Volume 27, Number 4 E A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom ofI,,l .-1... 1,. College ofJournalism and Communications U University ofFlorida
Florida Senate committee holds secret meeting
TALLAHASSEE- For the first time in closed the
30 years, a Senate committee met in a support fr
closed door session authorized under a Sept. 11 n
new Sunshine Law exemption. The Discus!
committee is responsible for, -
funding the state's ACCESS
counterterrorism effort and
met in a closed meeting to MEETINGS
review plans to expand
Florida's homeland security technology, the intellig
The newly created Home Defense, Departmel
Public Security and Ports Committee requested
Question raised Judl
So en PINEL
in open Circuit juc
i formnner Cit
meeting case of an ong
NEW SMYRNA BEACH- Attorney and can b
James Markel has asked County Judge city.
Mary Jane Henderson to dismiss charges The St.
that two Oak Hill city commissioners sued Pinel
violated the Open Meetings Law, arguing city refuse
the commissioners did not violate the law as well as
because there weren't enough incident.
commissioners present to take a vote. The cit
Current City CommissionerBob the Times
Jackson and former CommissionerRon going crin
Mercer are accused of violating the Open written au
Meetings Law after discussing in person are availa
or over the telephone issues expected to cause of d
come before the City Commission, Mudd
according to the State Attorney's Office. lr
The two men could be fined up to $500 FlOr
each if convicted of non-criminal
In his argument, Markel said he
believes it is OK for two officials to MIAM
discuss city business because it takes Appeals h
three commissioners to make a quorum Court to n
and vote on an issue. Assistant State the spousa
Attorney Christopher Kelly disagreed, Mayor Joe
saying that it doesn't matter if it is two the news n
people or the entire council. The WPLG
intention of the law is to prevent board picture po
members from discussing issues without she accuse
public dissemination and discussion, cardboard
meeting with unanimous
om members, invoking its post
le for such a meeting.
sed at the meeting was the
"threat net" program, which
is an intelligence system that
takes tips and leads to see if
there is reasonable suspicion
to include that information in
;ence base. The Florida
nt of Law Enforcement has
$1.6 million to expand the
"The meeting was closed so that
information that was provided in the
meeting could not become available to
those who could harm us by having
some of that information," said Sen.
PaulaDockery, R-Lakeland, the
committee chair. "Our top priority, even
though all of us believe very strongly in
the public's right to know, we think their
security and safety are paramount."
ge rules suicide note is secret
LAS PARK- APinellas-Pasco surgery the week before his death and
Ige ruled that a suicide note by was known to be in severe pain. He died
y Manager Jerry Mudd is part of a stab wound to his chest.
going investigation A -- "There are many, many
e withheld by the A C C E SS cases that appear to be one
thing and turn out to be
Petersburg Times RECORDS another. There is no
las Park after the question this is an open
;d to release a copy of the note, criminal investigation," City Attorney Ed
reports from the day of the Foreman said.
Although the city attorney did not
y is claiming the information rule out the possibility of murder at the
requested is part of an on- hearing, officials have not said they think
final investigation until the Mudd's death was a result of foul play.
topsy and toxicology reports Judge John Lenderman ruled that the
)le to decide if suicide was the note would remain secret until the
death. investigation is complete or until he
iad undergone gall bladder releases it. (2/25/03)
ida Supreme Court asked to
ew appeal in access case
I The 3rd District Court of
as asked the Florida Supreme
ule on whether police records in
Il abuse case of former Miami
SCarollo should be released to
-TV requested a copy of the
lice took of Carollo's wife after
;d him of hitting her with a
tea holder in 2001 during an
but the photo was never
The appeals court denied to rehear the
case and asked the Supreme Court to
sort out the competing legal issues.
"It's our position that the Public
Records Act means what it says, and we
are hopeful that we can get this issue
resolved in the Florida Supreme Court,"
said Karen Kammer, the station's
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
Parents able to Florida newspapers unite in
withholdrecords support of open government
SANTA ROSA COUNTY- Parents of
students at Navarre High School and
other high schools in Santa Rosa County
will now be able to restrict military
recruiters from collecting information
about their children without their
The county School Board approved a
change in the Student Records
Handbook allowing parents to block the
names, addresses and telephone numbers
The laws allowing recruiters to collect
such information are the No Child Left
Behind Act of 2001 and the National
Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
To request certain information be
withheld, parents must fill out a form
which includes stipulations that no
outside organization be allowed to collect
information in order to compile databases
for mass mailing or telephone solicitation.
The form does not, however, prevent
students' names from appearing in
Assistant Superintendent for
Curriculum and Instruction Richard
Mancini doubts many parents will use
the form to prevent access to their
"Actually, based on history, no more
than 1 percent (of parents) actually take
advantage of that," Mancini said.
Copies of case opinions, Florida
Attorney General opinions, or
!,.., 'ia,. i reported in any issue as
on file" may be obtained upon
request from the Brechner Center for
Freedom of Information, College of
Journalism and Communications,
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400,
University ofFlorida, Gainesville, FL
32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.
TALLAHASSEE- Florida's daily
newspapers united on March 16 in
support of an open government,
publishing articles and editorials
reminding readers of the state's strong
public-records laws at a time when
lawmakers are proposing an increasing
number of exemptions.
The "Sunshine Sunday" initiative was
led by the Florida Society of Newspaper
Editors and the Tallahassee-based First
Amendment Foundation, with 36 papers
Broadcasters also responded to the
initiative with a 30-second public service
announcement recorded by The Miami
Herald columnist and author Carl
"Government is made better by
exposure to the people it serves, and
each year, as some legislator tries to dim
that view, the question must be asked:
What are you trying to hide?" the St.
Petersburg Times asked in one of its
Lawmakers have already filed more
than two dozen bills seeking new
exemptions to the state's Public Records
and Open Meetings laws this session.
Lawsuit filed against Citrus Dept.
LAKELAND The Ledger is suing
the Florida Department of Citrus, claiming
the department violated the state's
Sunshine Law after withholding records
from a study on generic citrus
The department hired the research
firm, Forecasting and Business Analytics
LLC of College Station, Texas, at the
urging of Lakeland-based citrus grower
organizations that question the
effectiveness of generic advertising. The
research firm is owned by agriculture
economists from Texas A&M University.
The Ledger was denied access to a
Jan. 16 meeting of a peer-review panel
consisting of five economists who are
reviewing technical aspects of the firm's
research. The department also declined
to release requested records regarding
activities at that meeting and other work
done by the peer group.
The Citrus Department contends that
the Advertising Review Committee that
commissioned the study is subject to the
Sunshine Law. However, the department
also maintains that a peer review panel
reporting to the committee is not subject
to the Open Meetings or Public Records
The lawsuit argues that the Sunshine
Law should extend to the peer-review
committee panel because its oversight
will directly impact the recommendations
of the Advertising Review Committee.
"Whatever actions, deliberations and
discussions that occur during meetings
of the peer review panel will affect the
outcome of the study," said Susan
Bunch, an attorney with Holland &
Knight, The Ledger 's law firm.
"Recommendations on generic
advertising could make or break the
Citrus Department." (2/26/03)
Worker fired over license plate sues city
TAMPA A former city employee has specialist in September and denied
sued the city of Tampa arguing his First unemploymentbenefits.
Amendment rights have been violated Carpenter, 47, is a member of the Sons of
after he was fired for refusing to remove Confederate Veterans and is proud of his
his Confederate flag license plate. heritage, according to his attorney J. Benton
Last year, Larry A. Carpenter was Stewart II. Stewart also noted that other city
ordered by supervisors in the city's workers park on city property with political
Public Works Department to either slogans and offensive statements on their
remove his license plate or park his truck vehicles as well.
off city property. Stewart says his client does not promote
After Carpenter refused the city's white power and merely wants the city to
order, he was cited for insubordination, develop a written policy that is fairly and
fired from his job as a traffic maintenance uniformly applied. (3/12/03)
2 The Brechner Report April 2003
Settlement reached between
library and religious group
DUNEDIN- Dunedin officials
agreed to pay more than $3,600 in legal
fees to the Liberty Counsel of Orlando
in a settlement reached after the Liberty
Counsel sued the library for not
allowing the group to use its public
The public library denied the
religious group access to its meeting
room on two occasions, citing that the
library's policy did not allow political,
religious and formal social meetings
and programs to use the room,
exercising separation of church and
state. The city will now change its
policy, allowing programs of a political
or religious nature to use the room.
"We're very pleased with the
settlement and pleased that other
people, as well, will benefit from this,"
said Mathew D. Staver, president and
general counsel for the Liberty
Counsel. "Our position has always
been that in a library community room
that's open for anyone from the public
to conduct a meeting, you can't
censure a speech because it deals with
a religious viewpoint."
In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court
has ruled that when government
creates a platform or forum for all
comers, it is a violation of the First
Amendment's free-speech guarantees
to pick and choose speakers on the
basis of their message.
City Attorney John Hubbard told
city commissioners that the settlement
was "highly desirable."
"We have agreed to take out of our
policy the present limitations on
political and religious viewpoints,"
Hubbard said, adding that he plans to
U.S. Supreme Court refuses case
WASHINGTON-TheU.S. Supreme trial, the experience of serving ona jury
Court refused to review a New Jersey and the operation of the judicial system.
Supreme Court decision that upheld a Such stories often lead to exposure of
trial court judge's order preventing misconduct or abuse," the Reporters
journalists from interviewingjurors after Committee wrote in its friend-of-the-cour
they are discharged. brief.
The original order resulted from the The petition to the U.S. Supreme Coui
trial of Fred Nuelander, who was charged was rejected, but the Inquirer intends to
and later convicted in a second trial of continue fighting the contempt charges
arranging his wife's murder in New issued against four of its reporters for
Jersey. investigating and publishing an article
The Philadelphia Inquirer, joined by regarding whether the forewoman of the
multiple media organizations including first jury was a Pennsylvania resident
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of and properly served on the New Jersey
the Press, petitioned the Court to review panel. (2/24/03)
the case, arguing it was "an
expansive prior restraint on -, ,- -.---
the press." D1 IS C-S H Vt
"The order barred the pbO 14 .'h 5 "
press from contacting or LW7 al :N!
attempting to interview
discharged jurors for any '
reason, regarding any I
subject, and even if the juror / .-;
initiated such contact," the \ \
Inquirer wrote in its petition
to the Court.
"The public and the press
rely on interviews of
discharged jurors to explain
the outcome of a particular
ATLANTA The Federal Appeals
Court for the 11 t Circuit has ruled against
several pro-choice groups that
contended the Florida Choose Life
license plate was unconstitutional.
The abortion rights groups,
represented by New York-based Center
for Reproductive Law and Policy,
challenged the state law claiming it
reserves tag profits for agencies offering
adoption services, but not abortions.
The lawsuit challenged the Florida law
which authorizes the Choose Life plates.
It also requested some of the private
funds from the sale of the specialty
plates be given to the abortion rights
On July 17, 2002, Federal District
Court Judge K. Michael Moore dismissed
the lawsuit, stating that the abortion
rights groups lacked standing to
challenge the law because they had
never applied for and been denied their
own specialty plate. The 11th Circuit
upheld the lower court's ruling, stating,
"the First Amendment does not require
states to authorize the speech of those
who have expressed no interest in
speaking; it only protects the rights of
those who wish to speak." (3/13/03)
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The Brechner Report April 2003 3
Florida newspapers support "Sunshine Sunday"
Editor 's Note: This editorial was originally
published by the Orlando Sentinel as part of Sunshine
Sunday. More than 30 Florida newspapers
participated in this annual effort to educate their
readers on the importance of open government.
Together with beaches, oranges and the Everglades,
open government belongs on a list of things to treasure
The about Florida. aul
BackPage Florida has been a
national leader in
By Paul Owens ensuring citizens access
to their government. In 1992, state voters enshrined that legal
tradition in the Florida Constitution. By a vote of 83 percent to 17
percent, they approved an amendment declaring all government
records and meetings open to the public unless the Legislature
makes an exception.
But in the ensuing 10 years, lawmakers made more than 100
exceptions. So last fall, voters weighed in again. By a 3-to-1
margin, they passed an amendment to require that exceptions be
approved by two-thirds of the members in both houses of the
Legislature, ratherthan majorities.
Those election results leave little doubt that Floridians hold
open government dear. They want to know how their
government is spending their tax dollars. Yet many lawmakers
still aren't listening. Government in the sunshine remains under
siege in the Sunshine State. Lawmakers have picked up the pace
since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11,2001. Some of the
exceptions they have approved, such as concealing the
blueprints of public buildings, make sense. But many, such as
hiding information used by businesses to get state tax breaks,
have nothing to do with security.
With this year's legislative session less than two weeks old,
lawmakers already have introduced at least 37 bills that could
limit public access to government information. Most insidious
are more than a dozen "shell bills" that would allow exceptions to
the constitution without including any details. Such bills are
stealth weapons targeting the public's right to know. Other
threats to open government include some discredited ideas that
died in last year's session, only to return like zombies from the
legislative graveyard. Among the worst are bills that
would hide reports of serious even deadly mistakes
made by doctors and pharmacists. Consumers would be
deprived of that vital information. Another bad bill
would conceal numbers and billing records for
government-issued cell phones and pagers carried by
law enforcement officers and many other government
employees. Those public servants would be less
accessible to citizens and unaccountable for their use
ens of taxpayer-funded equipment.
In their first week in session, senators held an unprecedented
secret meeting to examine a new anti-terrorist computer system.
They could have used individual briefings to protect sensitive
security details while addressing costs and other general issues
in public. Instead, they met as group behind closed doors,
stoking suspicions about their activities in the process. That's a
typical consequence of government secrecy.
Open government, by contrast, instills confidence among
citizens. It invites them to participate. It leads to better
decisions, as ideas are questioned, then refined. Open
government also promotes better use of tax dollars. It holds
government accountable. To cite just one recent example, an
Orlando Sentinel report using government records showed that
criminals in Florida's house-arrest program had killed at least 234
people and committed at least 538 sexual crimes. Lawmakers are
now vowing to make changes to protect the public.
Open government doesn't just benefit the press or other
watchdogs. Public records are a primary source of health, safety
and other consumer information for Floridians from inspection
reports for day care centers or nursing homes; to the names and
addresses of sex offenders; to the license status and disciplinary
records of contractors, doctors and other professionals. Yet
Florida's legacy of open government won't be safe unless
citizens demand that lawmakers honor it.
Paul Owens, the author of this editorial, writes on
international, national, economic and First Amendment issues
for the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board. The editorial ,..l,. i,
the views of the board and its long-standing commitment to