Volume 25, Number 8 0 A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of I, ..'n.i. 1 College ofJournalism and Communications 0 University of Florida
suit against CBS
PORT CHARLOTTE A Florida
appellate court has reinstated a libel suit
against CBS's "60 Minutes."
John Heekin, an attorney, sued the
television news magazine for a false-
light invasion of privacy, claiming the
show portrayed him as an abuser during
a segment on men who abused and killed
their domestic partners.
Judge James S. Parker, 12th Judicial
Circuit, dismissed the lawsuit, saying
CPRIV Y that the two-year
PRIVACY statute of
libel had run out and that CBS was
protected by the fair report privilege
because it accurately reported
information contained in public records.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd
District Court of Appeal reinstated the
lawsuit. It ruled that the statute of
limitations should have been four years
and said fair report privilege doesn't
apply because Heekin was suing for
false-light invasion of privacy and not
public disclosure of private facts.
Heekin's ex-wife filed an abuse
complaint with Charlotte County
officials, but Heekin was never arrested
or prosecuted. According to police,
officers found no evidence of battery.
An attorney for "60 Minutes" said CBS
plans to appeal. (5/18/01 6/20/01;
Heekin v. CBS ', I.... i,. ,,, i Inc., 29
Media Law Reporter 1795, June 19,
Charges againstpublisher dropped
KEY WEST Prosecutors have Enforcement, which began its own
dropped the misdemeanor charges investigation.
against a newspaper publisher arrested Key West police arrested Cooper
for revealing W SGA THT TRING after he published
information JN E VVW S A IN articles about the
from an investigation. The
internal police investigation before it police said the publisher violated a law
was made a public record, that prevents anyone from revealing
Dennis Reeves Cooper, editor and information about an internal police
publisher of Key West the Newspaper, investigation before it becomes public
published a series of articles about the record. A federal judge declared the law
alleged mishandling of an internal unconstitutional in 1990, but it remains
investigation by the Key West police, on the books. Prosecutors dropped the
Cooper also filed a complaint with the case against Cooper on July 3.
Florida Department of Law (6/26/01 7/9/01)
Judge refuses to dismiss records suit
BUNNELL A judge has refused medical records.
to dismiss a public records lawsuit The department released the
filed by The News-Journal of records after the inmate's attorney
Daytona Beach against the Flagler revealed the inmate's medical
County Sheriff's Office. condition to the media,
The News-Journal A f Q but the newspaper
requested jail A C C ESS continued its lawsuit in
transportation logs in RECORDS order to clarify the Public
late January to find out Records Law. Attorneys
where the department had taken an representing the Sheriff's Office said
inmate. The department refused to the case should be dismissed since the
release the complete record because records had been released.
the logs revealed that the inmate had Kim Hammond, 7th Judicial
been taken to a mental health Circuit, refused to dismiss the lawsuit
facility. The department claimed and ordered Sheriff Jim Manfre to
releasing the transportation logs provide an explanation of why he
would have violated the delayed in releasing jail records.
confidentiality of the inmate's (2/1/01- 6/2/01)
Sanfordboardsettleslawsuitover Open Meetingviolationsfor $24,000
SANFORD The Sanford Housing violated when the city and the board settlement agreement.
Authority Board agreed to A C C E SS hammered out an agreement Although the board did not admit to
settle a lawsuit with two A behind closed doors that an Open Meetings violation, the
tenants who claimed the allowed four former housing settlement also declares the resignation
board violated the state M EETIN GS board members to resign. agreement null and void.
Open Meetings Law. The tenants will split The U.S. Department of Housing and
The two tenants sued the board, $5,000, and the housing board will pay Urban Development still must approve
claiming the Open Meetings Law was $19,000 in attorney's fees as part of the the settlement. (4/24/01 6/22/01)
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
N1ewspaperwon'thaveto pay opponent's legalbills
BARTOW The Ledger of Lakeland
does not have to pay attorney's fees to
the Polk County Sheriff's Office over a
public records lawsuit, a judge ruled.
The Ledger originally sued the
Sheriff's Office and its health-care
provider, Prison Health Services, for not
turning over records concerning a
settlement with a prisoner's family.
A judge ruled against Prison Health
Services in 1997, saying the company
withheld public records from the
newspaper. Prison Health Services
agreed to the pay The Ledger $22,500
in legal fees.
The Sheriff's Office asked Chief
Judge Charles Curry, 10th Judicial
Circuit, to force the newspaper to pay its
Judge rules absentee ballots are open
PANAMA CITY- Ajudge has
ruled that absentee ballot envelopes
and voter precinct registers are
subject to the state's Public Records
The ruling came as part of John
Braxton's legal challenge of the 2000
election, during which Braxton lost
the race for Holmes County sheriff
by a four votes.
Judge Clinton Foster, 14th
Judicial Circuit, ruled the absentee
ballot envelopes and precinct records
are open to public records requests
because the state legislature did not
pass a special exemption for the
Attorney General Bob Butterworth
earlier issued an opinion that the
ballot envelopes should be
considered public record. (Brechner
Report, June 2001)
Foster said that election officials
did not withhold the records "with ill
intent or a disregard for their official
duties" but because they believed the
information was confidential and
Tape of spy's confession orderedreleased
TAMPA The FBI was allowed to
disguise the face and voice of an
undercover agent before releasing a
videotaped confession of a convicted
The Tampa Tribune, WTVT-TV and
WFLA-TV requested a copy of the
videotaped confession of George
Trofimoff, a former U.S. Army
Reserve colonel convicted of passing
intelligence documents to the Soviets
from 1968 to 1994.
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
Journalism and Communications,
3208 Weimer Hall, University of
Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400,
Judge Susan C. Bucklew, U.S.
District Court for the Middle District of
Florida, ordered the unaltered tape,
which was played in open court, sealed.
She then ordered the FBI to provide
the media with the videotape that blurs
the identity of the undercover agent
because the agent still is working
undercover in other cases.
(6/28/01 6/29/01; Decisions on file:
U.S. v. George Trofimoff June 12,
legal bills, arguing that the newspaper
should only have sued the Prison Health
Services and never involved the Sheriff's
Office in the suit.
Curry refused to require The Ledger
pay the Sheriff's Office's fee, ruling that
the lawsuit was not frivolous and that
public records requests did not have to
be put in writing. (5/31/01 6/15/01)
reverse e-mail ruling
TAMPA Despite a request from
Florida's attorney general, Florida's 2nd
District Court of Appeal refused to re-
examine its ruling barring the release of
a judge's e-mail.
The appeals court earlier denied a
request by The Tampa Tribune and
WFLA-TV for copies of e-mails held by
the 13th Judicial Circuit's chief judge.
The newspaper wanted copies of e-mails
sent and received by Judge F. Dennis
Alvarez regarding an investigation into
the conduct of another judge.
A three-judge panel ruled that the
e-mails were not part of Alvarez's
official duties and therefore not subject
to a public records request. (Brechner
Report, July 2001)
Attorney General Bob Butterworth
filed an appeal in June, asking the
appeals court to reverse the ruling.
He argued that Alvarez received the
e-mail in his capacity as chief judge so
the e-mail should be considered judicial
records. The appeals court refused to
reverse its opinion but ruled that the
attorney general could ask the Florida
Supreme Court to review the case.
Judge to review video ofwildboar's slaughter
TAMPA An audiotape of the killing
and castration of a wild boar during a
radio show was released to the public,
but a judge is still reviewing a videotape
of the event.
Disc jockey Todd "Bubba the Love
Sponge" Clem has been charged with
third-degree animal cruelty for having a
boar castrated and killed as part of a
stunt for his radio show on Tampa's
WXTB 97.9 FM.
In addition to broadcasting the
killing, Clem had the killing videotaped.
Authorities plan to use the tape
against Clem during his trial, and The
Tampa Tribune, the St. Petersburg
Times, and WFLA-TV have requested
Defense attorneys argued that
releasing the video would make it
impossible to find an unbiased jury.
Judge Herbert Baumann, 13th
Judicial Circuit, ruled that audiotape
could be released but said he would
review the videotape before ruling on its
A hearing in the case is set for Aug.
23. (6/12/01 6/25/01)
2 The Brechner Report August 2001
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
Former mayor suescityoverl994 removalfrom office
MASCOTTE Odis Lee Thomas, a
former Mascotte mayor removed from
office for violating the state's Sunshine
Law, is suing the city and the Lake
County Sheriff's Department over his
Elected in the late '80s, Thomas was
removed from office in 1994 by
Gov. Lawton Chiles after he was
investigated for corruption and charged
with felony grand theft, felony
corruption, misdemeanor assault and
four Sunshine Law violations.
The state attorney never prosecuted
Thomas for the Sunshine Law violations,
and a jury found Thomas not guilty of
the other charges. Now Thomas has filed
a civil lawsuit against the city and
Sheriff's Department for malicious
A judge granted the city summary
judgment in an almost identical lawsuit
in federal court, but Thomas says he
plans to appeal. (4/19/01)
TALLAHAS SEE- An Associated
Press photographer was arrested as he
attempted to take pictures during a
sentencing hearing in Leon County.
Mark Foley was photographing the
sentencing hearing of Cedric Green,
who first made headlines as the youngest
teen-ager arrested in the 1993 murder of
a British tourist and who was being
sentenced for the armed robbery of a
DAYTONA BEACH Florida's 5th
District Court of Appeal upheld the
dismissal of a libel lawsuit against The
News-Journal of Daytona Beach, ruling
that the paper was protected by the fair
Kevin "Kit" Carson, an attorney, sued
the newspaper in 1998 after losing a
judgeship election in Volusia County.
Carson claimed that 14 statements made
by the newspaper were defamatory,
including information the newspaper
gathered from the Bureau of
Supreme Court overturned a ban that
prevented businesses from soliciting car
wreck victims, ruling that the 1977 law
violated the First Amendment's
protections for commercial speech.
The law made it a third-degree felony
for chiropractors, doctors and lawyers
to contact accident victims.
The Court, however, overturned the
charges against a chiropractor who was
convicted of soliciting accident victims,
saying that the chiropractor was seeking
Deputies asked Foley to move from
his position in a public gallery then
arrested him after a brief exchange.
He was charged with battery on a law
enforcement officer and resisting arrest
Foley was released later that day
from the Leon County Jail on $2,000
bail. "I've been charged with two
felonies that I didn't commit," he told
the Associated Press. (6/17/01)
Unemployment Compensation records.
Circuit Court Judge Joseph Will, 7th
Judicial Circuit, dismissed the case in
June 2000, saying that the 14 statements
were either not defamatory, protected as
pure opinion, or protected as fair reports
of a public document. (Brechner
Report, September 2000) The three-
judge appeals panel affirmed Will's
decision, commenting that the
newspaper had accurately summarized
state records and was entitled to the fair
report privilege. (6/26/01)
The Court also ruled that the statute
was "an impermissible encroachment
upon First Amendment commercial
speech rights." The Court reasoned that
the ban on solicitation did not
substantially advance the government's
interest in controlling insurance fraud
and that the statute was not sufficiently
narrowly tailored. (6/1/01 6/5/01;
Florida v. ( li,n ,. Bradford, No.
SC96910, May 31, 2001)
in visitation case
MIAMI A circuit court judge
dismissed a subpoena of a journalist in
a child visitation case, ruling that the
parties failed to show enough evidence
to overcome the reporter's privilege
against compelled testimony.
Attorneys for Jorge Garcia
subpoenaed Patrick Fraser, an
employee of WSVN Channel 7, to get
access to a videotape Fraser made
concerning Garcia's visitation dispute
with Lourdes Garcia.
Fraser refused to testify. Judge
Henry H. Harnage, 11th Circuit, ruled
that Fraser did not have to testify or
turn over the videotape. (Garcia v.
Garcia, 29 Media Law Reporter 1657,
May 22, 2001)
The Brechner Report August 2001 3
Panel upholds dismissal o flibellawsuit
Courtoverturns ban on solicitingwr eckvictim s
TALLAHASSEE -The Florida patients and did not intend to defraud
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University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
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The Brechner Report is published 12 times a year
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Foundation The Brechner Report is a joint effort of
The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, the
University of Florida College of Journalism and
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&Knight and Colleen Ahern for their contributions to
FirstAmendmentsurvey offers some goodnews
There's some good news for the media in The an election while people are still voting. This is up from
Freedom Forum's annual State of the First Amendment 70 percent a year ago.
Survey: The American public continues to say that the For the first time in our polling, we had a majority of
media have a valuable watchdog role, keeping an eye on respondents say they strongly believe that broadcasters
government. But there's a flip side: A majority of should be allowed to televise the proceedings of the
Americans also say that the government needs to keep U.S. Supreme Court. Another 26 percent mildly agree
The the media in with that proposition, making three out of four
k-_ check. That Americans in favor of television access to the most
B ack P age sentiment runs Kenneth important court in the land.
By Kenneth A. Paulson throughout our Paulson The survey was based on telephone interviews with a
annual survey, random national sample of 1,012 adults, conducted
Americans respect the principles of free speech and free press between May 16 and June 6, 2001, by the Center for Survey
but are often troubled by their practice. Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.
A total of 82 percent of respondents say they believe it is The most startling result of the survey is also the one that
important for the media to hold the government in check. may be the most difficult to explain. Each year, we ask
Conversely, 71 percent say they believe it is important for the Americans to agree or disagree with this statement: "The First
government to hold the media in check. When asked whether Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees." In 2001,
they have more concern about the media having too much 29 percent strongly agreed with that statement, with another 10
freedom or the government imposing too much censorship, 41 percent mildly agreeing. That suggests that almost four in 10
percent say their concern lies with the media and 36 percent say Americans believe that the First Amendment provides too much
they are more concerned about government censorship. freedom, up dramatically from just one in five last year.
Of course, the word "media" encompasses a broad spectrum The polling experts at the University of Connecticut say this
of news, education and information providers. When asked sense of too much freedom is particularly strong among those
specifically about the freedom of the news media, 46 percent of who believe that there should be a law to prevent broadcasters
Americans say the press has too much freedom to do what it from predicting election winners before the polls are closed.
wants. This is down slightly from last year's figure of 51 If there is indeed that kind of cause and effect, there's a clear
percent, but certainly not a source of comfort for America's message for the news media here. A highly visible and reckless
newspapers and broadcasters. error such as predicting the wrong winner in a presidential
It also appears that the 2000 presidential election has had an election can have devastating consequences for the First
impact on how the American public perceives both the press and Amendment. The challenge remains for the nation's press to
the U.S. Supreme Court. The incorrect prediction that Al Gore restore faith in its role as a watchdog. It's clear that the public
had won the election, coupled with a Supreme Court hearing in still respects that role, but in an era of happy-talk broadcasts,
which, as usual, television cameras were barred, may have had a tabloidization and a dearth of investigative reporting, many
lasting impact on public opinion. Americans are left to wonder whether that watchdog is barking
For example, we've asked in our last two surveys whether a or simply howling at the moon.
news report projecting the winner of an election would tend to More data from the survey and Paulson's complete
discourage people from voting. In two successive years, 64 analysis of the survey are available at
percent of respondents have said that they believe people would http://www.freedomforum.org.
be less likely to vote. But if the perception of a problem has
remained steady, the solution for that problem has shifted Kenneth A. Paulson is a senior vice president for The
dramatically. Eighty percent of those polled this year said Freedom Forum and the executive director of the First
television networks should not be allowed to project winners of Amendment Center.