Volume 34, Number 5 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 amends court access rules
TALLAHASSEE After seven
years of gathering research and
recommendations, the Florida Supreme
Court has amended its rules to respond
to the push for online access to court
Under the new rules, a record is
presumed open unless it fits into one of 19
Examples of the exemptions
include adoption records, grand
jury records, Social Security
numbers and identification of
sexual abuse victims.
"The list of exemptions contained in
the rule is pretty short," media attorney
Carol LoCicero told the St. Petersburg
Times. "When you put that into the
context of where we started, that is
While clerks of court will be
responsible for independently verifying
information claimed to be exempt, those
who file documents will carry most of the
burden of establishing confidentiality.
Non-confidential information must
be redacted rather than sealing an entire
record. If a party, the media or other party
challenges the designation of a record as
confidential, a hearing must
CESS be held within 30 days,
dE according to the Court.
RDS "The goal of the
is to balance the public's constitutional
right to access court records with the
courts' responsibility to protect from
public access court records that are
confidential," the Court wrote in its 50-
page opinion on the rule changes.
Source: St. Petersburg Times, First
PSC pay disclosure order reversed
TALLAHASSEE -The 1st District
Court of Appeal has reversed the Public
Service Commission's (PSC) demand
that utility companies release salary
information, citing the potential to harm
the companies' competitive interests.
In the midst of a significant rate
increase request by Florida Power &
Light Co. and Progress Energy, the PSC
ordered disclosure of compensation
information for employees making more
than $165,000 a year. The PSC requested
positions, titles and salaries but not names.
The 1st DCA, however, interpreted
the law to mean that "not limited to"
could still provide confidentiality for
compensation information if business
interests would be harmed. In addition to
concern that releasing salary information
could lead to "other utility companies.
. stealing their employees," the court
noted concerns for "morale and infighting
Source: Northwest Florida Daily News
Judge: City phone records of personal calls are open
NEW SMYRNA BEACH Cell
phone records that document personal
calls made on public phones are public
records in Florida, according a ruling by
Circuit Judge Robert Rouse.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed
by the company behind the New Smyrna
Beach Nl,.. '. ii, an online publication
about area politics.
NSB 1,,. /. 11 filed suit in February
2009, seeking cell phone records of New
Smyrna Beach Police Commander Bill
Drossman. Drossman had been accused
(but was cleared) of forwarding a racist
NSB 1,.i. '. 's lawsuit stated that it
wanted to compare Drossman's cell phone
records to individuals on watch lists of
white supremacist groups, according
to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
After being charged more than $350
for time city employees spent redacting
information it believed was exempt from
the telephone bills, Bill of Rights Inc.,
which operates NSB 1ii,.. ii., filed the
Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal
CORAL SPRINGS Gov.
Charlie Crist suspended two city
commissioners after they were
accused of violating the Open
Coral Springs City Commission
members Vincent Boccard and Tom
Powers allegedly met with police
union representatives at a sports bar
to discuss union negotiations and a
and Powers IJCE SS
deny the MEETINGS
Both face second-degree misdemeanor
charges. Misdemeanor charges for
violations of the Sunshine Law only
apply when a knowing violation is
alleged to have occurred. Boccard
and Powers could each face up to 60
days injail and a $500 fine.
City officials have discussed
appointing replacements for Boccard,
whose term expires in November, and
Powers, whose terms runs through
Source: The Miami Herald
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
Lawsuit challenges police department's flat fee
LAKELAND -A public records
advocate has filed suit against the
Lakeland Police Department, alleging
that the $23.50 fee for a one-page report
violated the Public Records Law.
Lakeland resident Joel Chandler also
claims the "flat fee" is unconstitutional.
Chandler wants a refund, attorney's fees
and a court ruling against the practice,
according to The Ledger (Lakeland).
After learning of the alleged "flat
fee" practice, Chandler filed a request on
Feb. 4 for all records relating to calls for
service to a randomly selected address.
He was given a one-page .IInl. sis report
of calls for service."
The Florida Public Records Law allows
agencies to charge up to 15 cents per page
for copies and an additional "reasonable
service charge based on the actual
cost incurred." The police department
attributed the fee to its "crime analysis,"
AG: Retention rules should cover
TALLAHASSEE Florida Attorney
General Bill McCollum wants an
update to the state's rules on electronic
communications in light of the prevalence
of cell phone messaging. McCollum
wrote a letter to Secretary Browning
urging Browning to consider amending
existing administrative rules on e-mail
to other electronic communications,
especially Blackberry PIN and SMS/text
"There are no required retention
guidelines, however, for [non e-mail]
types of electronic communication
because the administrative rules describe
them as transitory," McCollum wrote.
"This is no longer accurate in today's
world where business is conducted on a
variety of communication platforms."
McCollum's letter came on the
heels of the third and final meeting of
his Sunshine Technology Team, a fact-
finding task force formed last fall. The
Sunshine Technology Team was formed
in response to a controversy at the Public
Service Commission (PSC) involving
according to the suit.
Last year, Chandler prevailed in a
public records suit against the Polk
District Court for access to information
about dependents of employees who
receive health care. The District spend
approximately $44,560 in that legal fight,
and its attorney pleaded no contest to
a misdemeanor charge of violating the
Public Records Law.
Source: The Ledger (Lakeland)
Blackberry PIN messages. McCollum's
office gathered industry professionals
from Research in Motion (Blackberry
inventors) and Microsoft in addition to
government officials and access advocates
to discuss how technology interacts with
open government. In conjunction with his
letter to the Secretary of State, McCollum
also announced a new Sunshine and
Public Records Law training video for
government entities with Facebook or
Official surrenders personal computer in lawsuit
SARASOTA COUNTY A Sarasota
County Commissioner surrendered his
personal computer after being sued by
two citizen groups who claim he violated
open government laws by not turning over
at least 28 county-related e-mails from his
personal e-mail address, according to the
Pelican Press (Sarasota).
Citizens for Responsible Government
and Citizens for Sunshine (also involved
in the $775,000 attorney's fee case against
Venice last year) received more than
27,000 e-mails from Commissioner Joe
Barbetta in response to their September
public records request.
The groups say Barbetta failed to
produce at least 28 e-mails and raised
concern that even more e-mails might
need to be made public. Barbetta said
that he thought the request was only for
e-mails related to negotiations to bring the
Baltimore Orioles to the area. The groups
are also suing the county and city of
Sarasota over the baseball negotiations.
Barbetta voluntarily surrendered his
computer prior to a hearing requested by
the plaintiffs to have a judge consider
freezing Barbetta's computer. A computer
forensics company scanned the hard drive
and "will make a bit-by-bit image of the
hard drive," said the plaintiffs' attorney,
The two sides will then negotiate how
the information will be analyzed. Barbetta
will have to pay for the analysis.
Source: Pelican Press
Paper sues Orange City for records on lieutenant
DELAND A local weekly newspaper
has filed suit against Orange City, asking
a judge to order city officials to furnish
public records related to a police lieutenant
The suit, filed by the parent company
of the West Volusia Beacon, claims
the newspaper's efforts to cover the
investigation have been impeded by the
city's refusal to respond to public records
requests. The Beacon wants a judge to
order city officials to hand over public
The Daytona Beach News-Journal,
the area's daily newspaper, reports the
city has been at odds with the local
news media since last November,
when the News-Journal first obtained a
complaint about the lieutenant now under
The complaint was addressed to
Orange City officials, alleging temper
problems and unprofessional behavior
from Lt. Gregory Melvin and signed by
many of the department's police officers.
The News-Journal's request to inspect
Melvin's personnel file was ignored, and
requests for other public records relating
to the investigation were denied by other
city officials, according the News-Journal.
The city clerk's office claims that in
at least one instance, records had already
been transferred to the city attorney.
A repeat records request by the News-
Journal received a response from the city
stating that under Florida's Public Records
Law "it is entitled to a reasonable time to
review" the request. This was the same
response received by the paper when it
made the same request a month prior,
according to the News-Journal.
2 The Brechner Report U May 2010
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
due to closure
DAYTONA BEACH Daytona
State College Board of Trustees chose
to re-do a previously held meeting
after a complaint that the public were
turned away from the public meeting.
Attendance at the Feb. 18 meeting
was much higher than expected
because pay raises for 900 employees
were on the agenda, according to the
Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The Board's regular meeting
room has a 100-person capacity
but approximately 123 people were
present at the meeting. The college's
safety director determined that due
to fire and safety concerns, no more
people should be permitted to enter
Both then-Board chairperson
Forough Hosseini and college
President Kent Sharples said they
were not aware anyone was turned
away from the meeting until after it
Jerry Kenney was turned away
from the meeting and raised his
concerns in a letter to Hosseini,
which prompted the second meeting.
Source: Daytona Beach News-
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Jax council mulls Sunshine change
JACKSONVILLE The City of
Jacksonville is considering changing its
Sunshine Law Compliance Act, enacted in
2007 after a grand jury investigation into
alleged open meetings violations by the
City Council. The proposed changes to the
law would reduce required annual training
to once every two years.
The proposed changes to the law also
remove references to the City's Ethics
Office and Ethics Commission. The
ethics officer is currently responsible for
approving off-site meetings and develops
open government training.
The Ethics Commission was not notified
of the proposed changes. City Ethics
Commission Chair Kirby Oberdorfer
expressed her concerns about the proposals
in an e-mail to a Council committee.
"The proposed amendment appears
to be in contravention of. .the system
of essential crosschecks incorporated
into the original Jacksonville Sunshine
Compliance Act by the City Council to
repair citizens' trust in City government,"
Oberdorfer wrote, according to the
Financial News & Daily Record.
Council member Denise Lee,
sponsor of the proposal, said the failure
to notify the Ethics Commission was
an unintentional oversight. Lee said
changing the compliance act would
save the city money in printing and
Source: The Florida Times-Union,
Financial News & Daily Record
Station objects to use of footage
PANAMA CITY A candidate for the
Florida House of Representatives took a
video clip down from his website after a
state-run television station demanded the
clip be removed.
David Pleat is a Democratic candidate
for the District 7 representative seat in the
Pleat opposes oil drilling near the Gulf
Coast and posted a Youtube clip of an Air
Force commander discussing the potential
effect of drilling on Eglin Air Force base
to his own website.
The clip was taped by WFSU, a station
owned by Florida State University that
operates The Florida Channel.
The station contacted Pleat's campaign
and demanded the video be removed.
Florida Channel Executive Director
Beth Switzer said that Florida Statute
1001.25(3)(a) prohibits the use of its
material for political campaigns.
Pleat, however, did not feel that his
campaign violated the law. "Our position
is that we did not use their facility, plant
or personnel," Pleat told The News Herald
(Panama City). "We simply put forward
information that was taped in a public
hearing with public dollars."
Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running
for U.S. Senate, faced accusations of
copyright violation in January when he
used WFSU footage on his website.
Source: The News Herald
Mediation for SeaWorld dispute
ORLANDO A circuit judge has SeaWorld in their fight to keep the footage
ordered mediation in the dispute over private. "The potential harm to this
access to videos showing the death of family is incredibly severe," the family's
a SeaWorld trainer. Judge Lawrence attorney, University of Florida Professor
Kirkwood enjoined the release of the and former state lawmaker Jon Mills said.
footage of trainer Dawn Brancheau's Feb. "There's nothing you can learn from the
24 death, which occurred A C video other than what a tragic,
when an orca pulled her V horrible, traumatic attack it
underwater during a show. RECO RDS was.
The Orange County But media outlets, including
Sheriff's Office and the Medical the Orlando Sentinel, The Tampa Tribune,
Examiner's Office possess the footage as The Ledger (Lakeland) and WFLA-TV
part of their ongoing investigations into are seeking access to the video. Access
the death. Under Florida law, the footage to the videos will help provide oversight
could be considered a public record once and understanding of the incident, media
the investigations are complete. attorney Rachel Fugate said.
Brancheau's family was joined by Source: Orlando Sentinel, CNN
The Brechner Report 0 May 2010
University of Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Welmer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
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Permit No. 94
U UNIVERSITY of
Watchdog journalism withstands changing times
The Detroit Free Press is honored to accept the
2009 Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Award for our investigation of former Detroit Mayor
Kwame Kilpatrick and I was doubly honored to speak
to several classes of University of Florida students
during my visit to Gainesville. In my presentations,
I described behind-the-scenes details of how the Free
Press uncovered corruption and how reader response was
overwhelming. The whole experience gave those of us in
Detroit some firm convictions: Paul
The future of professional journalists everywhere is
brighter than ever, even as citizen-journalists add to the flow of
information in our digital age.
We're going to be OK as an industry, despite our economic
turbulence, if we can keep our newsrooms robust.
Readers will respond to great journalism on the Web, not just
The in the good old print newspaper.
a k Pag We hit almost 4 million page
Back P e views on the day the former
By Paul Anger mayor pleaded guilty to felonies.
It's the wealth of content
we provide that's important to our future, as well as all of the
ways we deliver information websites, mobile sites, e-Editions,
e-Readers, print newspaper, Twitter, Facebook, text alerts and
We used all of them in reporting the unraveling of the mayor.
The Kilpatrick saga began the night of Jan. 23, 2008, when we
posted this headline on freep.com (and in the next day's Free
Press): Mayor lied under oath, text messages show.
Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick revealed that Kilpatrick and aide
Christine Beatty lied about an intimate relationship and about
how they fired a police investigator when they testified in a police
whistle-blower case that cost taxpayers more than $9 million.
The newspaper had spent more than three months reviewing and
authenticating 14,000 text messages obtained from sources -
on Beatty's city-issued pager. The messages showed Kilpatrick
and Beatty had lied for years in depositions, in public, in the
courtroom. We published enough text messages to show the two
would be open to perjury charges, but we left out messages with
graphic sex terms. We focused on issues, not sex.
Within days of our first story, the county prosecutor
launched an investigation that led to 15 counts against
Kilpatrick and Beatty. The prosecutor said: "This
investigation started ... because of a Detroit Free Press
article. The importance of an independent press is vitally
important to our society."
Through more reporting and a Freedom of Information
Act lawsuit, we exposed a massive fraud the mayor
and his lawyers had concocted a deal with a lawyer who
Anger had filed the whistle-blower case. Upon learning that
the cops' lawyer had obtained the damaging texts, the
mayor approved a settlement in exchange for a secret agreement
requiring the text messages to be destroyed.
Because of our revelations: Beatty resigned, the City Council
launched efforts to oust the mayor, our FOIA lawsuit made public
the details of the mayor's secret dealings, a state commission
began investigating a dozen lawyers in connection with the cover-
up, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm convened hearings to remove
Kilpatrick. In the end, the mayor resigned, served three months
injail, gave up his law license and was ordered to pay $1 million
restitution to the city. The City of Detroit was able to move on -
with a new, reform-minded mayor and city council.
We posted more than 130 videos, 8 live-streams, thousands of
pages of documents on freep.com, almost 100 photo galleries, and
more than 100,000 reader comments. We had more than 100,000
million page views.
Many readers said the work had reminded them of the role
we play in our democracy. One wrote to us: "I'd like to send a
donation of $100 ... as appreciation and ... to help defray these
costs that are no longer supported by advertising and sales." He
had enclosed a check and wouldn't take it back.
That letter sums up why the future of professional journalism
is assured even in a tough economy, even with the rise of
citizen-journalists. We do need bloggers, we need more eyes
and ears in the community, and we need people with cell phones
to take pictures that can enrich our news reports. But there is
nobody who does what trained journalists do dig up credible
information critical to an honest democracy.
PaulAnger is Editor and Publisher of the Detroit Free Press.