Volume 33, Number 4 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
Venice city council members settle Sunshine suit
VENICE The City Council voted
to accept a settlement in a civil suit
brought against four city council members
and five former city officials alleging
improper use of
e-mails in violation of A C C E S
the Sunshine Law.
The settlement was MEETIN G
announced three days
before the trial was set to begin.
In the settlement, the council admitted
to violating the law for not keeping
e-mails on the city's computer server, but
the officials did not individually admit to
Also, the city will pay legal fees
for both sides estimated at $1 million,
according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Sarasota activist Anthony Lorenzo
filed the suit against Mayor Ed Martin,
council members Sue Lang, John Moore
and John Simmonds, former Mayor Fred
Hammett and four former members of the
Airport Advisory Board.
Lorenzo alleged that the commissioners
used their personal e-mail addresses and
computers to discuss city business
Sand that those discussions constituted
improperly noticed public meetings.
S Also, the suit alleged that officials
used liaisons to communicate with
each other about city business and that the
officials improperly saved or destroyed
e-mail exchanges between them discussing
Notwithstanding the settlement, City
Councilwoman Sue Lang said she did not
think she did anything wrong, according to
the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
In January, the council approved a
policy prohibiting public officials from
using their personal e-mail for city
business and from using city computers
for personal business. The policy also
College's meeting "questionable"
NICEVILLE Attorney General
Bill McCollum has asked Panhandle
prosecutors to look into whether
campus officials at Northwest Florida
State College violated the Sunshine
Law in the "very questionable" manner
in which a meeting of college trustees
was planned, advertised and held.
College trustee chairman Wesley
Wilkerson responded to the attorney
general in writing that the meeting
was noticed in the Northwest Florida
Daily News and that the college
board "adheres to public notice and
compliance with all sections of the
Sunshine Law," according to the letter,
which was published in the Walton
However, the newspaper in which
the meeting was noticed was 150 miles
away from the location of the meeting.
No minutes were taken at the meeting
and trustees approved a "record"
of what took place 10 months later,
according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Former House Speaker Ray Sansom
is being investigated for links to the
college by the state attorney, a grand
jury and is also facing review from a
House special investigator and the state
Commission on Ethics.
Sansom resigned as speaker after
coming under fire for accepting a
$110,000 job at the college, steering
$35 million to the college over the last
two years as top budget writer in the
House, and for helping coordinate the
meeting of trustees at a members-only
club via e-mail with college president
Sansom has denied any wrong
doing, according to the St. Petersburg
Source: Pensacola News-Journal,
St. Petersburg Times, Walton Sun and
Northwest Florida Daily News
requires officials to forward all e-mails
regarding city business received in their
private e-mail accounts to their city e-mail
accounts. The policy requires all city
officials and employees attend Sunshine
The city also provides online access for
anyone to log on to the server and see all
e-mails sent to and from council members.
Mayor Martin stopped online access to
incoming e-mail briefly before the council
voted unanimously in February to reverse
The Florida Department of Law
Enforcement has said that it has been
following the case and will make a
determination on whether to pursue
criminal charges after reviewing the
finding in the civil suit, according to the
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune and
Venice Gondolier Sun
New shield law
WASHINGTON A federal shield
law was reintroduced in both the U.S.
House of Representatives and the
U.S. Senate in February.
A shield law would protect
journalists from testifying about
confidential sources. Both the House
bill, H.R. 985, and the Senate bill,
S. 448, contain exceptions for
national security, terrorism, and
situations where reporters are
eyewitnesses to crimes.
President Barack Obama and
Attorney General Eric Holder have
said they support a federal shield law.
Source: The Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press and Society
Attorney files suit protesting record copying fees
ST. PETE BEACH An attorney has writing that an "extra administrative fee" the normal copying fee of 15 cents per
filed a lawsuit protesting a $7,721.35 would be required to cover the estimated page, according to the St. Petersburg
charge resulting from a public records 32 hours of attorney time and 22 hours Times.
request. of staff time to assemble and redact the In his lawsuit, Weiss is asking the
Attorney Ken Weiss made a public records requested and that the rate for the court to require the city and its attorneys
records request to attorneys representing attorneys time would be calculated at the to honor his public records request, to
St. Pete Beach for all e-mails and rate the attorneys charge the city: $205 impose a fine on the city for violating
documents related to a separate lawsuit, per hour. the public records law and to force the
according to the St. Petersburg Times. Weiss has said he did not agree to city to cover his legal fees for the suit.
A city attorney informed Weiss in pay any extra fees and is willing to pay Source: St. Petersburg Times
Judge rules Proposition 8 donor names open
CALIFORNIA- A federal judge
denied a request for an injunction to
shield campaign finance records from
the public by supporters of California's
Proposition 8 because the supporters
failed to demonstrate "irreparable harm."
Supporters of Proposition 8, the
California ballot measure that banned
gay marriage, sued to close the records
FORT WALTON BEACH The
Okaloosa County School Board voted
unanimously to keep a book on two
high schools' reading lists despite
requests from parents to remove it.
"The Kite Runner," a novel by
Khaled Hosseini, depicts the lives
of two young boys growing up in
Afghanistan before the Taliban took
over and through the Sept. 11, 2001
attacks. The book, which includes a
depiction of the sexual molestation of
a child, has faced similar challenges
across the country.
The school board will keep the
book in the advanced classes and in
the media centers at Choctawhatchee
and Fort Walton Beach high schools.
The parents, Laura and Jeff
Stovall, asked the school board to
remove the book in January because
of its "mature content," according to
the News Herald.
Source: News Herald
because they had allegedly been
"The court finds that the state is not
facilitating retaliation by compelling
disclosure," said U.S. District Judge
Morrison England Jr., according to The
Reporter 's Committeefor Freedom of
According to the report, donors from
homemakers to millionaires donated more
than $40 million during the campaign.
Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent
of the vote and is under review by the
California Supreme Court, which had
legalized same sex marriage in May.
Source: The New York Times and The
Reporter 's Committee for Freedom of the
Tracking tax dollars online
Sunshine Week, Governor Charlie Crist
and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink
unveiled the Sunshine Spending Web
site, which allows Floridians to track
how the state government is spending
The Web site is updated nightly
and allows the public to search for
information on payments to vendors and
other recipients of state funds by using
the vendor's name.
Information available on the Web
site includes total payments to vendors
for each fiscal year beginning in the
2004-2005 fiscal year and information
about each payment including the name
of the requesting state agency, the
telephone number of the agency's finance
and accounting person and the document
numbers for documents related to that
According to the governor's press
office, no additional tax dollars were
spent to create or maintain the Web site.
The Web site can be accessed at
or at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/
AP sues over Obama photo
NEW YORK The Associated Press photographer.
is suing the artist behind the red, white The Associated Press argues it owns
and blue image ofT T the copyright of the
President Barack C K Hr image and is seeking
Obama with the credit and compensation.
word "HOPE" at the bottom, claiming Fairey argues his use of the photograph
copyright infringement, is protected under the fair use doctrine
The image created by artist Shepard because it was used for a civic purpose.
Fairey became one of the most recognized Fair use protects some use of
images of the 2008 presidential election copyrighted works based on how much
and was sold by the thousands as posters, of, and for what purpose, the original
stickers and buttons, work is used.
Fairey has admitted the image Source: The Associated Press and
was based on a 2006 photograph of The Reporters Committee for Freedom
Obama taken by an Associated Press of the Press
2 The Brechner Report April 2009
TALLAHASSEE Nearly 100
shell bills have been introduced
in the Florida Senate for the 2009
Shell bills are filed at the
beginning of the session and provide
the structure, but not the purpose
or language, for a bill. They are
problematic because the text could
be filled in and the bill voted on at
anytime during the session giving
the public little notice or time for
Shell bills introduced this session
include 14 bills related to open
government, 14 bills for "economic
development" and an unprecedented
80 bills slated for "governmental
operations," according to the First
If shell bills on open government
turn into n\ iini' often it is an
exemption, said Adria Harper,
director of the FirstAmendment
"We have to monitor them really
closely to see if they turn into
something that could be detrimental
to our right of access," Harper said.
Foundation and Daytona Beach
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College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
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Sandra F Chance, J.D., Exec. Director/Exec. Editor
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Alison Parker, Production Assistant
The BrechnerReport is published 12 times a
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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
Back-up recordings a concern
HIGHLANDS COUNTY- Judge
J. David Langford, chief judge of the
10th Judicial District Court, will review
the court's unwritten policy of having a
back-up audio recording system running
continuously in courtrooms.
The back-up audio recording system
runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every workday,
even when the court is in recess.
Nick Sudzina, court administrator,
said the audio recordings are maintained
to protect against human error, system
malfunction and to ensure records
of court proceedings are accurately
maintained, according to Highlands
However, the recording policy
has raised concern for the privacy of
privileged attorney-client communication.
"The whole reason for a conversation
being confidential is that nobody hears
it," said Rex Dimmig, director of the 10th
Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office,
according to Highlands Today.
The recordings are subject to the public
records law and if requested would be
reviewed and redacted. The chief judge
would be the one to make a decision
if there is a question about material
to redact, said Sudzina, according to
Source: Highlands Today
Gag orders denied in two cases
BRADENTON Manatee County
Circuit Judge Diana Moreland denied
a gag order requested by the defense
attorney in a DUI-manslaughter case.
In her ruling, Moreland wrote that the
defendant had not proven the need for the
order and that the request was too broad.
Assistant Public Defender Franklin
Roberts filed a motion in December
asking the judge to issue a gag order
for anyone involved in the case and to
block access to otherwise public records
including crime scene photos, interview
notes and blood test results.
Roberts argued the prejudicial publicity
and local media coverage had hurt
defendant, Julissa S. Martinez Artiga's
chance for a fair trial.
Roberts also requested and was denied
a gag order in the case against Dwight
Baldwin, who is charged in the beating
death of a child.
Source: Bradenton Herald and Manatee
Teachers sue school board
MIAMI The United Teachers of
Dade, the state's largest teachers union, is
suing the Miami-Dade School Board for
violating the Sunshine Law by holding
an improperly closed meeting in
which it discussed budget issues. A
The allegations stem from
a January meeting, in which MEI
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho
and the board met in executive session to
discuss collective bargaining issues.
Under the Sunshine Law, boards are
allowed to meet in closed session to
discuss issues directly involving litigation
or contract negotiations.
However, it was later discovered that
collective bargaining was discussed as
part of the superintendent's plan to cut
more than $50 million from the budget,
according to The Miami
S The teachers are
ETINGS seeking the minutes
and notes from that
meeting and several others held since the
superintendent's appointment in October,
as well as a court order voiding any action
taken by the board in illegal meetings.
Source: The Miami Herald and www.
County to get ethics training
MONROE COUNTY Monroe people to fill out a form to review
County Administrator Roman Gastesi plans employee's file, as an area that cou
to implement ethics training that will focus be corrected, according to the Key
on state gift laws and the Sunshine Laws Citizen. Under the state's public re
for the more than 400 county employees, law, a person can make a verbal rec
Gastesi pointed to the county's Human for such documents.
Resources Division policy of requiring Source: Key West Citizen
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UF UNIVERSITY of
Newspaper sues city commission over backroom deals
"'BACKROOM DEALS'" shouted the Knoxville News
Sentinel's bannerheadline onFeb. 1,2007, with a six-column
deck elaborating: "Mayor says public's faith 'shaken' after
political ploys fill 12 offices.
At issue was a special meeting of the Knox County
Commissionheldon Jan. 31 to appoint adozenreplacements
for top officeholders who had been forced out when the state
Supreme Court ruledthatterm limits-long ignored inKnox
County did, indeed, apply. The ruling threatened the core
of the local governmentpower structure and set offa scramble Jack
to maintain the patronage system that had dominated county politics
for decades. The frenzy of deal-making that ensued was capped by
the "Black Wednesday" meeting, which was interrupted by frequent
The recesses so the ruling faction could
Bk P retreat backstage to iron out last-
B ack PaJ e minute bumps in its bid to retain,
SJack McElroy and expand, its power base.
y Jac Mclroy The result: the commissioners
appointed a son, a wife, a father, a campaign treasurer and a bevy
of other cronies, several of whom immediately turned around and
hired the ousted politicians to taxpayer-funded jobs.
There was one hitch in the plan, however. In Tennessee, there's
a law called the Open Meetings Act, drafted in the post-Watergate
era by former News Sentinel editor Ralph Millett and other open
government allies. Better known as the Sunshine Law, the act
requires that local government bodies do all their decision-making
in public. The County Commission had violated the act with
impunity. The News Sentinel had to stand up for the law or see it
The act requires that a citizen bring suit to enforce it, so on
Feb. 5, 2007, under my name, the News Sentinel sued the largest
local government in its circulation area. Commissioners and other
politicians decried the move, accusing the newspaper of acting
out of self-interest. Ire mounted after fresh stories disclosed that
one of the new appointees was a former drug-dealer and another
was responsible for a $250,000 sexual-harassment judgment.
As the newspaper broadened its coverage into nepotism and
featherbedding in county government, one commissioner
threatened to pull legal advertising. Publisher Bruce Hartman and I
responded with a front-page letter to readers promising not to back
The county law director, himself an appointee of the
commission, tried to derail the suit through pre-trial
motions, and he did manage to get a similar lawsuit by a
group of citizens dismissed. But through the skillful legal
work of Richard Hollow, the News Sentinel's longtime
counsel and an architect of the Open Meetings Act, the
newspaper's case survived, and, ultimately, the parallel
suit by citizens was resurrected and combined with the
Public support for the newspaper remained strong.
"Don't let up," was the most frequent of the thousands
of e-mails, phone calls, Web postings and personal comments the
newspaper staff received.
Jury selection began on Sept. 11, 2007, and the trial started the
following day. Under the rules of Tennessee's Chancery Court,
jurors were charged with answering 29 interrogatories. Then,
based on those findings of fact, the chancellor would make the
Still, it took the jury just four hours to complete deliberations
and answer all 29 questions in favor the newspaper and the citizen
"This is the first time in the history of Tennessee that a jury
has been asked to sit in judgment of its government," said Hollow
after the verdict. "It is a tremendous victory for the people of
Three days later, the chancellor presented his ruling. The
12 appointees were removed immediately from office, and the
remaining county commissioners were ordered to begin the
process from scratch, but this time in compliance with the Open
A few days later, a local sign maker, unsolicited, brought a
banner to the News Sentinel. It read:
The Light from the Lighthouse
has brought Justice to Knox County
Citizens of Knox County
It hangs now in the newsroom above the conference table where
the daily news meetings are held.
JackMcElroy is the editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The newspaper is the 2008 winner of the Brechner Center for
Freedom of Information annual FOI award for its coverage of
"Black Wednesday" appointees.