Volume 31, Number 2 0 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
Residents criticize commission No charges it
for taxpayer-funded outings Yankeetown
COOPER CITY An overflowing or became intoxicated at their pre-meeting YANKEETOWN Following
crowd attended a Cooper City dinners. six-month investigation by the Flo
commission meeting to both confront and Mayor Debby Eisinger said the Department of Law Enforcement,
support commissioners who spent more commissioners will no longer dine before Yankeetown officials will likely av
than $5,000 in the past two meetings and intend to pass prosecution due to a lack of evident
years on taxpayer-funded A C (C E Q an ordinance prohibiting that they violated open govemmen
meals. A city officials from charging laws.
At Gov. Jeb Bush's MEETINGS taxpayers for dinner. State Attorney Bill Cervone has
request, the Florida Eisinger earlier defended not made a final decision on wheth
Department of Law the practice, saying the meals to prosecute, but one of his offices
Enforcement is investigating whether fostered camaraderie among city officials already declined to prosecute.
commissioners violated the Sunshine Law and staff, according to the South Florida The investigation came after
residents accused town officials
Freelance journalist remains of violating the Sunshine Law by
meeting with developers who want
build a riverfront resort in the town
in jail for protecting outtakes Preliminary discussionsbetween t
Mayor and town attorney regarding
SAN FRANCISCO A freelance
journalist who refuses to testify before a
grand jury and turn over outtakes of his
video footage remains injail after his
request for an en banc
review of his case was R E
Josh Wolf filmed an
T) IX TIT
anarchist protest in July IVl V 11
2005. Protesters and
police clashed in the
violent protest. Federal prosecutors are
trying the case and say that the outtakes
of the footage could identify some
A lower court cited Wolf for contempt,
and that ruling
RTER'S was upheld by a
SRTS three-judge panel
of the 9th Circuit
7JE U.S. Court of
could be jailed until July, when the grand
jury's term expires.
Courtroom recording systems raise record issues
PANAMA CITY Judges of Administrator Jennifer Wells. Wells
Florida's 14th Circuit have temporarily contends that the recordings are "work
allowed for the public release of audio product" and should remain private.
recordings of court hearings, pending a The 14th Circuit has been installing
final decision on whether the recordings CourtSmart recording systems in its
are public records. T C O U RT S courtrooms since 2002.
The interim order came as C U R T For now, the public can
the result of a request by The access the recordings if
News Herald (Panama City) to they make the request in
access the recording of a Dec. 11 criminal writing and submit a blank compact disc.
court hearing. The newspaper was Employees have up to 72 hours to fulfill
denied access to the recording by Court the request, which costs $15.
"Florida has a structure of rules and
procedures pertinent to public records,"
Circuit Judge Glenn Hess said.
"The most recent flurry of
improvements in technology, such as
CourtSmart, have outpaced the structure
currently in place for dealing with those
issues," Hess said.
The cost to install microphones and
recording systems throughout the 14th
circuit's courtrooms and most annexes and
meeting rooms was about $250,000.
the legal format for the development
proposal apparently did not violate the
Investigators found that no conflict
of interest existed as a result of a town
council and planning board member
having property under contract to the
Residents also reported seeing
officials destroying public records.
The FDLE accounted for originals of
the development-related documents.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Federal court gives FOIA suit another chance
WASHINGTON D.C. -A Cox
Newspapers' Freedom of Information
Act lawsuit against the Department of
Justice was improperly dismissed at the
trial level, a federal appeals court has
Cox wants access to a database
containing identifying information about
NEW YORK The federal
government subpoenaed the ACLU for a
classified document received by the civil
liberties group, but a month later agreed
to make the document public.
The ACLU opposed the U.S.
attorney's office's request for the four-
page document. The document describes
the military Public Affairs Office's
guidelines for photographing prisoners of
war and detainees in Iraq.
The document was declassified after
illegal immigrants convicted of crimes
who served time in prison. The Justice
Department denied the request, citing the
privacy rights of the convicts.
The three-judge panel for the U.S.
Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.
ruled that unresolved factual issues called
for the case to be returned to the trial
CIA redacts portions of column
NEW YORK The New York Times
published a redacted version of an
opinion piece written by a former CIA
analyst, after the CIA publication review
board asked that portions of the article
regarding American-Iranian relations be
Flynt Leverett, former senior director
for Middle East affairs at the National
Security Council, authored the column.
Leverett said that none of the redacted
portions of the article contained classified
information. Former Foreign Service
officer Hillary Mann co-authored the
Leverett also said the White House
told the publication review board to
censor parts of the commentary.
A White House official denied
Leverett's claim that the censorship was
As a former CIA employee, Leverett
is required to submit manuscripts for
pre-publication review. Leverett said this
is the first time the CIA has asked him to
alter a manuscript.
the Department of Justice requested that
the ACLU return it and destroy all copies.
After the declassification, the
Department of Justice wrote to a federal
judge that the subpoena was sent because
the ACLU requested one in lieu of
"It shows the level and scale of the
overclassification problem," said ACLU
Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.
"Here is a perfect example of a document
that shouldn't be classified."
The DOJ argued that some of the
individuals in the database could have been
improperly listed as illegal immigrants.
Cox said it avoided requesting
information about a person unless the
individual had already been deemed an
WASHINGTON D.C. The U.S.
Supreme Court has rejected The New
York Times' request for emergency
protection from a lower court ruling
allowing federal prosecutors to review
phone records of two reporters.
A Chicago grand jury is
investigating two Islamic charities.
The government canceled raids on the
charities after reporters Judith Miller
and Philip Shenon called for comment
prior to the planned raids.
The Times has refused to reveal
who gave the reporters the information
about the charities. The newspaper
argued that the phone record review
would reveal the identities of
confidential sources unrelated to the
investigation of the charities.
In August, a federal appeals court
overturned a lower court's ruling
and found that the grand jury needed
the reporters' evidence to pursue its
Miller is no longer at The Times.
Prosecutor will stop altering informant records
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY Miami-
Dade court officials will stop their
practice of altering court records
to protect informants. In a letter to
Florida Supreme Court
Chief Justice R. Fred C
State Attorney Katherine
Fernmndez Rundle defended the practice
but agreed to find other ways to protect
The practice was brought to light
by The Miami Herald, whose stories
on secret dockets eventually led to a
statewide inquiry by Lewis into improper
sealing of court records.
The Florida Bar has
R S recommended rule changes
that would require a public
hearing before the sealing of a court
record. Fernmndez Rundle objected to
the proposal, saying it would impede
investigations and endanger informants.
"It appears the state attorney is admitting
that she and others in the judiciary have
simply ignored a criminal statute that
flatly prohibits the falsification of judicial
records," said Miami First Amendment
attorney Thomas Julin.
South Florida members of the Florida
Public Defenders Association also expressed
concern about the practice, calling for an
2 The Brechner Report February 2007
Government drops demand for
document leaked to ACLU
Woman's relatives sue aggressive talk show host
ORLANDO Relatives of a
woman who committed suicide the day
after being interviewed by CNN talk
show host Nancy Grace have sued the
television personality and the network.
Grace interviewed Melinda Duckett
about the disappearance of her 2-
year-old son, Trenton Duckett. Grace
MIAMI A federal judge ordered a
St. Petersburg Times reporter to testify at
a $12 million white-collar fraud trial. A
partner at the law firm GrayRobinson was
also ordered to testify at the trial.
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez
rejected William Levesque's claim of
reporter's privilege and David Hendrix's
attorney-client privilege claim.
Levesque interviewed one of the
defendants in the wire fraud case for a
November 2004 article. The Times chose
not to appeal the ruling.
There was not a confidential source to
protect in the case, according to Alison
Steele, attorney for the Times. "There is
nothing about this case that invokes the
intense scrutiny that confidential sources
and threats of prison do," Steele said.
aggressively questioned Duckett
regarding her whereabouts the day the
toddler was reported missing.
Duckett shot herself the next day,
and CNN aired the show after Duckett's
The attorney for Duckett's estate said
Grace misrepresented the reason for
TAMPA A former county worker
who claims the government infringed on
his First Amendment rights by firing him
was unsuccessful in his attempt to appeal
the dismissal of his case.
Gary Mitchell worked part time for
Hillsborough County and often operated
cameras during meetings of the county
During an April 2002 meeting,
Mitchell spoke as a member of a political
support group. Mitchell addressed former
the interview and improperly interrogated
Duckett, pushing her over the edge.
The lawsuit alleges wrongful death and
intentional infliction of emotional distress,
according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Trenton Duckett was last seen Aug. 27,
2006. He remains missing, according to the
Lawmakers hesitant about
post-disaster meeting changes
BROWARD COUNTY County teleconferencing and allowing meetings
commissioners want Florida's in venues that aren't large enough for the
Sunshine Law changed to make public to attend.
easier to coordinate. A
difficulties meeting after MEI
major hurricanes because
of the state's tough Sunshine Law.
The Broward County
commissioners suggested relaxing
notice requirements, permitting
ES S But local lawmakers
E SS were hesitant about the new
exemptions, according to the
N GS South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Local government leaders'
requests for exemptions and the erosion of
the Sunshine Law are troubling, according
to State Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton
Court changes attorney ad rules
TALLAHASSEE The Florida
Supreme Court has approved new rules
that require attorneys to get approval
from the Florida Bar prior to airing radio
or television advertisements.
Current rules require ads needing
review to be filed with the Bar no later
than the date of publication or broadcast.
These rules will remain in effect for all
media except radio and television.
The court deferred its ruling on Internet
advertising by lawyers and law firms
because a special committee is currently
studying the issue.
Commissioner Ronda Storms and made
graphic remarks about female genitalia. The
county then fired him.
Federal Judge Gerald Tjoflat called the
remarks "sophomoric" and wrote in his
opinion that "there is nothing in the content
of Mitchell's speech that communicated
anything of value to a matter of public
Tjoflat deemed the remarks a personal
attack on Storms, not speech protected by
the First Amendment.
The Brechner Report U February 2007 3
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Foundation The Brechner Report is ajoint effort
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the University of Florida College of Journalism and
Communications, the Florida Press Association, the
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ety of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L Brechner
Judge rejects employee's free
speech claim after termination
Proposal doesn't account for victims who want to talk
Nothing irks me more than non-reporters who think
they know how reporters do theirjobs. Take the inept
legislators at the Virginia state senate, particularly Sen.
Word is that he has proposed a bill that would
essentially make it illegal for a reporter, or anyone else,
to step on the property of someone who has recently
undergone a personal tragedy or lost a loved one.
According to Marc Fisher at washingtonpost.com, J
Cuccinelli refers to those of us who have dared to talk to
the families of victims as "scuzzball reporters out there
who don't have a shred of human decency to give a flying
rat's tail about the condition or feelings or circumstances of
The As often happens, the
Bk politician who proposed
Back Page this doesn't know what he
B ac i u is talking about. Like most
By Joe Strupp reporters, I have had many
moments during my time at four newspapers that called for
approaching families of the recently deceased.
No fun, of course, but often quite necessary. Contrary to
what many believe, most reporters do not bang on the door
and obnoxiously demand interviews. When I had to approach
people after they had suffered a loss, I respectfully called
or knocked on the door, identified myself, and asked if they
would speak for a few minutes. If they declined, I left them
But I was always surprised to find out that, most often, they
wanted to talk. And, unlike the common wisdom that reporters
ask, lio\\ do you feel," I never did. I believe most others
likely did not either. My first question was always, "tell me
about the person." And people felt grateful to be able to take
time away from focusing on the person's death and give some
attention to his or her life.
I remember knocking on the door of a family in Berkeley
Heights, N.J., during my time at the Daily Journal in
Elizabeth to interview relatives of a teenager killed in an auto
accident. Her father and brothers could not wait to brag about
her and give their memories. One said she "would
light up a room," a quote that became the headline.
Later, when I worked in Fremont, Calif., a nearby
Union City school board member who lost a son to a
1 motorcycle accident answered the door in tears and
asked for a hug. She then went on to talk about what
a good kid he was and how this would spark her to
push for helmet restrictions for motorcycle riders.
There are at least a dozen other examples from
rupp my career in which I knew asking for some time to
speak to the family made them feel better. And made
for a better, complete story.
It makes one almost wonder during these times of anti-
press sentiment among many elected officials if this is a true
belief by a politician that grieving families are being wrongly
approached or if it is just another way to limit press
Next, someone will try to make it a crime for a reporter to
approach a politician outside of the capitol or city hall, or at
Several public officials have already chosen to limit
which reporters to whom they will speak. You may recall
former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich's edict years ago
that his staff could not speak to two writers at The Sun in
Baltimore because he didn't like their reporting. I called
Ehrlich "Crybaby of the Year" for his tantrum. If the Virginia
legislature actually puts Cuccinelli's idea into law, they may
take the prize for "Bonehead Move of the Year."
So, to the legislators who are considering such a misguided
proposal, I say: Please do some research on how such
reporting is actually done before you act, and how it benefits
both readers and victims' families.
Joe Strupp is senior editor at Editor & Publisher. This
piece originally appeared as part of his "Get Me Rewrite"
column at www. editorandpublisher com. It is reprinted with
*Editor's note According to anAssociated Press report,
Cuccinelli was unable to find any support for his bill.