Title: Brechner report
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090012/00018
 Material Information
Title: Brechner report
Series Title: Brechner report
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, College of Journalism and communications, University of Florida
Publisher: Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: June 2001
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Bibliographic ID: UF00090012
Volume ID: VID00018
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Volume 25, Number 6 U A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of 1I,,, ..i.. College ofJournalism and Communications U University of Florida
June 2001

Appeals courtreinstates RecordsLaw conviction

TALLAHAS SEE Florida's 1st
District Court of Appeal reinstated a
Public Records Law conviction against
former Escambia County School Board
member Vanette Webb.
Webb was convicted of A C
a first-degree A
misdemeanor in 1999 for RECOI
withholding records. Webb
was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 11
months and 15 days injail, which was
suspended to 30 days. Gov. Jeb Bush
removed her from office. (Brechner

Report, July 1999)
Escambia County Judge William
White Jr. reversed her conviction,
saying that prosecutors failed to admit
the records in question into
SS evidence or adequately
identify the public records
D S Webb reportedly withheld.
He released Webb from jail
after she served seven days of her
sentence. Webb also was reinstated to
the school board, but she later lost a re-
election bid. (Brechner Report,

Newspaper gets supporting photo fight

GAINESVILLE The Society of
Professional Journalists donated $1,000
to Campus Communications Inc.,
publisher of the Independent Florida
Alligator, to help the newspaper pay for
its fight to re-open autopsy photographs.
In addition, the closure of the autopsy
photographs is creating problems with
training for doctors, medical students
and police, and at least one defense
attorney has argued the new law bars
jurors from viewing autopsy
The Alligator, a student-run
newspaper, was allowed to challenge an
agreement that sealed NASCAR driver
Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s autopsy
photographs. The paper also is
challenging a new law that exempts
autopsy photographs from public
records disclosure. (Brechner Report,

May 2001)
The Orlando Sentinel and the South
Florida Sun-Sentinel also are
challenging the law. (Brechner Report,
May 2001) SPJ plans to file a friend of
the court brief in that case.
The records closing has meant that
the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's
Office has put its educational programs
for doctors, medical students, nurses,
forensic photographers and law
enforcement on hold. The office had to
get a court order before showing photos
to a group of crime investigators from
around the nation.
In Fort Lauderdale, Assistant Public
Defender Bill Laswell filed a motion in
a rape and murder trial to keep autopsy
photographs from the jury, arguing that
the law blocking public access includes
members of a jury. (4/18/01 4/20/01)

Councilman settles case by paying$500 fine
GOLDEN BEACH The Miami- clerk positions. Paruas said he didn't

Dade State Attorney's Office has settled
a Sunshine Law case against Golden
Beach town councilman Adalberto
Paruas had a resident ejected from a
meeting where a committee reviewed
applications for the town manager and

realize the meeting was public. The State
Attorney's Office agreed to drop the
charge in exchange for the councilman
paying a $500 fine. The town voted in
December to pay Paruas' legal fees,
expected to be about $7,000. (Brechner
Report, March 2001) (1/28/01)

December 1999)
An appeals court panel reinstated the
conviction and remanded the case back
to Escambia County, saying that Webb
admitted the files she withheld were
public records and that other witnesses
who reviewed the files also said they
were public records. White has several
options in the case: granting a motion
for a new trial, sending Webb to jail to
serve the remaining 23 days of her
original sentence or entertaining new
motions. (3/2/01 4/12/01)


sewer contract
KEY LARGO A circuit court judge
ruled that an evaluation panel that
selected a company to provide Key
Largo with sewers was subject to the
state's Sunshine Laws, paving the way
for a lawsuit that challenges a $59
million sewer contract.
Chief Judge Sandra Taylor, 16th
Judicial Circuit, ruled in a partial
judgment on \U ACCESS
March 6 that
the Technical MEETINGS
Panel acted as an advisory board to the
Monroe County Commission and not in
a staff advisory role.
The ruling meant a lawsuit to
challenge the county's contract with
Ogden Water Systems could proceed to
trial. Taylor now will have to determine
if the panel violated the state's Open
Meetings Law by discussing the sewer
project outside of a public meeting and
holding conference calls that were not
advertised to the public.
If she finds the law was violated,
Taylor could invalidate the contract and
order the county to restart the selection
process. (11/14/00 3/24/01)



CALLAHAN- The Callahan Town
Council voted in March to reverse a
1999 ordinance that raised the price of
public records above that set by state
law, but still faces a probe into several
allegations of Public Records Law
According to a letter written by
Assistant State Attorney Granville C.
Burgess, the alleged violations include:
records were not made public in a timely
manner; requesters were required to give

action into charges
reasons for their requests before
records were released; requesters were
required to make the requests in person
and in writing; individuals were denied
access to review records; and requesters
were charged a per-page price of 30
cents, double the 15 cents that state law
generally sets for public records.
The town voted to change the records
charge back to 15 cents, but officials
have denied any other violations.
(3/8/01 3/21/01)

Judge refuses r equestto monitor active case

BARTOW A circuit court judge
refused a newspaper's request to
monitor an investigation into the
shooting death of a police officer.
The Ledger of Lakeland filed a
lawsuit to gain access to records about
the killing of Officer David McCall.
McCall was killed in 1981, and police
informants told the newspaper that a
suspect in the case had died in 1991.

Claiming the investigation was no
longer active, The Ledger filed suit, but
Judge J. Dale Durrance ruled the
investigation was still active. (Brechner
Report, February 2001) The newspaper
then requested that the judge review the
investigation periodically to make sure
it was still active. Durrance denied the
request, saying it wouldn't be productive
for him to monitor the police. (2/24/01)

AGO: E-mails arepublic,not a Sunshine breach

containing factual material that are
exchanged between city council
members are subject to the Public
Records Law but are not a violation of
the Open Meetings Law, according to
an attorney general's opinion.
Attorney General Bob Butterworth
responded to a question from Port
Orange City Attorney Margaret T.
Roberts, which asked if e-mails from
one council member to another that
offered information, but not opinions,
were a violation of the Sunshine Law.
As long as the e-mails provided
information only and did not ask for
opinions or ask board members to take


Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or legis-
lation reported in any issue as "on
file" may be obtained upon request
from the Brechner Center for Free-
dom of Information, College of Jour-
nalism and Communications, 3208
Weimer Hall, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611-8400,
(352) 392-2273.

action, they would not be a violation of
the Sunshine Law, according to the
opinion. As public records, e-mails
would have to be maintained for 10
years, Butterworth wrote.
In an opinion answering another Port
Orange question, Butterworth said
preparing and distributing position
papers to other council members would
not be a violation as long as the council
members avoided discussion or debate,
and the papers were not responses to
other commissioners' statements.
However, the attorney general s.uongl
discouraged" circulating position papers
because of the potential for violations.
(AGO 2001-20; AGO 2001-21)

on ballots notexempt
TALLAHASSEE Voter information
on the back of absentee ballot
envelopes, including voter and witness
signatures, is not exempt from the
state's Public Records Law, according
to two attorney general opinions.
Attorney General Bob Butterworth
issued the opinions in response to
questions from officials in
Hillsborough and Sarasota counties.
Voter registration material is exempt
from the state's Public Records Law.
However, Butterworth said the
exemption, as written, applies only to
registration material and not to absentee
ballot envelopes.
(AGO 2001-07; AGO 2001-16)

Pavingcompany files

$1.5 billion lawsuit
STUART A Lake City-based road
paving company filed a $1.5 billion
defamation lawsuit against the
Pensacola News Journal and Gannett
Co., the paper's corporate parent.
Anderson Columbia claims in its
lawsuit that the
newspaper's 1998 LIB
investigative series LIBEL
about the company
damaged the company's reputation and
the reputation of the Anderson family.
Willie Gary, the attorney
representing Anderson Columbia in the
suit, told the Lake City Reporter that
the News Journal "compiled a laundry
list of innuendo, half-truths and
misinformation." A company spokesman
said the stories interfered with the
company's ability to do business in the
Panhandle. (3/22/01)

Planningdirector acquitted ofdisclosure violations

FORT MYERS A Lee County judge
found the county planning director not
guilty of failing to disclose meetings
with lobbyists.
Lee County Judge John Dommerich,
20th Judicial Circuit, ruled that
prosecutors failed to prove that Planning
Director Paul O'Connor ever talked with
lobbyists during the six years he
reportedly ignored the county's
disclosure law, which requires staff
members and commissioners to note the
times, names and dates of meetings with

The judge also ruled that the state
didn't prove that O'Connor lied to
investigators when he claimed he didn't
know he was required to file
The charges stemmed in part from an
investigation by The News-Press of Fort
Myers, which found that O'Connor and
then-Commissioner John Manning
failed to file lobbyist disclosures over a
period of several years. Manning later
pleaded no contest for failing to
disclose his meetings with lobbyists and
paid a $500 fine. (4/12/01)

2 The Brechner Report U June 2001


Judge hears case againstcommission

NASSAU COUNTY A Jacksonville
judge will decide if Nassau County
officials violated state Sunshine Laws,
after hearing testimony in a lawsuit filed
by resident Clark V. Hoshall Jr.
The lawsuit claimed the officials
violated the state's Public Records Law
and the Open Meetings Law in deciding
to move the county's courthouse from
Fernandina Beach to Yulee. His
attorneys argued that commissioners
met secretly to make decisions about

the move, failed to give proper notice of
other meetings and discussed issues not
on the agenda during special meetings.
The commissioners denied the
allegations and testified they didn't talk
about motions regarding the courthouse
before they were presented at public
meetings. If Judge L. Haldane Taylor,
4th Judicial Circuit, rules against the
county, all of the commissioners'
actions regarding the courthouse move
could be voided. (3/24/01 4/4/01)

CrystalRiver meetingprobe dropped

evidence has prompted the State
Attorney's Office to drop an
investigation into charges that members
of the City Council violated the Open
Meetings Law.
Council members voted at a
November meeting not to renew City
Manager David Sallee's contract but
didn't explain their decision at that

meeting. Sallee supporter Bud Kramer
claimed the lack of explanation meant
the council discussed the matter outside
of a public meeting.
Assistant State Attorney Mark
Simpson announced in April that there
was no proof the council members had
talked together before the meeting and
said his office was dropping the
complaint. (4/3/01- 4/4/01)

TAMPA Florida's 4th District
Court of Appeal refused to reinstate a
lawsuit filed against the St. Petersburg
Times by the Seminole Tribe.
The lawsuit stems from a series of
stories the Times wrote in 1997 about
the tribe's business practices. The tribe
claimed the Times' quest for
confidential information interfered
with the tribe's business relationships
with its employees. The suit also alleged
the stories were motivated by racism.
(Brechner Report, November 1999)

LONGBOAT KEY A circuit court
judge ruled that the Sarasota Herald-
Tribune does not have to turn over a
letter from a man charged with second-
degree murder.
Suspect Jameson Smith wrote the
newspaper a letter in which he claims he
fatally stabbed theater director Jamie
Brown in self-defense. Prosecutors
wanted a copy of the letter as part of
their evidence against Smith because
they say it provides a connection to a

A lower court dismissed the suit in
April 2000. (Brechner Report, July
2000) The three-judge panel upheld the
dismissal in March 2001, saying that the
articles were not racist and were about
newsworthy public concerns. The
opinion said that asking sources
questions was part of routine
newsgathering and doesn't interfere with
the tribe's relationship to its employees.
(3/22/01; Decisions on file: Seminole
Tribe of Florida v. Times Publishing
Co. Inc. Case no. 4D00-1717)

murder motive.
Judge Durand J. Adams, 12th Judicial
Circuit, said that prosecutors had
enough evidence to make the case
against Smith without using the letter to
the newspaper. He also wrote in his
order that most of the information in the
letter to the newspaper is also in another
letter Smith wrote the judge.
Officials in the State Attorney's
Office said they are considering
whether to appeal the ruling. (3/20/01)

Investigation turns

to gap in tape
MINNEOLA The State Attorney's
Office said the Minneola City Council
did not violate the Sunshine Law during a
March meeting, but the office is
investigating why a tape recording of the
meeting is missing 30 minutes.
The investigation was launched after
Deputy Mayor Sylvester Julien alleged
that council members violated the
Sunshine Law by discussing his contract
with each other outside a public
meeting. Council members also were
accused of violating the Sunshine Law
by agreeing to continue a contract with
the Lake County Sheriff's Office for
police services.
Mark Simpson, of the State
Attorney's Office, said that the contract
discussions did not violate the Open
Meetings Law. However, the State
Attorney's Office has begun
interviewing people about the missing
minutes on the tape to determine if the
missing time resulted from a mistake or
tampering. (3/20/01 3/29/01)
The Florida Bar will hold its 27th Annual
Media-Law Conference from 9 a.m. to
5 p.m. on June 23 in Orlando. Registration
material and details on the conference are
available by contacting Toyca Williams of
The Florida Bar at (850) 561-5766 or via
e-mail at :n,, ,I . tli.,, ..rg.

The Brechner Report U June 2001 3


Appealscourtwon'tr einstatetribe'slawsuit


Newspaper doesn'thaveto turn over letter

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P 0 Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
http //www jou ufl edu/brechner/
e-mail brechnerreport@jou ufl edu
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Director/Executive Editor
S. Camille Broadway, Editor
Jackie Thomas, Production Coordinator
Meghan McShane, Writer & Production Assistant
The Brechner Report 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 Brechner
Endowment The Brechner Report thanks Rahdert,
Anderson & Steele, P A and Colleen Ahern for their
contributions to this issue

Camerasin federalcourts?Maybe soon.

The U.S. Supreme Court and a federal court in Miami
refused to allow television camera coverage of hearings
during last year's presidential election litigation. But
the courts' treatment of the camera requests, proposals
in Congress, and another federal court's approval of live
audio coverage
The in a major
ID n,- 1 I- antitrust case

aI;d l AgC give reason to Ji
By Jim Lake hope that the ban on
electronic media
access to most federal courts might be lifted in the future.
The Supreme Court acted in response to a letter from
C-SPAN Chairman Brian Lamb to Chief Justice William
Rehnquist. Televised coverage of the Supreme Court
proceedings, C-SPAN's chairman wrote, "would be an immense
public service and would help the country understand and accept
the outcome of the election."
In a letter from Rehnquist, the Court turned down C-SPAN's
request. But by stating that the camera ban reflected the view of
"a majority" of the Court's nine justices, Rehnquist's letter gave
reason to believe that some minority on the Court favored
television coverage. The Court also took the unprecedented step
of releasing audiotapes of the proceedings within hours after
they concluded.
Together, Rehnquist's letter and the prompt release of the
audiotapes give access proponents reason to hope that the Court
may someday retreat from the views of such camera critics as
Justice David Souter.
In 1996, Souter told a congressional committee, "the day you
see a camera come into our courtroom it's going to roll over my
dead body."
Such hostility was notably absent from the response of Judge
Donald Middlebrooks of Miami to a request for camera access
to his federal courtroom during the election litigation.
"This is obviously a case of great public interest, and it does
not appear that the presence of cameras would impact in any way
upon the trial participants," Middlebrooks wrote in an order in
Siegel v. LePore, Case No. 00-9002-Civ-Middlebrooks (S.D.
Fla. Nov. 13, 2000).
Nevertheless, Middlebrooks concluded, court rules would not

allow him to permit camera access to the hearing.
Three months after Middlebrooks and the Supreme
Court considered camera access issues, a federal
court authorized live audio coverage of proceedings
in a major antitrust case.
The District of Columbia Circuit Court allowed
the public to hear arguments as they happened in the
federal government's case against Microsoft Corp.
Lake The proceedings took place over two days in
February, and the audio portion of the argument was carried
live on the ABC News Web site.

Congress also has taken up the question of media access to
federal courts recently. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard
testimony in September from a federal judge, a television news
director, and other supporters of camera coverage. Bills
introduced in the House and Senate in 1999 would give federal
judges discretion to permit photographing, recording,
broadcasting or televising of proceedings on a case-by-case
The House bill would require judges to order that the face
and voice of any witness be disguised if the witness so
Since 1996, federal appeals courts have had the power to
adopt their own rules allowing media access to their
proceedings. Two appellate courts have such policies. The
Ninth Circuit which hears appeals from federal courts in nine
western states, including California allows electronic
coverage of all its proceedings that take place in open court,
although judges have discretion to block access in particular
Similarly, the Second Circuit which hears federal appeals
from New York, Connecticut, and Vermont permits media
access to arguments in civil cases in which all parties are
represented by lawyers. As in the Ninth Circuit, however,
Second Circuit judges have discretion to ban cameras on a
case-by-case basis.

Jim Lake is a media lawyer in the Tampa office of
Holland & Knight LLP and a former reporter for The
Tampa Tribune. He has taught Freedom of Expression at
the Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg.


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