Volume 33, Number 8 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
Crist vetoes two public records exemption bills
TALLAHASSEE Gov. Charlie Crist
vetoed two bills passed during the 2009
legislative session that
would have created public A C C E
records exemptions for
the identity of donors to RECORD
publicly owned buildings
and for proprietary business information
of telecommunications and broadband
Senate Bill 166 would have created a
public records exemption for the name,
address and telephone number of donors
or prospective donors to publicly owned
buildings or facilities if the donor desired
to remain anonymous.
In a letter explaining his decision to
veto S.B. 166, Crist wrote that the
SS S bill did not "provide a sufficient
mechanism for public oversight
S and accountability" and would be
contrary to Florida's public policy
for open and transparent government
House Bill 7093 would have created a
public records exemption for proprietary
confidential business information obtained
from telecommunications companies and
broadband companies by the Department
of Management Services.
In a letter explaining his decision to
veto H.B. 7093, Crist wrote that the bill's
definition of "proprietary confidential
business information" was overly broad
and recommended the state legislature
revisit the issue.
Crist also approved H.B. 7051
amending the exemption for the social
security numbers of current and former
government employees to allow members
of the media access to all social security
numbers for the purpose of identity
Source: First Amendment Foundation
and www.leg. state.fl. us.
Electronic court recordings are public records
TALLAHASSEE The Florida
Supreme Court in a unanimous decision
ruled that electronic recordings of court
proceedings are public records.
The Court's ruling reversed a lower
court decision blocking access to
electronic recordings and also rejected
recommendations from a judicial
commission that electronic records not
be made public unless approved by the
trial court or chief judge.
The Florida Supreme Court said that
both the district court's ruling and the
judicial commission's recommendations
blocking access were contrary to the
MARION COUNTY A grand jury
concluded that although the county
commission did not break the law in
hiring a ACCESS
new county ACC
violated the "spirit" of the Sunshine Law.
As a result, the grand jury
recommended that county administrator
Lee Niblock, who was hired in February,
resign immediately or not seek extension
of his three-year contract with the city.
state's open government tradition.
In addition, the justices noted that
the recordings had provided useful and
reliable records since being authorized
by judicial rule in 1995.
In May, the 2nd District Court of
Appeals upheld a Pasco County judge's
ruling denying a public records request
from The Tampa Tribune for audio
recordings of a sentencing hearing. The
appellate panel said that the electronic
recordings did not constitute a court
record subject to the Public Records
Law because the records were used to
create the official court record, but were
in Marion County
Niblock was hired by the county
commission two days after former county
administrator Pat Howard resigned.
The grand jury found no evidence of
a violation of the state's Sunshine Law.
However, in its report, the grand jury
condemned the lack of public discussion,
input or notice associated with Howard's
resignation and Niblock's hiring. The
hiring, "if not done with the intent to keep
the matter as private as possible in clear
violation of the spirit of the Sunshine Law,
certainly had that effect," stated the report,
not an official record of court business.
"It's a wonderful decision for the
public because it ensures that what
happens in a courtroom-and is
recorded-can be listened to by any
citizen," said Gregg Thomas, a Tampa
attorney, according to The Ledger
"Government has spent an enormous
amount of money providing for digital
recordings. Now the Supreme Court has
guaranteed that anyone who wants to can
listen to what happens in a courtroom in
Source: The Ledger and http://tbo.
according to the Ocala Star Banner.
The grand jury disapproved county
staff and commissioners communicating
via e-mail outside of the county's e-mail.
In its recommendations, the grand jury
called for the commission to revise hiring
policies to require "a full and open hiring
process," according to the Ocala Star-
The county commission said it will
begin working on setting new policies for
selecting future administrators.
Source: Ocala Star-Banner
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
ACLU gets torture memos but still seeks photos
WASHINGTON After years of
litigation, the Justice Department
released four secret memos issued by the
department's Office of Legal Counsel
between 2002 and 2005.
The American Civil Liberties Union
sued for the memos, which detail
interrogation practices used by the
Bush administration against suspected
terrorists, under the Freedom of
In releasing the previously classified
memos, President Barack Obama said
he decided to release the memos because
much of the interrogation procedures
described in the memos had already
been widely reported on, some had been
discussed by the previous administration
and he'd already discontinued the use of
those practices through executive order.
Meanwhile, the ACLU's three-year
battle for more than 40 prisoner abuse
photos from Afghanistan and Iraq
requested under FOIA continues after the
Obama administration reversed its earlier
position to comply with a federal court
order requiring the photos' release.
In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, which originally had ordered
the photos released, recalled its order,
allowing for the Obama administration to
decide whether to ask the U.S. Supreme
Court to hear the case.
Also in June, the U.S. Senate
approved by unanimous consent
the Detainee Photographic Records
Protection Act, which allows the
president to withhold photos of detainees.
A companion bill is pending in the
U.S. House of Representatives. The bill
would require the Secretary of Defense
certify that release of the images would
endanger U.S. citizens and troops. The
ban would expire after three years, unless
certification is renewed.
Source: The Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press, www.gosanangelo.
cor and http://www.house.gov/
Office of Administration not subject to FOIA
WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S.
Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia upheld a lower court ruling
that the Office of Administration does not
have to make records available for public
inspection as required by the Freedom of
Information Act, although it has in the
The court held that the Office
SANTA ROSA COUNTY The
American Civil Liberties Union and the
ACLU of Florida won a lawsuit against
the Santa Rosa County School Board filed
on behalf of two high school students
who alleged school officials regularly
promoted religion at school events.
The lawsuit, filed in August 2008,
alleged that school officials had violated
the Establishment Clause of the First
Amendment on multiple occasions.
Ajudge for the U.S. District Court for
the Northern District of Florida approved
a consent decree and order, in which the
district admitted wrongdoing, and set
out terms to bring the school district in
compliance with the U.S. and Florida
In the order, Judge M. Casey Rodgers
ruled that the school board had violated
the First Amendment and the "no aid"
provision of the Florida Constitution.
The order permanently enjoined school
officials from endorsing or participating
of Administration, which provides
administrative services to the president,
does not meet the definition of federal
agency under the FOIA because it lacks
substantial independent authority.
The Citizens for Responsibility and
Ethics in Washington filed the lawsuit
in 2007 to compel disclosure of records
related to millions of missing White House
in prayers during school events,
from planning, organizing, financing,
promoting or sponsoring religious
services, from holding school events at
religious venues when secular venues
are available and from promoting their
religious beliefs to students in class or at
school events, according to Santa Rosa '
The district was also ordered to pay
damages of $1.00 to each plaintiff and
school officials were ordered to comply
with the Federal Equal Access Act.
"Religious freedom is best promoted
when the government stays out of
religion," said Benjamin Stevenson, an
ACLU of Florida attorney who led the
case, according to Santa Rosa Press
Gazette. "This is a truly victorious day for
the constitution and for religious freedom
Source: Santa Rosa 's Press Gazette
and http://ww. aclufl. org/pdfs/
e-mails during the Bush Administration.
The Office of Administration provided
some of the records before arguing that it
was not subject to FOIA.
A number of organizations have asked
the Obama administration to reverse the
Bush White House position.
Source: Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press
WASHINGTON The U.S.
General Services Administration
announced an $18 million redesign of
Recovery.gov, the Web site that allows
taxpayers to track how stimulus funds
According to the GSA, Recovery.
gov 2.0 will be more user-friendly
and include interactive technologies
for taxpayers to understand how
their money is spent. The Web site is
expected to be completed in October.
"Armed with easy access to this
information, taxpayers can make
government more accountable for its
decisions," said James A. Williams,
Commissioner of GSA's Federal
Acquisition Service in a press release.
Source: http://www.gsa.gov and
2 The Brechner Report August 2009
Schools promoting religion sued
PALM BEACH The South
Florida Water Management District's
governing body voted to transfer
the power to issue permits from the
governing board by vote in an open
meeting to the office of the executive
The change, made under a broad
interpretation of a bill recently signed
ACCESS by Gov.
the largest of Florida's five water
management districts will no longer
vote on whether to issue a permit in
Under the new policy, applications
for permits will be posted on the
agency's Web site, www.sfwmd.
gov, where the public will be able
to review and comment on the
request. The public will also be able
to comment at monthly meetings
held by the governing board. The
decision to issue permits, however,
will be made by the office of the
Further, the new law prohibits
board members from "intervening"
in pending permit applications,
according to The Palm Beach Post.
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
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College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
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Foundation The Brechner Report is ajoint effort
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the Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida
Society of Newspaper Editors and the Joseph L
School board attorney fined
POLK COUNTY -School Board
Attorney Wes Bridges was ordered to
pay $475.50 in fines and costs by a
county judge after pleading no contest
to violating Florida's Public Records
Bridges refused to comply with a
public records request for the names,
addresses, ages and telephone numbers
of everyone covered under the school
district's health insurance plans and that
of their spouses and dependents.
The requestor, Joel Chandler, a
Lakeland resident, requested the same
information in each of the 67 school
districts in Florida last year.
After Bridges' refused to provide
the records, Chandler filed suit.
Circuit Judge Roger Alcott, of the 10th
Judicial Circuit, ruled in Chandler's
favor ordering the school district to
release the information that had been
Chandler's statewide requests
spurred the Florida Legislature to pass
CS/HB 135, which creates a public
records exemption for the personal
identifying information of insured
dependents of current and former
agency employees insured by an
agency group insurance plan. The bill
was signed into law by Gov. Charlie
Crist in June.
Source: Fort eade Leader
Access to depositions limited
CLEARWATER A Pinellas-Pasco
County judge granted a request by
attorneys for Nick Bollea, Hulk and
Linda Hogan's son, limiting access to
depositions in a multi-million dollar
auto negligence lawsuit against him.
The judge agreed with Bollea's
attorneys in limiting the media's access
to only those depositions required to
be filed in court in connection with the
The motion also requested that
neither the media nor members of the
public be allowed to attend depositions.
The suit was filed on behalf of John
Graziano, who was injured when he rode
as a passenger in Bollea's car during an
August 2007 car crash allegedly resulting
from car racing.
County Judge W. Douglas Baird
granted the request stating that the
rules of civil procedure already prohibit
attendance during depositions and require
that depositions should not be filed unless
related to court actions in a case.
Source: The Lakeland Ledger
Blogger sues after being identified
JACKSONVILLE Ablogger is
suing the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
and State Attorney's Office for violating
his First Amendment rights when his
identity was revealed in the course of
a criminal investigation of his then
The criminal F R
investigation was FIR S
opened after church AMENI
"increasing vitriol," on the blog. The
investigation concluded last year and did
not result in criminal findings, according
to the Florida Times-Union.
The blogger, Thomas Rich, is suing
for violating his First Amendment rights
of establishment, speech and anonymity.
Rich was a member of First Baptist
Church for 20 years and in August 2007
began an anonymous blog in which he
was critical of the church's pastor,
fundraising and ministry objectives,
among other things.
Rich said he wanted to remain
anonymous to keep the focus on
the issues and because he feared
to the newspaper.
He is seeking
vIENT damages of at least
$15,000 for distress
suffered as a result
of being barred from attending the
Assistant State Attorney Stephen
Siegel is also named as a defendant in
the suit because he approved requests
for subpoenas to Google and Comcast
for all the information related to the
Source: Florida Times-Union
The Brechner Report U August 2009
University of Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
Gainesville, FL 32611
Permit No. 94
UF UNIVERSITY of
Reporter gets governor's
At first it appeared that our state government, the
same one so widely touted for giving us access to
public records, was going to keep secret the names of
state employees who get both a pension and a salary.
After two weeks of struggling with officials at
the Department of Management Services and getting
help from public records Czarina Pat Gleason in the
governor's office, I still didn't have the list of names.
I had a report indicating that more than 8,000
members of the state retirement system, which Lucy M
serves employees in 900 city and county government
agencies as well as the state were classified as iclnclt\ cd
members" of the system. The number included more than 200
senior management officials
The and more than 200 elected
ack P age officials, so I asked for a list
B L of those.
By Lucy Morgan The Florida Legislature,
in its wisdom or lack
thereof passed a law making lists of retirees exempt from
the Public Records Law and that's what state officials were
relying on when they refused to cough up the list. Individual
figures are a public record but if you didn't have the names,
you couldn't get the information.
I had argued, without success, that these people were
hardly "retired." They were back at work drawing a salary and
working toward a second pension.
Shortly after 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in February, Pat
Gleason called my cell phone. She had spent valuable hours
trying to break the record free with no results.
So I dialed up the governor. I left a message on his cell
phone and he shortly returned the call.
"Governor, I have a problem with one of your agencies,"
I said explaining that I was about to write a story telling
Floridians about this secret payroll. Actually, it was a better
story if they refused to give me the list.
But Gov. Crist has repeatedly pledged to make open
government a centerpiece of his administration, so I thought I
would ask for his help. Without hesitation, the governor said,
"You will have that list today."
help in quest for records
A few minutes later, Pat Gleason called back.
The Division of Retirement had been ordered to
transmit the list to her and she would deliver it to
By 7 p.m. I had the list. Unfortunately it didn't
include anything but the names, nothing to identify
where they worked or how much money they were
being paid by the state.
So I spent the weekend on Google. Working
'organ through the list, I was able to identify most of the
elected officials, but not all of the others.
On Monday, I went back to Management Services with a
new request: the figures that would match my list so I could
tell how much money taxpayers were spending for salaries,
pensions and deferred benefit payments collected by many of
To get the information I had to submit a copy of my list -
they were still not coughing up anything that looked like a list
A few days later, I finally had the numbers to go with the
names. College presidents, judges, sheriffs, tax collectors,
clerks even a Supreme Court Justice were secretly
collecting pensions AND salaries. And many of them also
collected a Deferred Retirement Option Program benefit
totaling as much as $893,000 when they "retired."
The howls of outrage from readers of our "double dipping"
stories threatened to derail everything else I was doing. Never,
in 44 years of writing about Florida government, have I heard
so much from so many. Calls, emails, letters, all really angry
with the Legislature.
A few legislators rose to the occasion, introducing bills to
fix the problem. But it has yet to happen. Could it be because
a couple of dozen of them are among the double dippers?
Meanwhile Gov. Crist has refused to help elected officials
become double dippers, who need him to appoint a substitute
while they take a 30-day "vacation" before returning to work.
Lucy Morgan retired as chief of the St. Petersburg Times
Tallahassee bureau in January 2007. She is currently a senior
correspondent at the newspaper