Volume 33, Number 12 m 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
Audit reveals resistance to school record requests
ORLANDO An audit of transparency
in Florida school districts shows that the
average citizen might not have the time
or money to take advantage of his right to
Nonprofit group Sunshine Review,
which ranks openness of government,
conducted the review as part of its "Back-
to-School" guide for parents.
The requests were sent to Florida
school districts seeking records on
relationships between the districts and
their lobbyists. It is common practice for
schools to utilize lobbyists.
One district, Duval County Public
Schools, at first denied any relationship
with lobbyists despite documents to the
contrary. Duval later complied with the
RECORDS but provided
that was difficult to understand.
Cost was another obstacle that would
likely deter the average citizen from
looking into lobbyist relationships.
Sarasota County Schools, for example,
charged the Sunshine Review $2,954.25
to fulfill the public records request.
While some districts, such as Marion
County, were downright hostile to
requesters, others provided exemplary
responses, according to Diana Lopez,
Sunshine Review senior editor of
Orange County Public Schools and
Citrus County Schools were among those
Lopez pointed to as maintaining open
communication and providing thorough
The Back-to-School guide is available
online at www.sunshinereview.org.
Source: Orlando Sentinel
Board resolution silences controversial member
ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH The
Anastasia Mosquito Control District voted
to censure one of its members, passing a
resolution prohibiting him from speaking
in his official capacity at public meetings
for six months. Less than two weeks
later, the district modified its censure to
allow John Sundeman to speak at public
meetings, but still placing limits on his
The district contended that Sundeman
publicly ridiculed staff, board members
and others, potentially exposing it to hostile
work environment lawsuits. "We're not
going to let him continue to abuse people,"
said Col. Ron Radford, AMCD board
and his colleagues appears to stem from
the district's plan to move its headquarters,
a move that will cost more than $3 million
and one that Sundeman has objected to.
The district's new resolution allows
Sundeman to speak at public meetings,
but still prohibits him from speech that
is "disparaging, derogatory, belittling,
ridiculing, demeaning, or is pejorative."
"My olive branch is that I will do what
they request," Sundeman said. "There will
be no more (critical) letters identifying me
as a commissioner. I'll write as a private
Source: The St. 1o i,., ,, ,.. Record
State Attorney: No criminal charges for TEAM
MILTON A Santa Rosa County
economic development council operated
outside of the Sunshine and Public
Records laws for years, according to a
State Attorney's Office investigation.
However, criminal charges will not
be pursued because the violations were
unintentional and "no public purpose
would be achieved by prosecution at
this time," according to an investigative
The investigation into TEAM
Santa Rosa was prompted by citizen
complaints, which also accused Santa
Rosa County commissioners of violating
open government laws.
Investigators looked into the county's
controversial decision to buy 90 acres of
land from developer Bill Pullum for $3.18
ACCES to Pullum's
a county commissioner, TEAM Santa
Rosa's executive director and a TEAM
board member did not violate any laws,
according to the report.
Other actions by commissioners,
including an e-mail discussion between
board commissioners about neighboring
Escambia County's withdrawal from a
multi-county transportation authority, did
"not rise to the level of a violation of the
Sunshine Law," according to the report.
The State Attorney's Office
determined that some of the incidents
it investigated might result in ethics
violations. It recommended that TEAM
designate a public records custodian
and participate in open government law
Source: Northwest Florida Daily
Sheriff issues short-lived ban
on notifications to TV station
TAMPA A veteran reporter for CB S
affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 in Tampa was cut
off from news conference notifications by
the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office,
but a roundtable meeting apparently
resolved the issue.
Sheriff David Gee's office sent a
media alert about a news conference on
allegations of police misconduct to Tampa-
The alert stated that Channel 10 was
not invited due to reporter Mike Deeson's
"pattern of abusive conduct toward the
sheriff's office and its employees, coupled
with Channel 10's disregard for previous
complaints about Mr. Deeson's conduct."
"Am I aggressive, yes," Deeson said,
according to the Tampa Tribune. "But I
am not unethical."
Deeson felt that the shutout may
have been due to his reporting, which
has included stories about Gee's income
and the construction of a wall around
the sheriff's operation center costing
The day after the shutout, Channel 10
management met with the sheriff's office.
Sheriff Gee agreed to resume contact with
the station after that meeting.
Source: The Tampa Tribune
High court blocks name release
SEATTLE The U.S. Supreme Court
has blocked the release of the names
of Washington state voters who signed
petitions to repeal a law that expanded the
rights of same-sex couples.
The Court kept in place an injunction
against the release of more than 120,000
names until the parties could file new
motions. The vote was set for Nov. 3.
The group Protect Marriage
Washington gathered the signatures so
that a voter referendum could be placed
on the ballot. This would give voters the
opportunity to repeal the law passed by
Protect Marriage Washington's
attorney, James Bopp, said maintaining
anonymity of voters would protect "the
right of citizens to be able to engage in
political speech without the government
requiring the public identification of
people who engage in political speech."
Bopp also noted the potential for
harassment of those who supported the
But the Washington Attorney
General's Office, the Washington
Coalition for Open Government and
other groups seeking disclosure of the
names argued that Washington's Public
Records Act did not exempt petition
signatures. Advocates for release of
information also argued that the names
are important information for voters.
Source: The New York Times, Los
FOIA helps artists voice protests
WASHINGTON, D.C. The National
Security Archive has filed a series of
Freedom of Information Act requests on
behalf of a coalition of musicians seeking
declassification of information regarding
the use of music as an interrogation device
Based on already declassified reports
and interviews of former detainees
and guards, Britney Spears, Eminem
and Bruce Springsteen are among the
musicians whose music was used at the
military prison in Cuba.
Songs such as the Barney theme
song, the Meow Mix jingle and the Star
Spangled Banner were also utilized.
The FOIA requests seek the names of
all songs used since 2002 at Guantanamo.
"The fact that music I helped create
was used in crimes against humanity
sickens me," said former Rage Against
the Machine band member Tom Morello.
"We need to end torture and close
The National Security Archive filed
the requests with the CIA, FBI and
other agencies, seeking documentation
regarding how particular music was
chosen and what role the music played in
Source: The Washington Post,
National Security Archive
TALLAHASSEE- Charges of
felony official misconduct against
former House Speaker Ray Sansom,
developer Jay Odom and former
Northwest Florida State College
president Bob Richburg have been
In April, a grand jury indicted
the men, with Sansom and Richburg
also being accused of violating the
spirit of the Sunshine Law during a
meeting in Tallahassee.
The charges relate to a $6-million
project appropriated while Sansom
was a legislator.
The money would have provided
for a "joint-use" college airport
facility that a grand jury said would
have been an airplane hangar for
Sansom received a $110,000 a
year part-time job with the college
millions in extra funding.
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry
Lewis dismissed the major charges,
except for a perjury charge against
"[N]ot every wrongful conduct is
a crime," Lewis wrote. "Sometimes
the remedy for such conduct must be
political rather than judicial. This is
one of those situations."
Sansom's attorney said his client
was "delighted" and that they "had
maintained all along that you could
not falsify the [state budget] and the
A panel of state lawmakers is
investigating the case and has hired
a special prosecutor to determine
whether Sansom violated House
rules. State Attorney Willie Meggs
has appealed the dismissal of
charges to the First District Court of
Source: The Miami Herald,
Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort
2 The Brechner Report U December 2009
documents that could have helped the
Hernando County School Board defend
a lawsuit were shredded, prompting an
internal investigation by the board.
The lawsuit was filed by two students
ordered to transfer from Nature Coast
Technical, a magnet high school, for
violating a residency policy. Only
Hernando County residents are allowed to
attend the school.
The school board learned that
documents related to the case were
shredded after receiving a letter from
former Nature Coast principal Margaret
"Tizzy" Schoelles, who was principal until
Schoelles denied any involvement
in the shredding, which was discovered
in August, explaining that she was the
one who brought the issue to the board's
attention. Schoelles apparently left
records in her office that she thought
would be useful to her predecessor, but the
documents were later shredded.
Interim Superintendent Sonya Jackson
is investigating the matter.
"The people who are responsible need
to be held accountable," said school board
member Sandra Nicholson. "You cannot
shred documents. This is serious and it
should be reported to the state."
Source: St. Petersburg Times, The
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Media seeks access to Smart case
SALT LAKE CITY Members of "Although the members of the public
the Utah press want a federal judge to may not attend criminal proceedings in
open sealed records in the case of the large numbers, the news media acts as
man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth the public's surrogate in attending such
Smart. Attorney Michael O'Brien proceedings and reporting to the public,
argued that the public has a right of thus educating the public," O'Brien wrote.
access to the filings in Smart was discovered nine months after
the kidnapping case of O U RTT being taken from her home,
Brian David Mitchell, A U T 10 accompanied by Mitchell
who is charged with and his wife, walking the
abducting Smart from her home in 2002. streets of a Salt Lake City suburb.
O'Brien also contends that the case The Utah news media in 2004 was
docket is incomplete and does not reflect successful in their bid to keep Mitchell's
that some motions were ever filed. The competency proceedings open in the
media did not learn that some sealed state court system. A federal grand jury
motions were filed until they were has since indicted Mitchell and a new
referred to in another filing by federal competency hearing is planned.
prosecutors. Source: The Associated Press
Lawyer asks for 75 years of records
TAMPA An attorney who requested Legislature's subsequent attempt at scaling
St. Joseph's Hospital records on jd\ I i sc back the amendment and exempting
incidents" since it opened in 1934 is most records was rejected by the Florida
facing objections from the hospital, who Supreme Court.
sued to limit the release of records. The hospital wants a Hillsborough
Michael J. Trentalange, a medical circuit judge to limit the records to those
malpractice attorney, said he requested the involving death, disfigurement and
records because he expects to undergo a other specified injuries. Trentalange has
colonoscopy at the hospital. modified his request to only seek incidents
Trentalange represents the widow of a since 2000.
man who died after a similar procedure at St. Joseph's also wants to prevent
St. Joseph's. Trentalange from representing any
Trentalange's request sheds light on malpractice plaintiffs who might use
the 2004, voter-approved amendment the records produced in response to his
to the Florida constitution broadening request.
patient access to medical records. The Source: The Associated Press
Baseball e-mails raise concerns
SARASOTA- E-mail correspondence
among Sarasota County Commissioners
related to a potential offer of $41 million
in taxpayer funds to the Baltimore Orioles
could be the focus of an open government
lawsuit. Attorney Andrea Mogensen, who
represents two citizen groups, said her
clients want to overturn Sarasota County's
contract with the Orioles, due in part to
alleged Sunshine Law violations.
Sarasota eventually struck a deal
with the Orioles to give $31.2 million of
taxpayer money in exchange for a spring
The e-mails at the focus of the inquiry
include one from Commissioner Shannon
Staub making a case for offering the team
$41 million so the Orioles wouldn't sign a
contract with nearby Lee County. A few
days after Staub's e-mail, the Commission
met and rejected the deal, but the meeting
agenda didn't reflect that a discussion of
the contract was planned.
Staub said that she copied fellow
commissioners on the e-mail, knowing that
it would be posted to a county Web server.
"The reason that I did so much and made
it public record immediately was so the
media could read it," Staub said.
County officials said there was a rush
due to fears that the team would sign
with another community, resulting in the
meeting agenda not being changed.
Source: Manatee Herald Tribune
The Brechner Report U December 2009 2
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U F UNIVERSITY of
Florida newspapers unite to challenge NCAA secrecy
In this tough economic climate with shrinking And it didn't take long for FSU officials to respond. They
resources, suggestions are growing that media companies too agreed the media and public should have access to the
consider what once was unthinkable, such as sharing report on the NCAA confidential Web site. FSU's early
news coverage. Several months ago in Florida, an position was that it was bound by an agreement it was
unusual collaboration was forged among the state's media required to sign by the NCAA.
organizations. It resulted in a major public records legal In August, media lawyers Carol Jean LoCicero and
victory, upheld by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Rachel Fugate argued the case before circuit Judge John
early October. Cooper. "You don't have to touch a piece of paper to
The lawsuit had its beginnings in the academic receive a document," LoCicero said. Cooper ruled that
cheating scandal involving 61 Florida State University Skip Perez the NCAA was in violation of the Public Records Law.
athletes. In the course of the NCAA proceedings, a day- The NCAA promptly moved for a stay of the circuit
long hearing was held before an NCAA infractions committee to court order until it could appeal to the 1 st District Court of Appeal.
hear testimony from FSU officials before deciding penalties. In early October, the appeals court upheld Judge Cooper's ruling.
As the issue grew more contentious between the NCAA and Following that appellate court ruling, FSU officials released the
FSU over the severity of the penalties, media coverage increased 684-page transcript of the NCAA Infractions Committee hearing a
with questions about NCAA secrecy rules. FSU appealed the year earlier. It provided an unedited and detailed account into the
NCAA sanctions and the NCAA normally secretive world of college sports, a major university and
The P responded in early June, but the powerful body whose job it is to keep college athletics honest.
B ack J its response was not public. It was the first time the NCAA had been required to disclose
t Almost immediately, reporters records of an investigative hearing in a Florida case and was a
By Louis M. "Skip" Perez for the Tallahassee Democrat, landmark ruling, said media lawyer Fugate.
The Ledger in Lakeland, Still, the NCAA was not finished. It appealed the ruling to the
The Associated Press and Orlando Sentinel formally requested Florida Supreme Court, seeking a stay of its obligation to release
documents from FSU officials relating to the investigation, the records. In late October, the state's highest court declined that
Of particular interest was whether the state's Public Records request, but continues to consider whether a hearing is necessary.
Law applied to a "read only" Web site created by the NCAA which The NCAA then released the documents, which were essentially
gave FSU lawyers access to the penalty hearing transcript and what FSU officials released several weeks earlier following the
other documents. NCAA lawyers argued there were no "records" appellate court ruling. But the NCAA is pressing the Florida
since the material existed only on the secure confidential Web site. Supreme Court to review the case, which could provide impetus
FSU lawyers also had signed strict confidentiality agreements. for similar actions by media groups in other states with strong
After The Ledger made its public records request, I called our public records laws. And in Florida, this area now seems especially
local counsel, Gregg Thomas, and corporate counsel, George fertile following the ruling.
Freeman of The New York Times, to explore how we might Though the FSU case is the most timely and newsworthy, other
proceed after the denial. Thomas suggested a broad attack, so he Florida public colleges and universities have been the subject of
and his colleagues at Thomas, LoCicero, and Bralow called Mike NCAA investigations in recent years, or may be in the future.
Glazer, lawyer for the Tallahassee Democrat, and they enlisted This strong ruling serves as a powerful precedent for future public
counterparts at 23 other media organizations across the state to records requests involving the NCAA and its oversight of college
join the lawsuit in Tallahassee circuit court athletics in Florida, and perhaps the nation.
The lawsuit was filed in June, naming the NCAA, FSU and
FSU law firm GrayRobinson. Florida Attorney General Bill Louis M. "Skip Perez is Executive Editor of The Ledger and
McCollum joined the media effort with strongly worded support. Senior Editor of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group.