Volume 22, Number 2
A monthly report
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
- Michele D. Bush, Editor
- Jackie Thomas, Production Coordinator
- Sarah Rabin, Production Assistant
- Stacey Silver, Production Assistant
- Bill F. Chamberlin, Ph.D., Director
- Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Asst. Director
3208 Weimer Hall
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611
hospital plan exemption unconstitutional
in college's pre-election press release a fluke
City cancels ads over paper's
threatens to yank ads
Parents, clergy file suit
to block classes
Jury awards for rights violation
state to seize profits from Rolling work
refuses to allow character folk art display at eatery
drug investigation files not exempt after conviction
Murder trial transcripts
posted on Web
Judge cites privacy for
NEWS & NOTES
conference to meet in Miami
New Editor takes over Brechner
THE BACK PAGE
remove barriers to free information
rules hospital plan exemption unconstitutional
DAYTONA BEACH The Fifth District Court of Appeal has ruled
unconstitutional an exemption to the Open Meetings Law that allows public hospitals
governing boards to meet in closed sessions to discuss strategic plans.
Judge Charles M. Harris affirmed the 7th circuit courts decision
that the exemption is too broad and violates Floridas Constitution. Judge Harris
said that because the exemption did not define "strategic plan," the term could
be construed to permit limitless discussion in the closed sessions.
Because the issue is of statewide concern, Judge Harris certified the
case to the Florida Supreme Court. He withheld acting on his order pending the Florida
Supreme Courts review of the case.
Prediction in college's pre-election press release a fluke
DAYTONA BEACH Two officials at Daytona Beach Community College
said a news release that accurately predicted the outcome of a board vote was based on an
assumption, not an illegal poll of board members.
The colleges vice president of planning, Kay Quarles, and the new
marketing and public relations director, Dolores Sistrunk, said they discussed the
boards upcoming agenda as Sistrunk was deciding what items to write news releases
about. Quarles said she told Sistrunk that she "assumed" the boards
chairman and vice chairwoman would be re-elected.
Sistrunk then prepared, and Quarles approved, a news release, complete
with a made-up quote for college President Phil Day, reporting that the two board leaders
had been re-elected. The release was distributed 10 minutes before the meeting began.
The chairman and vice chairwoman were re-elected unanimously. Both said
they did not discuss the vote before the meeting, which would have been a violation of the
Open Meetings Law. (8/16/97)
City cancels ads
over paper's lawsuit
PUNTA GORDA The City Council asked its staff to stop publishing
legal notices in the local newspaper because the paper is suing a city agency over an
alleged Open Meetings Law violation.
The Sun Herald suit claims that the citys Community
Redevelopment Agency violated the Open Meetings Law by negotiating privately with a
developer for Laishley Park, a waterfront park. The developer, David Waltemath of New
Orleans, plans to construct a complex of condominiums, offices and retail shops on the
The city planned to switch its ads to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The
Sun Herald said it would continue to run the legal notices for no cost as a public
service if the city pulled its advertising from the Sun Herald. A city report said
Punta Gorda spent $8,058 on legal advertising in the paper in 1996-97. (9/18/97)
threatens to yank ads
MIAMI Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez threatened to pull all city
advertising contracts from the Miami Herald unless the newspaper became "a lot
nicer to me, my people, my citizens and my city," according to a report in that
newspaper and audio recordings of the mayors threat.
The mayor left the threat on a telephone answering machine at the Miami
Heralds advertising department in the wake of news stories about the
mayors campaign supporters alleging voter fraud. Suarez said in the message that he
would find any other possible means of avoiding advertising with the newspaper if he does
not receive better treatment.
The citys advertising decisions are the responsibility of the city
commission and the city manager. The city spends about $200, 000 annually on Miami
Herald advertising that includes legal notices. (1/7/98)
clergy file suit to block classes
FORT MYERS Parents, clergy and other community members filed a
federal suit to block Bible study curricula in area public schools.
The Lee County School Board adopted curricula that focus on the Old and
New Testaments as historical documents. (Brechner Report, December 1997). The
classes started in January at Lee County high schools.
The suit alleges that the course curricula are not objective teachings
of the Bible, but instead foster a pro-Christian belief system. Therefore, the plaintiffs
are maintaining that the curricula are unconstitutional, and they are asking for the
classes to be canceled. (12/10/97)
Jury awards for
FORT MYERS A federal jury decided that a state attorney owes a
former prosecutor $200,000 for violating her First Amendment rights.
The U.S. Middle District jury ruled that State Attorney Joseph
DAlessandro, 20th Judicial Circuit, violated Melissa Skeens constitutional
rights by firing her for testifying against his wishes in a child abuse case.
Skeen, who prosecuted child abuse cases for five years, was subpoenaed
to testify in the child abuse case for which she claimed she was fired. DAlessandro
testified that he fired Skeen not for testifying, but because she went out of her way to
participate in the case, even after he asked her not to.
The monetary award compensates Skeen for financial losses and
embarrassment. DAlessandro said he plans to fight the $200,000 figure. (12/12/97).
allows state to seize profits from Rolling work
GAINESVILLE A circuit judge ruled that profits from the sales of
books and stories about convicted serial killer Danny Rolling will go to the state, rather
than to Rollings ex-fiancÚ, Sondra London.
London asserted that she is a journalist chronicling the mental insights
of Rolling, who murdered five University of Florida college students in 1990. She said
Rolling has received no compensation from the stories, art and autographs London sells.
In her ruling, Judge Martha Ann Lott, Eighth Circuit held that because
London shares a unique and special relationship with Rolling, she is subject to a Florida
law that bars convicted felons from profiting from their stories artwork and autographs.
Lott cited contracts between London and Rolling, love letters and a marriage they
conducted on the Internet.
According to the ruling, the state may seize more than $20,000 London
received for a series of tabloid articles and a book, "The Making of a Serial
Killer," that she co-wrote with Rolling. (1/1/98-1/3/98)
Disney refuses to allow character folk art display at eatery
ORLANDO Walt Disney World told the owner of a House of Blues
restaurant opening on Disney property that he could not display 60 pieces of folk art he
commissioned for the restaurant because they featured folk renderings of copyrighted
Isaac Tigrett, owner of the House of Blues chain of restaurants and
entertainment halls, said he was disappointed but respected the companys decision.
He said he was unsure what he would do with the 60 pieces of art.
The House of Blues was scheduled to open at West Side Disney, a
waterfront entertainment and retail complex, on Sept. 15.
A Disney spokeswoman said the company is "very careful" about
the use of its characters and trademarks. An agreement between Disney and its tenants bars
the use of Disney character representations by third parties without the companys
Sheriff's drug investigation files not exempt after conviction
PALM BEACH - The Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office must disclose
closed criminal investigation files concerning a felons drug arrest and conviction,
the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Convicted felon Carl R. Christy filed suit against the sheriffs
office seeking access to the investigation records of his case. The sheriffs office
refused Christys request, arguing that the files contained information from an
active criminal investigation and included the identities of confidential informants and
undercover personnel, which is exempt from public disclosure, according to Floridas
Public Records Law.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the sheriffs office
did not meet its burden in establishing that the investigation records were exempt. The
court reasoned that the definition of active includes the requirement that the information
will lead to the "detection of ongoing or reasonably anticipated criminal
activities." The court noted the files being sought were generated during a criminal
investigation thirteen years ago. Christy was convicted and has already served his
sentence for the offense.
The court also rejected arguments from the sheriffs office that
the records should not be disclosed to protect the identities of undercover personnel.
That information could be redacted, the court said, and the rest of the record released.
transcripts posted on Web
SARASOTA A circuit judge teamed up with a newspaper to provide
daily transcripts from a murder trial on the newspapers Website as an experiment in
access to court records.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper posted the court
reporters computerized notes, from which official court transcripts are later made,
from the Joseph Ciambrone murder trial. Ciambrone was charged with the 1995 death of his
Judge Gilbert Smith, 12th circuit, said court reporters notes are
not public records freely available to anyone, but because there was heightened public
interest in the case, it was beneficial to make accurate information available as quickly
as possible. Gilbert also released the notes as a way to test the Internet as a way in
increase accessibility to court documents.
The transcripts are available at the newspapers Website,
Newscoast, at: www.newscoast.com. (12/6/97-12/7/97)
privacy for denying records
MIAMI A federal district court judge refused to order the U.S.
Customs Service to give an attorney the names and addresses of people charged with
violating the law in customs forfeiture cases, citing privacy exemptions to the Freedom of
Judge Federico Moreno, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of
Florida, ruled that the privacy interests of the people charged outweighed the
publics interest in disclosure.
In his ruling, Moreno rejected the argument that U.S. House and Senate
reports accompanying the Electronic Freedom of Information Improvements Act reflected a
Congressional intent to provide government documents, "for any public or private
purpose." Judge Moreno said Congress did not mean to reject a 1989 Supreme Court
decision that held that Congress intended the FOI Act only as a means to "know what
the government was up to." (12/15/97)
conference to meet in Miami
The future of media law will be the topic of discussion among
journalists and attorneys at The Florida Bars 24th Annual Media-Law
Conference, which is scheduled for March 21 in Miami. Speakers at the conference will
include Tom Brokaw, anchor with NBC News; Jane Kirtley, executive director of the
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and David Lawrence, publisher and chairman
of the Miami Herald.
Three general sessions will focus on the effects of tabloid reporting on
the media, Florida journalists privilege and the impact of the Internet on the
media. Some of the individual workshops will be center on defamation, copyright, crisis
coverage and access to public records.
Registrations for the conference must be postmarked no later than Feb.
20. To obtain registration materials or more information about the conference, "Media
Law Approaches the Millennium," people interested should contact Toyca Williams at
New Editor takes
over Brechner Report
GAINESVILLE Michele D. Bush, a graduate student in media law at
the University of Floridas College of Journalism and Communications, will begin
serving as editor of the The Brechner Report, beginning with this issue.
Bush received her bachelors degree in journalism from the
University of Florida.
Before entering the graduate program at UF, Bush was a government
reporter at the Sun Herald in Charlotte County, Florida, and reporter for Florida
Living magazine in Gainesville.
She plans to focus her graduate research on state laws controlling
access to information.
Bush succeeds Anthony L. Fargo.
can remove barriers to free information
By Robert Craig Waters
Using cutting edge technology, the Supreme Court of Florida in
partnership with Florida State University began broadcasting its oral arguments live in
late 1997 by satellite and over the Internet. The experience epitomized the way technology
can dramatically flatten barriers to freedom of information. And a controversy that
erupted from it also showed how this "new openness" still can be thwarted by
those who control a particular kind of technology.
Using a $300,000 legislative grant, FSU's School of Communications
installed new equipment making the new broadcasts possible. After an initial test run on
FSU's television cable outlet, the Court's arguments were first broadcast live on the
Internet using RealPlayer technology in October 1997 (http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/). This
literally made Court arguments available live via an Internet connection anywhere on
earth. Satellite broadcasts followed in November, available for downlink in all of
Yet the Chief Justice's request for free time on a satellite bought by
the state for educational purposes led to an unexpected roadblock. Largely through
the reports of Peter Wallsten of the St. Petersburg Times, we learned that the state's
educational satellite was chiefly used by private companies that leased the time at $800
an hour. Although these profits were put into an educational account, very little of
the actual satellite time was being used for educational purposes, partly because state
agencies were charged a "reduced" rate of $300 an hour. In the meantime, most of
the available time on the satellite was going unused.
Had editorial boards around Florida not supported the Court, it also
would have been forced to pay the $300-an-hour fee. Although the state granted free time
on a temporary basis, no final decision has been rendered on the Chief Justice's request
at this writing, though state officials have showed significant support.
These kinds of controversies undoubtedly will appear with increasing
frequency. The reason is simple. Information technology increasingly determines how
"free" information really is. Those who control the technology also control the
information. And the problem is only magnified when the technology is actually owned by
someone. The Court's venture into Internet broadcasting demonstrates the potential
that exists for a true flattening of barriers impeding freedom of information. Florida's
Supreme Court has foreshadowed the day when television programming is broadcast free to a
world-wide audience via "Netcasting." In a short time Netcasting could entirely
eliminate the need for satellite-based transmissions like those the Court now uses.
And in a few years, the costs of Web-based television will be low enough that similar
channels could be offered by huge numbers of persons and organizations. These would only
supplement the enormous Web-based libraries already going on line world-wide, offering
information for free that once cost dearly.
Yet, this is a future that still can be thwarted. The "open
standards" model of the Internet--based on technology no one owns--is a sore thorn in
the side of powerful interests. The constant turn over of Web-based technology opens more
and more avenues these interests can exploit. Many companies and more than a few nations
are making a bid to control whatever technology eventually dominates the distribution of
The outcome will affect both the press and our society at large far into
the next century. Its importance can be demonstrated by looking at another time in history
when a new technology revolutionized the distribution of information. When the printing
press was invented, nations quickly divided themselves into those where the press was free
and those where it was not. Only from the former did the Western democracies emerge.
Robert Craig Waters is Executive Assistant to Chief Justice
Gerald Kogan and created the Florida Supreme Court Home Pages on the Internet. He also
serves as the Court's public information officer, and from 1979 to 1983 was an
award-winning journalist with the Gannett Newspapers in Florida.
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