probably adopt the
same procedures as the city uses,"
according to the Journal.
Source: Pensacola News Journal
2 The Brechner Report U November 2008
Commissioner calls Open
Meetings Law "garbage"
FIRST AMENDMENT CONTINUED
House passes libel tourism bill
WASHINGTON The House of
Representatives unanimously passed a
bill to prohibit U.S. courts from enforcing
foreign libel judgments that conflict with
the First Amendment.
The "libel tourism" bill protects
American writers sued for defamation in
countries with lesser libel law protections.
The bill "is a benchmark," said James
Park, counsel for Rep. Steven Cohen
(D-Tenn.), who introduced the bill,
according to The Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press.
The bill was introduced after Saudi
Arabian businessperson Khalid bin
Mahfouz sued American author Rachel
Ehrenfeld for alleged libel in her book
Attorneys sue to
publication of s
BROWARD The law firm of Jones
Day sued to prevent a residential sales
Web site from publishing its attorneys'
names, photographs, and links to their law
firm Web site biographies.
The site, Blockshopper.com, provides
sales information for professionals' homes
in south Florida and a handful of cities
nationwide. No Florida attorneys have
Jones Day, which has an office in
Chicago, sued Blockshopper.com for
service mark infringement in the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, PO Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gamesville, FL 32611-8400
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e-mail brechnerreport@jou ufl edu
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Exec. Director/Exec. Editor
Kearston Wesner, Editor
Alana Kolifrath, Production Coordinator
Alison Parker, Production Assistant
The BrechnerReport is published 12 times a
year under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation The Brechner Report 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
Society of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L
"Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed
and How to Stop It." Ehrenfeld lost.
"As our world becomes more and more
interconnected, we need new laws to
ensure that Americans' First Amendment
rights won't be hindered by more
restrictive, foreign mandates," said Cohen
in a press statement.
Prior to the introduction of the "libel
tourism" bill, the House and Senate both
introduced the Free Speech Protection Act
of 2008, which gave losing defendants a
federal cause of action when the judgment
violates the First Amendment. The FSPA
is still under consideration.
Source: The Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press
Illinois after two of its attorneys' home
sales were covered on the site. The
suit claims the site deceives users into
thinking Jones Day is "source or origin of
the services provided or offered for sale."
The firm also accused Blockshopper
of federal false designation of origin and
unfair business practices under the Illinois
Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Jones Day seeks an injunction,
damages, and attorneys' fees. It offered
to settle for $10,000 if Blockshopper
agreed to stop reporting on Jones Day's
employees. Blockshopper declined.
"If we don't fight it, Jones Day could
do this to any news organization or any
blog. You would completely throttle the
Internet if you required online journalists
and bloggers to get permission before
linking," said Blockshopper president
Brian Timpone, according to the Broward
Daily Business Review.
Even though the sales information is
public, putting it on Blockshopper "was
somewhat disturbing because now if you
Google me in Chicago, this is one of the
first things that comes up," said Mark
Silberman, an attorney with Chicago's
Duane Morris, whose information was
also posted, according to the Review.
Attorneys at the law firms of Bryan
Cave and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher &
Flom also had their information posted on
Source: Broward Daily Business
WASHINGTON Steven Hatfill,
a former Army scientist who the
government investigated in the 2001
anthrax attacks, moved to dismiss a
contempt order appeal by USA Today
reporter Toni Locy.
Locy was held in contempt for
refusing to disclose confidential
sources when she was subpoenaed in
Hatfill's Privacy Act suit against the
Hatfill claimed that the
government violated the Act by
telling the press he was a "person of
interest" in the attacks that killed five
people and injured 17.
After Locy was held in contempt,
she immediately appealed the order,
but an opinion was never issued.
While waiting for an opinion,
Hatfill and the government settled
the suit for $5.8 million, and Hatfill's
name was cleared.
Assuming the court dismisses
Locy's appeal, Hatfill's motion
requests the district court to require
Locy to pay his attorney's fees.
Under U.S. District Judge
Reggie Walton's contempt order,
Locy already must pay sanctions
of up to $5,000 per day. The order
also stipulated that neither Locy's
employer, USA Today, nor Gannett
could help her pay the fines.
While the appeal is pending, Locy
has not had to pay any contempt
"Judge Walton's contempt order
would've wrecked my retirement.
But Hatfill's legal bills would destroy
me," said Locy, according to The
Reporters Committee for Freedom of
Source: The Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press; also see
The Brechner Report June 2008 issue
The Brechner Report U November 2008
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
Public records vital to investigation of brokers
For years, rogue mortgage brokers, many licensed by
the state of Florida despite criminal backgrounds, preyed
on investors. They bilked the young and old, the savvy
and novice. Then they did it again. The state of Florida,
the industry watchdog, did not stop them.
Forty-eight years after Florida became the first state
in the country to regulate mortgage brokers, the state's
screening process had filled with holes.
This year, in an extraordinary series built largely Ronnie
from documents and databases obtained through Florida
Chapter 119 and federal FOIA requests, The Miami
Herald pierced this veil and pointed the way to reform.
Borrowers Betrayed, a three-part series that began in July,
revealed that more than 10,000 people with criminal records
were granted licenses to work in Florida's mortgage industry this
decade. Of those, more than
The 4,000 were licensed despite
B ack Pa e committing crimes state
B ac Pa e law specifically required
By Ronnie Greene regulators to screen.
After slipping through the
cracks amid the state's historic housing boom, those criminals
went on to commit nearly $85 million in mortgage fraud. Victims
lost homes, fortunes and trust in government in a state with the
country's highest rate of mortgage fraud.
"This is a classic public records story," said Michael Sallah,
The Herald's Pulitzer-Prize winning investigations editor who led
the project with reporters Rob Barry, Jack Dolan and Matthew
Haggman. "There were consequences, clearly, to allowing
criminals to have mortgage brokers' licenses."
Finding those consequences required detailed analysis of key
databases one after another until The Herald was able to fully
see how the state had so significantly dropped its guard.
First, the newspaper obtained a database of licensed mortgage
brokers and lenders through a Chapter 119 request to the Florida
Office of Financial Regulation. Then The Herald began running
the brokers' names through criminal databases, including:
The Florida Department of Corrections
Searching this list found some 3,000 hits of brokers who had
been in the state prison system for convictions.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement
This database, which includes a fuller list of criminals
than the DOC, posed a challenge to The Herald.
Running the names of all brokers through FDLE would
have cost millions of dollars, as individual searches cost
$23. Instead, the newspaper filed a Chapter 119 request
for the FDLE to conduct a study to detail the number of
brokers with criminal convictions but not include their
Greene names. This list found an additional 7,000 hits.
"Without that, I don't even think we would have a
project," Sallah said. "At the end of the day, we found
over 10,000 mortgage professionals with criminal histories."
Though the FDLE run did not include names, the newspaper
was able to identify individual brokers through other public
records it had obtained. Then the reporters launched other layers
of research searching the federal PACER system for civil cases
against brokers, for instance, and heading to courthouses and
police departments to pull individual case files. They sat down
with dozens of victims and reached crooked brokers.
Dolan, Barry and Haggman's legwork found eye-opening case
studies. One broker was licensed despite a conviction for cocaine
trafficking and a police report that said he carried a small arsenal
of assault rifles. Given a green light to sell mortgages, the broker
fleeced 30 people and arranged nearly $3 million in fraudulent
loans from Miami to Tampa. Licensed brokers stole Social
Security numbers, bank account information, and even homes.
The newspaper also filed Chapter 119 requests for e-mails of
top state regulators. The e-mails revealed the public officials paid
to protect consumers had actually opposed tougher enforcement.
The case studies, victim stories and pattern of enforcement
breakdowns formed one compelling whole that triggered an
immediate outcry for change.
Ultimately, Florida's top mortgage regulator stepped down.
A state audit affirmed the newspaper's findings. And a move is
afoot to rebuild a victims' fund that had simply gone to waste.
Ronnie Greene, Urban Affairs Editor and!. ,,ii,,,.n
., i,. ih,,t .c.' reporter with The Miami Herald, authored the
nonfiction book s.;lit Fire: Big Oil, Poison Air and Margie
Richard Fight to Save Her Town (HarperCollins/Amistad 2008).