List of Counties
published in The Brechner Report
*The following information is based on stories reported in
The Brechner Report each month between 1999 and 2010*
*Full stories available upon request from The Brechner Center archive*
March 2010: An appellate court has ruled that the city of Alachua violated te Public Records and Open Meetings Laws when it refused to allow two citizens to review a canvassing board's minutes before the City Commission approved them.
January 2010: The 1st District Court of Appeal is considering allegations that the Alachua City Commission violated the Sunshine Law by refusing to release board minutes prior to approving them at a meeting.
February 2004: Gay Webster and Catherine Good Duncan, two Gainesville residents, filed an Open Records complaint against the University of Florida, claiming that a university-run landfill caused their potentially fatal illnesses. The two women claim they asked for specific documents detailing the landfill's dumping procedures and received no response from the university.
December 2005: A University of Florida instructor re-filed his lawsuit against UF President Bernie Machen even after a circuit judge dismissed the action without prejudice. The suit concerns a public records request for documents and e-mails related to Florida Blue Key, Homecoming and Gator Growl.
January 2006: UF instructor Charles Grapski amended and re-filed his complaint against UF President Bernie Machen regarding the release of the financial records for Gator Growl. Grapski now seeks the release of numerous e-mails to Machen, which he claims Machen improperly deleted after reading.
June 2006 (continuation of January 2006 article): UF President Bernie Machen was found to not be in violation of the Public Records Law, Circuit Judge Robert Roundtree Jr. ruled. The charges stemmed from allegations made by Charles Grapski, a UF doctoral student and instructor, which stated Machen failed to provide documents related to UF Homecoming, Florida Blue Key and Gator Growl. Grapski will have to pay the university’s court costs of approximately $1,300.
September 2006:A UF doctoral student and instructor, Charles Grapski, has been banned from entering the city of Alachua or contacting the city’s elected officials. Grapski was arrested in May after he went to the Alachua City Hall for public records related to April’s election. City Manager Clovis Watson accused Grapski of recording him without his knowledge. Grapski denied the allegations.
April 2007: The practice of placing items on a “consent agenda” is the target of a lawsuit alleging Sunshine Law violations. Consent agendas allow Alachua city commissioners to automatically approve items without public discussion. The suit stems from a 2006 meeting where the city commission voted to deny the requests of two people who asked for a consent agenda item to be placed on the regular agenda.
July 2007: Circuit Judge Toby Monaco dismissed a false-light lawsuit against The Gainesville Sun and its parent company, The New York Times Co., citing expiration of the two-year statute of limitations for defamation claims and failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirement. Developer Clark Butler filed a claim in May 2005 against The Sun alleging that their articles portrayed him as trying to influence or bribe people involved in a road expansion project affecting a shopping plaza he owned.
June 2008: The University of Florida will examine student and faculty e-mails to identify the source of confidential information regarding a controversial medical school admissions decision made by former College of Medicine Dean Bruce Kone. The investigation stemmed from news reports based on a leak that the medical school admitted an applicant who had never taken the Medical College Admissions Test.
October 2009 A public records lawsuit seeking audio and video recordings of Student Senate meetings was filed by a recent graduate of the University of Florida.
November 2003:The Baker County Press asked the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee to review a 1998 statute that exempted meetings and business records of certain community hospitals from the Sunshine Law. The state statute in question allowed not-for-profit public hospitals to operate behind closed doors, and was cited by the Indian River Memorial Hospital as exempting its leaders from Sunshine violations.
Glen St. Mary:
April 2006:Juanice Padgett, the mayor of Glen St. Mary, admitted to and apologized for conducting a town council workshop without giving notice of the meeting. The unadvertised meeting was between the Glen St. Mary Town Council and the town engineer, and will be rescheduled with proper notice.
November 2000: A private citizen, Phil Sexton, filed suit against the city because the county commission failed to meet the "high standards for openness provided by the Sunshine Law" when commissioners discussed an underwater sewage pipeline project May 16 during a closed meeting. The case was settled, and Sexton received $200 in legal fees.
November 2006: The publisher of the Bay Times Journal requested all correspondence concerning Panama City Mayor Lauren DeGeorge since she began her term in May 2005. According to Attorney General Charlie Crist, the city was in compliance with the Public Records Law when it posted documents on a Web page and gave the requester a password to view them.
February 2007: Judges of Florida’s 14th Circuit have temporarily allowed for the public release of audio recordings of court hearings, pending a final decision on whether the recordings are public records. This interim order came as a result of a denied request from The News Herald to access the recording of a Dec. 11 criminal court hearing.
May 2008: The Panama City Commission became the first local government in Bay County to offer live online coverage of its meetings. The online webcasts were launched in February.
September 2009 Officials participating in a yearly meeting to discuss future plans for the city, including the city's budget and water system may have violated Florida's Sunshine Law by not taking minutes at the meeting. City officials have said the violation was not intentional and that they will work to correct it, according to the News-Herald.
February 2010: The handling of a Port St. John activist's request for e-mail records has prompted the Brevard County Commission to reconsider how it handles public records requests.
December 2002: Businessman Charles Herbert filed a lawsuit against the mayor of Cocoa Beach and three commissioners claiming they violated Open Meetings laws when they met with City Attorney Skip Fowler and representatives from Cape Canaveral Hospital without prior notice; no minutes were taken at the meeting and the primary public entrance was locked and inaccessible.
July 2006: Walter Pine, a government critic, was arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave the podium during a meeting of the Brevard County Commission. Pine had planned to speak on five agenda items, and the Commission Chairwoman Helen Voltz limited his time to 10 minutes. When Pine argued he was entitled to more time, a sheriff’s deputy escorted him from the meeting.
December 2010: In an effort to curb the costs of abandoned public records requests, the Cocoa City Clerk's office will refuse to fulfill public records requests until the requester has picked up and paid for any prior requests.
September 2007: The Melbourne City Council began airing its bi-monthly meetings on public television in June. The Space Coast Government Television channel broadcasts to about 180,000 households. Each meeting will be re-broadcast at least six times each month.
July 2006: The Broward County Police Benevolent Association posted a “be on the lookout” advisory on their Web site in response to WFOS-TV reporter Michael Kirsch’s hidden camera investigation on poor police response to complaints. The BOLO warns that Kirsch, investigator Gregory Slate, and a black male are “back out on the street” in preparation for another story.
August 2006: An investigation by The Miami Herald revealed that more than 100 lawsuits since 2001 are kept on a secret docket in the Broward Circuit Court. In May, Clerk Howard Forman formulated a new policy that required judges who order cases to be sealed to be more specific about the types of information they want kept from the public. However, in the midst of this new policy, Forman denied a request made by The Herald, and the newspaper successfully sued him for the information.
February 2007: Broward County commissioners want Florida’s Sunshine Law changed to make post-disaster meetings easier to coordinate. The commissioners suggested relaxing notice requirements, permitting teleconferencing and allowing meetings in venues that aren’t large enough for the public to attend. Local lawmakers are hesitant about the new exemptions.
June 2007: Two weeks after the Florida Supreme Court issued new rules for the sealing of civil court records, Broward County Circuit Judge Mark Speiser’s sealing of a civil settlement may have not been specific enough. Speiser sealed the settlement details in a civil rights case against the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The lawsuit stems from a Nov. 3, 2004 shooting of a Mexican migrant worker whom a deputy mistook for a burglary suspect.
April 2008: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel successfully argued against a court order banning the public from a hearing in which the confession of one of three men who allegedly beat a homeless man to death two years ago would be played from a prerecorded tape. Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato initially closed the hearing but later modified her order, allowing the media to attend the hearing if they did not copy or duplicate the accused’s statement.
June 2008: Sheriff’s detention employee Divan Hicks-Badger was suspended following allegations that she leaked a sealed arrest report in a murder case to a television station. The released affidavit is part of the arrest record authorities had sealed, but were later unsealed after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Miami-Herald sued to open those records to the public.
November 2008: The law firm on Jones Day sued to prevent Blockshopper.com from publishing its attorneys’ names, photographs and links to their law firm Web site biographies. The site provides sales information for professionals’ homes in south Florida and other cities nationwide. Jones Day seeks an injunction, damages and attorneys’ fees. It offered $10,000 to settle, but Blockshopper declined.
January 2010: Rather than deny a public records request, a South Florida city decided to sue the requester and a circuit judge ruled for the city.
February 2007:A large crowd attended a Cooper City Commission meeting to confront and support commissioners who spent more than $5,000 in the past two years on taxpayer-funded meals. At the request of Gov. Jeb Bush, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether commissioners violated the Sunshine Law or became intoxicated at their pre-meeting dinners.
April 2007 (continuation of a Feb. 2007 article): City commissioners have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in connection with their pre-meeting dinners and drinks paid for by taxpayers. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement ended its three-month investigation of the Cooper City Commission, citing a lack of evidence.
September 2010: Two members of the Coral Springs City Commission have been reinstated by Gov. Charlie Crist following a suspension over Sunshine Law charges. The trial on the Open Meetings violating was halted by the presiding judge just prior to presentation of closing arguments. The judge dismissed the charges and determined that the commissioners did not commit a crime.
February 2009 Commissioners may have violated the Open Meetings Law when they allegedly communicated over e-mails about public business outside of a noticed public meeting.
May 2006:City Commissioner Marty Popelsky and Vice Mayor Steve Gonot were accused of having a private discussion prior to appointing Andy Brown to the city’s fire pension board. However, according to the Assistant State Attorney, Michael Horowitz, there was no evidence that a violation of the Sunshine Law occurred.
September 2006 (continuation of May 2006 article):(continuation of May 2006 article): Commissioner Steve Gonot is facing a second recall attempt by residents who allege he violated the Sunshine Law by meeting with another commissioner about a fire pension board meeting. Gonot denies the allegation, and the State Attorney’s Office did not find any evidence to support the claim. City commissioners voted to pay Gonot’s legal fees. Gonot spent around $7,000 in legal fees defending himself against the first recall effort.
December 2006 (continuation of Sept 2006 article):Efforts to recall City Commissioner Steve Gonot for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law failed after the organizers missed the deadline to file the required 1,600 petition signatures. The recall election organizers accused Gonot of violating the Sunshine Law by talking privately with another commissioner about an appointment to a city board. However, the Broward State Attorney’s Office found no evidence of wrongdoing.
February 2006: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has taken the Federal Emergency Management Agency to court over disaster funds distribution records. The Sun-Sentinel’s investigation of the disaster funds has lasted over a year and revealed that FEMA paid millions to residents unaffected by the 2004 hurricanes. The agency refuses to release details about disaster victims including names and addresses, citing their confidential nature.
July 2006:Federal judge Kenneth A. Marra granted The South Florida Sun-Sentinel access to hurricane-related information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA had refused to release information including names of FEMA inspectors, addresses of aid recipients and e-mails from former director Michael Brown.
March 2008: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay 75 percent of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s attorney fees following the legal battle for the identities of disaster-aid recipients of the 2004 Florida hurricane season. In a related suit with The News-Press (Fort Myers), FEMA agreed to pay more than $100,000 in attorney fees.
March 2008: The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) will pursue a $10 million program to jump-start “clean technologies” research. This initiative may be exempt from the Public Records Law. Although advisory boards and other appointed government bodies are subject to the law, attorneys for SFWMD will ask the legislature to exempt the proposed venture capital fund from public disclosure.
November 2009 A city advisory board member fed up with e-mails from citizens about a controversial development plan announced that he deleted the e-mails without reading them. City attorney Harry Steward gave the green light for board members to delete unread e-mails, citing a lack of case law on the topic. Mayor Jack Seiler suggested city advisory board members get official city e-mail addresses so that all e-mails could be saved on the city's server.
November 2010: The 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that telephone conversations of inmates recorded by law enforcement are not public records unless they serve an investigative purpose.
April 2008: City commissioners agreed to pay former Hallandale Beach Police officer Talous Cirilo more than $100,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the city board held an illegal meeting. Cirilo was charged with three misdemeanor counts of battery on a prisoner in 2005 and was acquitted. Cirilo filed two lawsuits against the city after they refused to reinstate him on the police force.
January 2010 Rather than deny a public recrods request, a South flrorida city decided to sue the requester and a circuit judge ruled for the city.
June 2006:A synagogue based in a residential neighborhood has sued city commissioners alleging they “pre-agreed” to shut them down in violation of the Sunshine Law. The reported reason for the closed meeting was to discuss an earlier lawsuit that had been filed by the synagogue.
March 2006:Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) shut down a South Florida radio station for operating without an FCC license. The Caribbean-themed station, Vibez, had been broadcasting for almost five years. Equipment was seized from Vibez, but no one was arrested.
June 2004: Four Parkland residents filed suit against the city claiming it violated the Sunshine Law when the Public Safety Department merged with the Sheriff's Office of Broward without allowing the public access to the meeting in which the decision was executed.
January 2005: A lawsuit claiming city commissioners violated Florida's Open Meetings Law during contract negotiations was dismissed. The lawsuit challenged city commissioners' private discussion of public affairs, specifically the hiring of the Broward Sheriff's Office to take over policing. (Continuation of June 2004 story.)
November 2006: Former councilman Lee Hillier sued the city and Mayor Rae Carole Armstrong for allegedly violating the Public Records Law, but lost his appeal. Hillier had requested records related to building issues and government spending, but the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled that his requests were complied with, based on testimony of city witnesses.
May 1999: A judge ruled that the Pompano Beach City Commission violated the Open Meetings law in 1985 for secret meetings and phone calls concerning construction of a hotel on the Hillsborough Inlet.
July 2005: Four city commissioners have been charged with violating the state's Open Meetings Law after they met to discuss their investigation of the Broward Sheriff's Office. The meeting was held without notice and no minutes were taken, according to the charges.
July 2006: Four city commissioners charged with violating the Sunshine Law have agreed to donate $200 each to charity. The charges stemmed from a 2004 meeting between commissioners Kay McGinn, Susan Foster, Lamar Fisher and George Brummer and Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne.
March 2006: The family of Anthony Diotaiuto, 23, who was killed during a SWAT team drug raid, is suing the city of Sunrise for allegedly violating Florida’s Public Records Law. The family’s lawyers claim the city illegally denied parts of a public records request and ignored three other requests. The city’s lawyers argue the documents were not public because they were part of an ongoing investigation or would reveal police secrets. Investigation continues as to whether Diotaiuto’s death was justified.
April 2006: While developing Manasota Key’s community plan, Page Development filed a lawsuit against Charlotte County in June 2005 for violating Florida’s Open Meetings Law. According to County Attorney Janette Knowlton, the commissioners should seek independent counsel due to a conflict of interest if her office were to represent individual commissioners and the Manasota and Sandpiper Key Advisory Committee.
February 2008: Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, was accused of violating state election and open records laws in a formal complaint filed with House Speaker Marco Rubio. Kreegel was accused of violating the law by instructing his staff to spread negative information about his opponent, as well as abusing his public position in violation of House rules.
June 2007: Attendees will now be required to complete an information card prior to meetings if they wish to address local officials. The change came about as the city changed its form of government which now includes a city manager for the first time. Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth said the change was experimental and might not be strictly enforced.
January 2007: The Citrus County Tourist Development Council’s wording of a request for proposals for public relations services violated the Sunshine Law. The request explained that each vendor could give a presentation to the TDC, and for them to remain outside the meeting room during others’ presentations as a “professional courtesy.”
January 2010: The Citrus County Chronicle filed suit against the Citrus County Hospital Board but the board's attorney quickly admitted the mistake and offered to pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees.
February 2010: Two attorneys hoping to use a public records request to determine how many Citrus County criminal defendants signed a Miranda form now deemed "fatally defective" have been stalled by the potential $38,560 it would cost them for the records.
August 2005: Officials at the Academy of Environmental Science are being investigated after the charter school's former director filed a complaint alleging that board members exchanged e-mails in violation of the state's Open Meetings Law. The board members have publicly apologized for the e-mail exchange.
November 2005: Officials at the Academy of Environmental Science have been cleared of violating the state's Sunshine Law. After reviewing several e-mails, the Assistant State Attorney found that the contents did not establish a clear violation by any board member.
March 2008:The State Attorney’s Office dismissed allegations that three Collier County School Board members violated the Sunshine Law after completing a preliminary review. Board Chairwoman Linda Abbott and board members Steve Donovan and Richard Calabrese were accused of conspiring to fire former Superintendent Ray Baker last year.
March 2008: Commissioners unanimously approved new rules allowing county employees, members of county advisory boards and commissioners to make public records requests without incurring the usual copy charges. The general public still has to pay 15 cents per page for copies of public records.
May 2008: Ave Maria University posted student GPAs, test scores, exit interviews and research paper evaluations online in an apparent contradiction of federal education privacy laws. The federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act classifies such information as private and prohibits the public disclosure without a written waiver by the student or his or her legal guardian, if the student is a minor. The university removed the information from its Web site within hours of being notified that it was publicly available.
May 2009: A judge denied the school district's motion to dimiss a lawsuit alleging the board members violated the Sunshine Law in the firing of one superintendent and the hiring of another. The State Attorney's Office has cleared the Board of Sunshine Law violations in the hiring and firing, finding that not enough information had been provided to begin a formal investigation.
Isles of Capri:
February 1999: Three former Fire Advisory Board Members were acquitted of violating the Open Meetings law. They were charged with failing to provide "adequate public notice of the meeting."
November 2006: Fire Chief Emilio Rodriguez pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of failing to keep records as a public officer and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service. The charge was a result of a $16,850 check that Rodriguez deposited into an account for the fire department’s volunteer organization, a private entity, instead of the fire department.
May 2002: John Arceri ran unopposed for the position of Marco Island City Council. In between the deadline for filing to run in January and the first day of his term (March), Arceri met with key members of the city government outside the Sunshine. Although legal, the clandestine meetings raised concerns among local access advocates.
February 2008: City Councilman Chuck Kiester has been accused of violating the Florida Public Records Law, which prohibits the deletion of e-mails related to government business. Kiester was charged with failing to maintain, preserve or allow inspection of public records that were generated between the time he took office in March 2006 until March 2007. The charges are for a noncriminal violation of the public records law, with a maximum $500 fine.
March 2008: The Marco Island City Council decided to appeal a ruling declaring Marco’s boat anchoring ordinance unconstitutional. The decision was made during a closed-door session before the council’s regularly scheduled open meeting.
May 2008: Collier County Judge Mike Carr found Marco Island council member Chuck Kiester guilty of a non-criminal public records violation for deleting emails that contained information about city business from his personal computer. Kiester has been ordered to pay the maximum $500 fine.
January 2003: A community member, Janet Vassey, amended her lawsuit against the North Naples Fire District to claim that officials violated the Sunshine Law when they negotiated a settlement with former Fire Chief James Tolbin in private.
December 2005: The Collier County Productivity Committee was found to have violated the state's Sunshine Law when it asked an attendee to leave the room during a portion of its public meeting. As a result of the violation, a recommendation was given for the County Attorney's Office to provide a refresher course on the Sunshine Law to its members.
January 2006: In the past, the Collier County Productivity Committee has screened candidates and made ranked recommendations to the County Commission, but such practices are now found to be in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. As a result of an internal investigation revealing the group excluded a candidate for a committee position from a public meeting, Collier County commissioners voted to decrease the group’s power.
July 2008: Terminated Collier County school district superintendent Ray Baker settled his Open Meetings Law violation with the district for $555,000. Baker alleged that school board members violated the Open Meetings Law to meet and secretly terminate his contract by voiding it.
September 2008: Two Coastal Advisory Committee members raised Open Meetings Law concerns by attending a Department of Environmental Protection permit meeting that wasn’t formally announced. Although the county did not formally notice the DEP meeting, some stakeholders heard about and attended it.
October 2008: A “public” meeting about leasing Alligator Alley ended after 20 minutes with no public comment. Packets summarizing information about firms interested in the lease were only handed out to Florida Department of Transportation officials in attendance.
November 2008: The Collier County School Board and three board members were sued for violating the Open Meetings Law by holding secret meetings to fire then-Superintendent Ray Baker. Baker also sued the board in late 2007 for violating the Open Meetings Law, which was settled in May 2008.
December 2010: A proposed reserach center that could receive $130 million in county funds has some residents concerned abou the transparancy of the project.
March 2004: The State Attorney's Office filed a civil complaint against the Florida Crown Workforce Executive Director John Chastain for aiding and abetting a Sunshine Law violation. Chastain allegedly did so when he met with two board members without prior notice. Chastain faced a $500 penalty if found guilty, but no criminal charges.
See: Miami Dade
March 2010:A former city attorney is suing the Jacksonville Transportation Authority over an October public records request he contends was not filled.
February 2005: An area developer asked a circuit judge to allow construction of oceanfront condominiums over the objection of the city's Planning Commission. The developer asserted that members of the commission had private discussions concerning the matter, in violation of Florida's Sunshine Law, before denying his application to build.
October 2005: City officials asked the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee, a nonprofit group, to release records produced for them by four city-paid employees assigned to the group. The committee co-chairman responded that the nonprofit agency was not subject to the state's Public Records Law. More than $2.6 million in cash and $1.9 million in in-kind services were provided by the city to the host committee, according to city records.
November 2005: Five members of the Jacksonville City Council were charged in a lawsuit with violating the state's Open Meetings Law after allegedly meeting at an Arlington restaurant that had petitioned for a zoning exemption. City officials responded that the gathering was an inspection trip and that no discussion had taken place there.
January 2006: Duval County Officials agreed to release Mayor John Peyton’s public records after reporters at the Jacksonville Times-Union pressed them for the documents. The records were marked confidential and have remained out of the sunshine for up to 18 months after law enforcement officials received threats against the mayor.
April 2006: Jackie Brown was arrested at a November council meeting after addressing the council in an Aunt Jemima outfit, criticizing the city’s small business incentive law and returning to the meeting after she had been escorted out. Council President Kevin Hyde barred Brown from attending meetings until April 2006. Brown is seeking an injunction and claims the ban is an “unconstitutional prior restraint.”
May 2006: Law enforcement agencies in Florida and Georgia have joined to form “the Google of law enforcement.” The Southeast Law Enforcement Alliance Project combines data from police departments, sheriff’s offices and federal and state investigators into one database.
November 2006: Two attorneys representing a woman in a defamation case face sanctions for filing a frivolous appeal and using inappropriate language in their brief and oral argument. Judges for the 1st District Court of Appeal ordered attorneys Thomas C. Powell and Roy E. Dezern to pay the opposing side’s attorney’s fees.
August 2007: A report by the Florida Times-Union revealed a flawed system of public notification, dozens of meetings regarding public business held without public notice or written minutes and several that took place in private locations, a violation of the city’s ethics code. Records from June 2005 to December 2005 revealed that meeting notices involving two or more council members are given to other city officials and to the media but rarely to the public.
October 2007: The Jacksonville City Council wants to settle a lawsuit that alleges five council members violated the Sunshine Law when they met at a restaurant for dinner and a tour. The restaurant, Arielle’s, was seeking a zoning exception from the council so it could serve alcohol until 2 a.m. The exception was opposed by neighbors but eventually approved by the council.
April 2008: An unsealed grand jury report found evidence that Jacksonville City Council members committed “technical or noncriminal” violations of Florida’s Open Meetings Law. State Attorney Howard Shorstein said he will not prosecute members of the council unless there is evidence of criminal intent. He has the option of pursuing noncriminal charges against council members, but is also unlikely to do so.
July 2008: The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has violated the Sunshine Law for over 20 years by overcharging for public records, according to the office’s legal counsel. After The Florida Times-Union broke the story, the Sheriff’s Office dropped its copying fees to conform to state law.
August 2008: Circuit Judge Brian Davis ruled that attorney Wesley White can obtain one to two million e-mails allegedly revealing illegal campaigning for $300,000 upfront. White claims these e-mails may show that the state attorney and assistant state attorney used their positions in the Duval County courthouse to campaign or seek contributions.
February 2010: Judge L. Page Haddock initially ordered two television reporters and a Florida Times-Union reporter to halt electronic coverage of the trial of three men accused in the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl. He later revised his restrictions to allow blog and video coverage but only when he was present in the courtroom. He also limited the number of devices to two per courtroom.
May 2010: The City of Jacksonville is considering changing its Sunshine Law Compliance Act, enacted in 2007 after a grand jury investigation into alleged open meetings violations by the City Council.
January 2000: County School Board member Vanette Webb, who was previously jailed for 7 days on a Public Records violation, sued school board members in hopes of recovering $188,000 in legal fees.
July 2003: The charge was dropped against former Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb, the first public official jailed for violating the state’s Open Records Law. Prosecutors chose not to pursue another trial against Webb, who was ordered to spend 30 days in jail after being found guilty of withholding a public record from a Pensacola mother. County Judge William White threw out Webb’s conviction after she had served seven days of the sentence. A state appeals court later reinstated the conviction. The case was eventually sent back to White, who granted Webb a new trial in March 2002. An appeals court upheld the order for a new trial. State Attorney Curtis Golden dropped the charge and told the Pensacola News-Journal he was satisfied with the outcome of the case. “Charges were dropped five years too late,” Webb wrote in an e-mail to the News-Journal. “Justice delayed is justice denied.” (See also May 1999, October 1999, November 1999, March 2001)
August 2006: A circuit judge dropped criminal charges against Escambia Commissioner Willie Junior, who died in 2004. Junior faced charges ranging from racketeering and bribery to violating the Sunshine Law. According to Junior’s attorney, Michael Griffith, the main reason for the request to drop charges was to allow Junior’s widow to receive her husband’s retirement benefits from the county and state.
June 2007: A month-long inquiry into Escambia County Commissioner Mike Whitehead’s redistricting attempt revealed no violation of the Sunshine Law. Whitehead was cleared of allegations that he had unauthorized direct contact with other commissioners during his failed attempt to redraw district lines.
October 2009 The Escambia County Commission adopted a new technology policy that prohibits commissioners from using cell phones, BlackBerrys, PDAs or laptops during meetings or workshops. Officials are permitted to have their phone set to silent or vibrate and will be allowed to leave commission chambers in the event of a perceived emergency.
April 1999: Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb sued ten other members claiming they violated the Open Meetings Law when they allegedly "conspired to remove her from office and violated her civil rights."
June 1999: A County judge found Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb guilty of a Public Records law violation and sentenced her to 30 days in jail, making her the first public official to be incarcerated for a violation of a state access law. She was also fined $1,000 and $45 per month in probation fees for "knowingly withholding records" from Susan Watson, a mother whose children attend public school in Escambia County.
December 2000: A Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion determined that Escambia County Comptroller Joe Flower acted without proper authority from the County Commission and violated the Sunshine Law by contracting Unisys Leasing Company for what turned out to be a $4.8 million deal for obsolete computers. Flowers pleaded no contest and resigned.
June 2001: Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal (Leon County) reinstated a Public Records law conviction against former Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb. Webb was convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor in 1999 for withholding records. Webb was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 11 months and 15 days in jail, which was suspended to 30 days. Gov. Jeb Bush removed her from office. Escambia County Judge William White Jr. reversed her conviction, saying that prosecutors failed to admit the records in question into evidence or adequately identify the public records Webb reportedly withheld. He released Webb from jail after she served seven days of her sentence. Webb also was reinstated to the school board, but she later lost a reelection bid.
June 2002: Four of the five Escambia County commissioners were arrested on charges of bribery, racketeering, theft and violations of the state's Sunshine Law. Mike Bass, W.D. Childers, Willie Junior and Terry Smith were suspended by Governor Jeb Bush amid the allegations. The four individuals were arrested and indicted after making questionable land purchases. All four were charged with multiple misdemeanor counts of Open Meetings violations. Childers- was found guilty on Open Meetings violations; Bass-plead no contest; and Smith- was found guilty of Open Meetings Violations and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
December 2002: The St. Pete Times sued the Pensacola Police Department to attain records about weapons and training of officers. They were specifically seeking information on grenade launchers, automatic machine guns and rifles used by the department. The Pensacola Police Department refused the request, citing records exemptions on security information passed after September 11th.
August 2006: A judge dismissed a claim for punitive damages but upheld an $18.28 million jury verdict against the Pensacola News Journal in a false light lawsuit. Joe Anderson Jr., alleged the newspaper’s use of the term “shot and killed” in a story falsely implied that he murdered his wife. Two sentences later, the article noted that her death was a hunting accident. Punitive damages were dismissed from the suit in April, after Anderson and his lawyers allegedly violated an order to keep the newspaper’s pretrial polling data confidential.
December 2006 (continuation of August 2006 article): The First District Court of Appeal reversed an $18.28 million verdict against the Pensacola News Journal, ruling that the plaintiff’s false light claim was governed by the two-year statute of limitations for defamation actions. Joe Anderson sued the News Journal three years after the story in question was published. In Florida, that statute of limitations for unspecified torts is four years, but the First District ruled that Anderson’s claims weren’t “materially distinguishable” from a defamation claim, so the two-year statue applied.
November 2007: A circuit judge dismissed Joe Anderson Jr.’s slander suit against the Pensacola News-Journal. The slander lawsuit stemmed from a poll conducted in preparation for another lawsuit. Anderson’s first suit against the News-Journal is currently pending review by the Florida Supreme Court. It was in preparation for that trial that the News-Journal and parent company Gannett Co. hired a research company to conduct a poll to receive information for jury selection and trial strategy.
November 2008: The City Council unanimously voted to require a board of trustees to hear public comment at all meetings. While the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees chairperson originally said he had no interest in hearing the public, city attorney Rusty Wells advised the CMPA to allow comment at meetings.
January 2009: The Community Maritime Park Associates, a volunteer board, was sued by two residents saying they violated the Open Meetings Law for not allowing public comment at a meeting. Public commment is included but only at the beginning of each meeting. The lawsuit states that the allotted time period is unacceptable because the issues have not been discussed yet.
June 2009: A judge ruled that the Community Maritime Park Associates did not violate the Sunshine law by not designating time for public comment during meetings. The Judge wrote that the Sunshine Law guaranteed meetings be open but did not guarantee the public a right to speak at those meetings.
October 2009 Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino pleaded no contest to a non criminal violation of Florida's Public Recordds Law and was fined $500.
October 2009 The State Attorney's Office determined that the deletion of all files from several computesr in the Escambia County Sheriff's Office did not distroy any public records.
April 2007: Sheriffs in four counties spoke out to the media, calling for the opening of a secret grand jury report on State Attorney John Tanner’s inquiry into the Flagler County Jail. The grand jury did not indict Tanner on any charges. The report will remain sealed unless a judge rules it should be released.
January 2002: The Flagler County Sheriff's Office and The News-Journal of Daytona Beach settled a Public Records lawsuit, ending with Sheriff Jim Manfre paying $10,000 in attorneys fees. The newspaper sued after the sheriff's department refused to release requested jail transportation logs.
July 2002: State Attorney John Tanner ordered an investigation into a lunch break discussion between Flagler County Commissioners Pat McGuire and Jim Darby. An official tape recorder accidentally left on by the Clerk of the Court captured the two discussing a vote on a controversial noise ordinance after a commission meeting had been adjourned. The two were each fined $500.
January 2003: Businessman Rusty Richard filed a lawsuit against the City of Bunnell claiming he requested an audiotape from a meeting of city police and any written records of the meeting. He filed suit when he was never given the requested records, and the city never specified a particular exemption.
AUGUST 2003: Two Flagler County School Board officials were fined $500 each for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. Board Chairman Edward Herrera and board member Jim Guines faced the unintentional civil infractions for privately discussing a raise for their superintendent.
July 2004: The Flagler County Commission sued Sheriff Jim Manfre for access to Public Records that detail the costs of calendars and holiday greeting cards sent to residents of Bunnell. Manfre allegedly failed to provide access to the records, but disputes that the calendar is an election year political issue, not a violation of the Sunshine Law.
January 2005: Complying with a circuit judge's ruling, Flagler County Sheriff's Office officials opened their computers to a public records search. The records in question detailed the production and distribution of calendars and greeting cards. (Continuation of July 2004 story.)
December 2007: A judge’s grant for summary judgment in favor of Flagler County may end a lawsuit by The Flagler Times seeking e-mail correspondence addressed to a county commissioner at his personal address. The Times sued for e-mails that were not submitted to the county for record retention. The newspaper is appealing the judge’s decision.
May 2008: Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond closed a hearing on whether a subsequent hearing should be open to the public. The subsequent hearing was set to consider whether a Duval grand jury’s findings about an investigation involving abuse allegations at the Flagler County Jail should remain sealed.
January 2010 Several boxes of records containing sensitive information landed in a Flagler county dumpster after the building department purged its files.
February 2005: Citizen credits Florida's Sunshine Law for allowing him access to Flagler Beach City Commission meetings with his camera with the intention to turn the proceedings of the commission into a movie.
February 2006: The Flagler Beach City Commission rejected a ban on public comment during commission meetings. The plan sought out to eliminate public comment during the general business portion of meetings. The commission will continue the current policy of allowing the commission chairman to decide when the public may speak.
September 2006: Flagler Beach residents have traditionally been allowed a one-time, three-minute limit to comment on non-agenda items, but the city commission has adopted new rules that will allow the public to comment more frequently at meetings. Now residents can speak for three minutes on each non-agenda issue brought up, and three-minute comments on each general business item.
December 2003: A Tallahassee attorney filed a complaint on behalf of an activist group, alleging Franklin County Commissioners violated the state's Open Meetings law when they unanimously enacted a new redistricting plan. The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc., attempted to block judicial approval of the new plan because commissioners failed to provide advance public notice that the redistricting plan would be discussed.
February 2009 The entire Wauchula City Commission is facing criminal charges for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law, according to The Ledger (Lakeland).
September 2010 The entire Wauchula City commission reached a plea agreement after the seven commissioners were charged with violating the Open Meetings Law.
November 1999:Four inmates in a Hernando County jail sued jail administrators for Open Meetings law violations when they were prevented from attending the Inmate Welfare Committee meetings.
July 2005: County commissioners voted unanimously in late May to display the mug shots of sexual predators residing in the county on the bulletin boards at the county's parks.
March 2008: Public records of the Hernando Circuit Court that are planned to be destroyed will no longer be left in easily accessible trash bins in the public recycling area. A citizen complained that he had found documents containing citizen’s personal information in the Hernando County Government Center’s recycling area.
December 2009 Admissions documents that could have helped the Hernando County School Board defend a lawsuit were shredded, prompting an internal investigation by the board.
April 2004: City Commissioners in Weeki Wachee met three time without prior public notice or public advertisement of the meeting in any local papers, a condition of Sunshine Law compliance. Although notices were posted inside the Weeki Wachee Springs tourist attraction, the notices were only visible to individuals who were paying customers at the park, according to The St. Pete Times.
August 2005: The City of Weeki Wachee and Weeki Wachee Springs were ordered by a circuit judge to release public documents concerning prior budgetary matters. The city's defense attorney argued the city released all the documents in their possession, but there is dispute over records in possession of former owner of Weeki Wachee Springs, who now resides in Rhode Island.
May 2004: Senior Judge John W. Booth's favorable ruling on a suit filed against the county by the Coalition of Anti-Urban Sprawl and Environment was upheld, stating further that Hernando County must open public meetings to review any development plans in the future. The group filed suit when the meetings discussing the construction of a Super-WalMart were closed to the public.
June 2009: The county commission adopted the "Duplication of Documents fees Policy," which charges a fee for public records requests that require creating special reports or requests that are voluminous.
April 2008: Public Records providers can include both salary and benefits when calculating their special service charge for responses to extensive public records requests, according to a ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The case stemmed from a 2005 public records request made by Preston Colby, who asked for public documents related to the county’s hurricane preparedness and was charged $65 in advance to cover the estimated costs of locating the records.
February 2009: A lawsuit was filed by a citizen to gain further information about the activities of some Highlands County officials.
July 2009: A lawsuit filed by the public works dept. coordinator against City Manager Sarah Adelt was settled with the city granting access to the public records requested and agreeing to pay attorney's fees.
December 2005: Highlands County has spent more than $18,000 defending a public records lawsuit filed by one of its residents after the county claimed he owed about $5 for his public records request.
December 2006: Three sentencing hearings were postponed after Assistant State Attorney Richard Castillo asked to expel a Highlands Today reporter from a Sebring courtroom. Castillo did not explain to the court why he wanted to media removed from the courtroom. Circuit Judge Peter Estrada postponed the hearing to a later date so that the newspaper’s attorneys could argue the motion.
April 2008: Three budget department employees were fired for sending sexually explicit instant messages to each other on the county computers during work. The messages were discovered during a routine financial audit of expenditures for the 911 emergency call system.
August 2008: Highlands County commissioners settled a lawsuit filed by Preston Colby for $9,100. The suit claimed that the county failed to copy a grant application for state funds to refurbish a high school as a hurricane shelter.
October 2008: The Clerk of Courts disregarded legal advice and turned over videotapes to The News-Sun after determining the videos were public records. The tapes allegedly show county employees stealing gasoline from county gas pumps.
April 2010: The Hillsborough Aviation Authority has had to redo two meetings in order to comply with the Sunshine Law.
June 2008: Tallahassee lawyer Mark E. Walker filed suit against the Florida Department of Transportation, asking for the release of records made during multimillion-dollar negotiations between the DOT and CSX Transportation. CSX asserted the documents outlined its terms and positions which contained trade secrets that are exempt from disclosure under the Sunshine Law. The DOT agreed but did not ask to review the documents before making them exempt from public disclosure.
September 2009 Residents of Hillsborough county no longer have to be present at county budget meetings for their questions and comments to be heard thanks to a county initiative allowing for "virtual town hall" events.
March 1999: The Tampa Tribune and Tampa General Hospital filed suit against each other in the 13th Judicial Circuit requesting a ruling as to whether a 1998 Sunshine Law exemption with respect to the Open Meetings law can apply retroactively to hospitals
September 2000: The location and format for a publicly advertised meeting for the Heritage Isles Community Development District was changed at the last minute, prompting concern of a Open Meetings law violation among residents.
November 2000: The Tampa Bay Buc's organization was ordered to pay approximately $47,500 to local authorities for refusing to turn over records that revealed how they made money from the publicly financed Raymond James Stadium.
October 2004: The St. Pete Times filed a lawsuit asking the court to force the Department of Children and Families, and Hillsborough Kids, Inc., two foster care agencies, to release records in connection with the July 4 drowning of two children, Selia McLendon and her foster sister Voncille Cannon.
April 2005: A Pinellas circuit judge refused to order St. Anthony's Hospital to turn over records on a doctor who is the subject of a malpractice suit. The patient who filed the lawsuit argued that Amendment 7, passed in November 2004, gave her the right to access the records. The amendment is currently the subject of numerous challenges across the state.
June 2005: A Pinellas Circuit judge ordered the state Department of Children and Families to release reports concerning alleged abuse of Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman who died after her feeding tube was removed.
October 2005: A judge ruled that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office can subpoena the records of a Web site in an attempt to determine which of its deputies anonymously posted offensive comments on the site.
November 2005: A Hillsborough County circuit judge ruled that the public will not be able to view graphic photographs of a former middle school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student. The photographs were taken by police officers during their investigation of the incident.
March 2006: The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office sought the identities of people who posted critical remarks on their Web site. However, according to a decision by Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Marva L. Crenshaw, the comments will remain anonymous. The Sheriff’s Office’s interest was in identifying possible employee posts, but Judge Crenshaw ruled the posts were opinions, and the identities of those who posted were protected on First Amendment grounds.
July 2006: The video of a boy being beaten to death was made public following a public records lawsuit filed by The Miami Herald and CNN against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The results of a second autopsy reveal the boy died of suffocation, not complications of sickle cell trait.
August 2006: A Veterans Administration hospital police officer, Robert J. McCarthy, claims his First Amendment rights were violated after he was told he would be fired for giving sensitive information to the St. Petersburg Times. A February investigation of the VA was based on an anonymous letter received by the Times about poor patient care and mismanagement. The hospital accused McCarthy, who has since been reassigned to a file clerk position, of authoring the e-mails. McCarthy denies the allegations.
September 2006: Media General Inc., the parent company of The Tampa Tribune, successfully challenged a judge’s sealing of pre-trial information without a public hearing. The information regarding the murder trial of David Lee Onstott was sealed by Circuit Judge Ronald N. Ficarrotta. The ruling does not mean the documents will be open to the public, but it allows Media General to argue they should be released.
November 2006: An audio recording from a hidden camera in a case against Michael Victor Lugo, 28, accused of kidnapping and beating a fellow gang member, has been released to the media. The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times fought for access to the tape, and Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet ruled that the release wouldn’t hurt Lugo’s chances at a fair trial.
November 2006: Following an inquiry by Gov. Jeb Bush, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority rescinded a contract for legal services. The board had offered the contract to the law firm GrayRobinson, but was scrutinized after alleged Sunshine Law violations were related to the contract.
January 2007: After The Tampa Tribune challenged the privacy evaluations of the Tampa Museum of Art, the museum’s architect selection process will be made public. The Tampa Museum of Art’s Foundation had previously been evaluating potential designers in private.
February 2007: Former county worker Gary Mitchell claimed the government infringed on his First Amendment rights by firing him, but was unsuccessful in his attempt to appeal the dismissal of his case. Mitchell was fired after an April 2002 meeting when he addressed former Commissioner Ronda Storms and made graphic remarks about female genitalia.
May 2007: The Tampa Tribune received $28,106 from the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau to pay the newspaper’s legal fees in connection with a public records lawsuit against the bureau. The payment ended the dispute between the newspaper and bureau over bid preparation documents for the 2008 Republican National Convention. The previously unreleased documents detailed how millions of taxpayer dollars would be used to host the convention.
July 2007: The Florida Bar Association has approved a plan to list attorneys’ 10-year disciplinary histories on its Web site. The histories will be posted on the Bar Web site’s “Find a Lawyer” section. The history will include admonishments, reprimands, suspension and disbarments.
September 2007: After rubbing a U.S. flag across his body, stomping on it and dragging it down the street, Donnie James White spent three nights in jail and was charged with flag mutilation, a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated laws banning flag desecration, but Florida never purged the law afterward. The charges against White were dropped.
November 2007: Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair’s decision to hold an advisory council’s meeting behind closed doors was quickly rejected by the council, who stopped the closed meeting in order to avoid violating the open meetings law. The agriculture advisory council’s meeting was a discussion of wetlands issues, and after about an hour members of the public and guests were asked to leave.
March 2008: The Tampa Tribune sued the University of South Florida for access to records containing the names of tutors used by the university athletic department’s Academic Enrichment Center. The university withheld the complete list, citing student privacy laws.
June 2008: A Hillsborough County elementary school pulled the award-winning book The Land by Mildred Taylor from its shelves because it contained a racial slur. A nine-member committee made up of school administrators, parents and teachers discussed the appropriateness of the book and concluded that it was too mature for an elementary school audience. The vote was not unanimous; some parents expressed disappointment about the school’s censorship action.
July 2008: Twelve federal jurors found that graphic and violent pornographic films violated the community obscenity standards. After two weeks of trial and nearly 12 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted producer Paul F. Little and his company MaxWorld Entertainment Inc., of 10 counts of selling obscene material via the internet and 10 counts of shipping it to Tampa through the U.S. mail. Little could face up to five years in prison for each conviction when he is sentenced in September.
August 2008: Officials used a public records exemption to block the release of information, including location, value and taxes of about 14 investment properties owned by a firefighter running for a seat on the County Commission. Under Florida law, investment properties are public records.
December 2008: Four months after Tampa’s New Channel 8 requested records on animal purchases, sales, trades, transfers and donations, did the Lowry Park Zoo release them. After the news channel’s reports became public, the city of Tampa began auditing the zoo’s management and transactions.
July 2009: The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that the audio cpatured on the digital court reporting system did not constitute a public record subject to the public records law because the records are used to create the official court record. The court also ruled that the record custodian may decide in what form to release the court record.
December 2009 A veteran reporter for CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 in Tampa was cut off from news conference notifications by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, but a roundtable meeting apparently resolved the issue.
December 2009 An attorney who requested St. Joseph's Hospital records on "adverse incidents" since it opened in 1934 is facing objections from the hospital. The hospital wants a Hillsborough circuit judge to limit the records to those involving death, disfigurement and other specified injuries. St. Joseph's also wants to prevent Trentalange from representing any malpractice plaintiffs who might use the records produced in response to his request.
July 2000: The Tampa Palms Community Development District violated the Open Meetings law at least four times between 1996-1999. Community activist Bob Doran filed suit versus the tax district claiming they held four closed-door meetings without a court reporter or proper public notice.
September 2006: Five current and former town council members are accused of violating the Sunshine Law by allegedly excluding town employees from public meetings. The charges stem from a 2004 budget workshop during which the then-town manager was asked to leave while his salary was discussed.
June 2005: The state Attorney General's Office said the Sunshine Law would allow the Sebastian City Council to keep private the one-on-one interviews of five candidates for city manager.
October 2006: Two city council members, Andrea Coy and Sal Neglia face noncriminal charges for violating the Sunshine Law. At a Jan. 25 televised council meeting, Neglia said he recently called Coy to discuss a dispute between tennis players and lawn bowlers over the use of tennis courts. According to Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor, the issue “could foreseeably come before the council for action.”
December 2006 (continuation of October 2006 article): Sal Neglia and Andrea Coy were cleared of Sunshine Law violations. Indian River County Judge Joe Wild ruled that Councilman Neglia did not violate the law when he called a fellow council member, Coy, to ask about a conflict between tennis players and lawn bowlers over use of the city’s new tennis courts.
January 1999: an appellate court ruled that Vero Beach official's violated Florida's Open Meetings law when they met with the city council in three closed-door sessions. The city officials said they met to discuss litigation strategy in connection with a local company's bankruptcy proceedings. Frank Zorc, the private citizen who brought the suit against the city, settled out of court for $575,000.
April 1999: Judge Charles Smith (19th Circuit) held in a summary judgment that the city of Vero Beach violated the Open Meetings law when they held two closed-door meetings in April 1995 to discuss and take votes on a lawsuit against then City Councilman Bill Jordan.
Indian River County:
September 1999: Brian Heady, a private citizen, filed a civil complaint versus the Indian River County School Board for violating the Open Meetings and Public Records Laws when they blocked his access to an educational plant survey that contained an overview of the district's current facilities.
May 2000: Two former Indian River County Hospital trustees were indicted for violating the state's Open Meetings law and perjuring themselves before the County Grand Jury in March. Allen Seed and Richard Aldrich were both formally accused on felony perjury charges and a misdemeanor Sunshine Law violation.
February 2006: The State Attorney’s Office has determined that School Board Vice Chairman Craig McGarvey did not violate the Sunshine Law at a September meeting. Assistant State Attorney Christopher Taylor determined that the alleged conversation between McGarvey and board member Ann Reuter outside of the meeting did not take place.
March 2006: The Indian River School Board recently voted to fire superintendent Tom Maher, after which complaints arose alleging board members discussed the vote prior to the Dec. 13 meeting. It has also been alleged that board member Ann Reuter tried to pass a note regarding the vote during the meeting. The State Attorney’s Office is investigating possible Sunshine Law violations.
July 2006 (continuation of March 2006 article): The State Attorney’s Office will not pursue charges in response to allegations that Indian River School Board members violated the Sunshine Law. The complaints alleged that board members talked about a vote to fire the superintendent prior to the Dec. 13 meeting and that Ann Reuter had tried to pass a note during the meeting.
April 2008: The City of Sneads agreed to pay its former chief of police William Nelson $10,000 and his attorneys $25,000 seven years after he filed a civil suit alleging the city violated Florida’s Open Meetings Law. Nelson alleges he was fired by the town council during a special meeting to which the public was not given proper notice. City Manager Ed Kilpatrick said the settlement should not be read as an admission of any wrongdoing by the city.
April 2008: Two members of the Astatula Town Council have been charged with non-criminal violations of the Sunshine Law.
October 1999: Six current and former Lee County Sheriff deputies filed a class action suit claiming the Lee County Sheriff's Department violated Open Meetings laws when their civil service board and a committee of officers voted on disciplinary recommendations in closed-door meetings.
June 2001: A Lee County Judge found the County Planning Director Paul O’Connor not guilty of failing to disclose meetings with lobbyists. Prosecutors were unable to prove that O’Connor illegally spoke with a lobbyist. O’Connor reportedly ignored the county’s disclosure law repeatedly during the six years that he served as planning director.
OCTOBER 2003: A grand jury suggested that all eight members of the Cape Coral City Council take more training in the state’s open meetings laws. The grand jury found that two council members violated the Sunshine Law, but chose not to indict because it found there was no corrupt intent. The videotaped conversation about a proposed skate park took place between Mayor Arnold Kempe and Councilman Dick Stevens during a meeting break in July 2003.
August 2004: The News-Press (Ft. Myers) claims that Lee County school officials selected contractors and negotiated in private, violating the Sunshine Law. According to the paper, the school construction committee picked five finalists for contracted jobs to expand improve several Lee County schools, and Superintendent James Browder's staff negotiated construction contracts in private.
October 2007: County Commissioner Frank Mann is seeking a replacement for one of his advisory board members, Ernie Hartman, citing a presumption of Sunshine Law violations when a husband and wife serve on the same board. Hartman has served on the board since 1992, and his wife, Dolly, joined the board in 1994.
October 2008: Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign apologized for denying Tallahassee Democrat reporter Stephen Price access to an area restricted to national reporters. Another state reporter was removed by the Secret Service when she asked why Price was ejected.
October 2008: Circuit Judge Cynthia Ellis held that personal e-mails are private, even if they are sent on government computers. An attorney sought the county’s e-mails after his clients were fired from their county jobs for exchanging salacious e-mails.
May 2009: County officials claim original notes taken by an investigator whose 13 page report led to the firing of nine county employees do not exist. The News Press was told by the Deputy County Attorney that there was no need for the investigator to preserve her notes because the notes became the 13-page report.
September 2009 The city council set new rules requiring that all city employees and volunteers forward e-mails related to city business from personal e-mail accounts to the city's e-mail server.
November 2009 A city councilwoman charged with a civil violation of the Public Records Law for deleting city business e-mails from her home computer will pay a fine as part of her agreement with the State Attorney's Office.
March 2005: A citizen watchdog group re-filed a lawsuit against the Cape Coral Commission, claiming that city leaders violated the Sunshine Law by failing to notify property owners about water and sewer expansions. The case was originally filed in 2003.
December 2008: Two council members did not violate the Open Meetings Law when they discussed a graph of budget information, according to the State Attorney’s Office. The complaint that the two met privately before an open council meeting to create the graph was based on comments by a council member at the meeting.
September 2010: The Cape Coral City Council has agreed to seek a court ruling on whether records of a company it contracted with for utilities projects in 1999 should be public.
August 2000: A Lee County Commissioner was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for violating a county law that requires government officials to disclose private meetings with lobbyists. Commissioner John Manning was investigated for meeting for years with lobbyists who sought land-use changes, roads and multi-million dollar county contracts.
May 2004: Former Superintendent John Sanders filed a lawsuit against four of the five Lee County School Board Members, claiming they violated the Sunshine Law and Public Records law, based on testimony in another trial in which former district auditor Martha Roberts testified that the school board members conspired to fire Sanders in private meetings.
July 2005: Citizens are upset by a ban imposed by the mayor on non-agenda comments at city council meetings. The ban is in place while city attorneys review a policy to put an end to the open input period.
October 2005: A Lee County judge ruled in favor of the Ft. Myers News-Press, granting the newspaper access to records from the state's Department of Children and Family Services.
August 2007: The Federal Emergency Management Agency was ordered to make public the addresses of more than 600,000 households that received $1.2 billion in aid following the 2004 hurricane season. Several newspapers sued FEMA after their public information requests were denied. The three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the newspapers have a right to access the addresses of disaster aid recipients however the court did not provide access to the names of those recipients.
October 2007: The News-Press received disaster aid information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) two months after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in its favor. FEMA released the addresses of households that received disaster aid between 1998 and 2004. Based on the information, The News-Press found that many Floridians received less than $10 in aid, and of the more than one million people who requested FEMA aid after the 2004 hurricanes, fewer than one in three received cash assistance.
November 2007: In response to media reports criticizing the use of anonymous ballots, the Florida Gulf Coast University presidential search committee changed its voting procedures. According to the State Attorney’s Office, no formal complaints have been filed against FGCU, but they are monitoring the situation and alleged Sunshine Law violations.
December 2007: The News-Press prevailed in a public records lawsuit against Fort Myers City Councilman Warren Wright, winning the right of access to a settlement agreement. Wright sued the city and a developer over the construction of a 14-story tower near a lot he owned in a historic district. The suit was later settled, but the agreement was not made public.
November 2008: A meeting of the Charlotte County “Iguana Advisory” board was cut short when USDA representative Parker Hall refused to be videotaped. Since the reporter could not lawfully be ejected, board chairperson Lyman Randall compromised by holding a closed meeting after the scheduled meeting and relaying what was discussed.
October 2009 The News-Press filed a complaint with the State Attorney's Office alleging that a deputy county attorney violated the Public Records Law.
San Carlos Park:
September 2003: Board members of the San Carlos Park Fire Protection and Rescue Service District were accused of violating the Sunshine Law after they met in a private executive collective bargaining session between officials and the fire district union.
June 2006: A community planning group asked approximately 15 members of the public and the press to leave its meeting. According to Chairman Bo Turbeville, the planning group never received money from the county and is not an official advisory board, therefore it does not fall under the Sunshine Law.
May 1999: Second Judicial Circuit Judge Terry Lewis awarded Barbara Herskovitz $8,083 in attorneys fees for a public records suit she brought against Leon County claiming that the clerk of courts was not precise in identifying the more than 9,000 documents she requested, and was "unreasonably" slow in complying with the request.
March 2008: The Florida Bar’s Attorney-Client Privilege Task Force will study limitations on attorney-client privileges. These limitations were created as a result of legal representation for public agencies, which are subject to the Florida Public Records Law. Although exceptions exist between public agencies and their attorneys, the laws are difficult to implement and sometimes fail to protect the privilege.
April 2008: Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge hosted his second-annual fish fry at his beach house for fellow commissioners and senior county staff. While the Tallahassee Democrat questioned him about possible Open Meetings Law violations, Desloge pledged that guests would not discuss public business. The event was not open to the public, but Desloge did invite members of the media.
October 2005: Former Florida A&M University football coach Billy Joe initiated a public records lawsuit against the school in an attempt to gain access to documents related to his firing. He and two assistants were fired in June, with university officials claiming the termination was related to NCAA rule violations.
January 2006: The Florida Supreme Court refused to review a decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeals granting members of the media the right to access photographs in the Carlie Brucia murder case. Media attorneys fought the trial judge’s closure order preventing the media and public from being able to examine crime-scene and autopsy photos.
January 2006: Reviews which investigate the safety and quality of Florida’s more than 280 hospitals are now available in an online database. The site, www.floridacomparecare.com, is in operation thanks to a law passed by the Legislature in 2004 that requires public disclosure of key information related to medical care.
February 2006: Rep. Shelley Vana plans to continue to pursue an investigation into the public records practices of Gov. Jeb Bush’s office. Bush’s press office denied that a proposal to restructure a school voucher program existed. When the recipient, Deputy Chief of Staff Patricia Levesque, was contacted, she acknowledged she had the proposal.
April 2006: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has released a video showing boot camp guards hitting a 14-year-old boy who died the next day. The Miami Herald and CNN filed a public records lawsuit against FDLE, who initially refused to release the footage because it was part of an ongoing investigation.
May 2006: Public access to government records has been limited by states since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a 50-state study by The Associated Press. However, Florida has avoided this trend. Florida has seen a reduction in the number of new open government exemptions passed each year.
May 2006: Florida clerks of court are under pressure to redact sensitive information from billions of pages of court documents. In response, the clerks are pushing a bill that would make individual filers responsible for redacting confidential or exempt information and replacing it with a number that would cross-reference a second, sealed document.
May 2006: The Florida Supreme Court is holding three public hearings on recommendations on how to balance privacy concerns and open records. At the first meeting, held on March 1, representatives of court clerks, the media and businesses urged the court to allow electronic availability of records. The court must clarify which Public Records Law exemptions apply to court records and decide which should be available.
June 2006: Reporters were kept from a March 13 meeting between Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb and Leon election officials. County Commissioner Bob Rackleff was asked to leave the meeting because another commissioner was already there. The meeting was in regards to voting equipment. Attorney General Charlie Crist, along with State Attorney Will Meggs, concluded that the meeting did not violate the Sunshine Law.
July 2006: The state will release background data about temporary workers hired to grade the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) as part of a settlement agreement. Senators have questioned whether the workers are qualified to grade the test, which affects student advancement and are used to assess the performances of schools and teachers.
July 2006: The Attorney General’s Office cautioned town attorney Michael Ciocchetti against a plan to conduct public meetings using an electronic discussion board. Senior Assistant Attorney General Gerry Hammond advised that extending the public’s burden of monitoring the site “would not comply with the spirit or letter” of the Sunshine Law.
August 2006: Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed two public records bills passed by the Florida Legislature during the 2006 session. The first bill would have required the government to “promptly” reply to public records requests. The second bill would have allowed the Legislature to access records with confidential and exempt status.
September 2006: Florida’s moratorium on electronic access to court records will remain in effect while unresolved issues are studied further, according to an order by the Florida Supreme Court. The moratorium was imposed in 2003 and is set for review in July 2007. It allows online access to dockets, calendars and certain records, such as those related to cases of “significant public interest” or cases in which a state agency is a party.
December 2006: The Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, R. Fred Lewis, wants judges across the state to review sealed cases. Lewis also asked the Florida Bar to expedite its review of proposals to prevent future sealing of cases. The drafted proposals would require judges to hold a public hearing before sealing a court record. A written explanation would be required for all decisions to seal information.
January 2007: Gov. Charlie Crist announced the creation of an Office of Open Government within his executive office. The goal of the office is to ensure compliance with Public Records Law and Sunshine Law. The office will also assist in training government agencies on government transparency.
March 2007: Gov. Charlie Crist’s first executive order established the Office of Open Government and a “Plain Language Initiative” aimed at making government publications and announcements easier to understand. The order includes a provision to implement a code of ethics for the governor’s office and heads of state agencies, as well as calling for the training of agency employees on topics including ethics, public records, open meetings and records retention.
April 2007: An inquiry into the practice of secret dockets and super-sealed cases was ordered by Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis, who also asked the Florida Bar to recommend changes to the rules for sealing cases. The investigation found that most secret files were the result of failure to follow the rules, misinterpretation of the rules and miscommunication.
April 2007: The office of Attorney General Bill McCollum is partnering with the Brechner Center to encourage government entities to provide more information to citizens.
May 2007: In response to reports of “super-sealing” court cases, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion on the issue and adopted new rules to make it even more difficult for civil cases to be sealed. The new rules require written requests to make the case secret. They also allow judges to impose sanctions on a party who files a motion to seal a case “without a good-faith basis.”
May 2007: The state has launched several new Web sites to provide increased access to government records, but one had drawn criticism for its difficulty to navigate. The online directory of lobbyists and how much they were paid by businesses is up and running, but according to a St. Petersburg Times report, finding information is difficult because there is no way to match individual lobbyists with the firms they work for.
August 2007: Attorney General Bill McCollum, in partnership with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, launched the Government Accountability Project (GAP) to encourage state and local government entities to provide Florida’s citizens more information and records necessary to hold their government accountable. The first phase of the project will determine what discrepancies exist between records already available and the information citizens need but have difficulty obtaining. The second phase will involve collaboration with state and local governments to eliminate those discrepancies.
August 2007: Gov. Charlie Crist appointed a nine-member Commission on Open Government to review and evaluate the public’s right of access to government meetings and records. The committee is comprised of media representatives, attorneys and government officials throughout the state. Their findings and recommendations will be presented to the governor, Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives by the end of 2008.
September 2007: Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has launched a system to electronically track lawsuits against insurance companies. The launch is in response to the Department of Financial Services routine destroying of records related to consumer disputes with insurance companies for the past year. The law does not require the agency to save the civil remedy notices but attorneys have been complaining about the destruction of public records.
October 2007: The Commission on Open Government held a two-day hearing where journalists, public officials and citizens could speak out on open government issues. The nine-member commission was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist and will use the input from the hearings to make legislative recommendations. The hearing urged more transparency in government, including daily postings of state agency e-mails.
November 2007: The Florida Supreme Court has issued a revised interim policy on the electronic release of court records, expanding access to information about criminal defendants and providing general remote access to some files for attorneys. The revised interim policy was issued more than a year after the first policy was enacted, based on recommendations from the Committee on Access to Court Records.
December 2007: Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has released the results from the first stage of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), developed in partnership with The Brechner Center. The results showed that 75 percent of counties and school districts have public records available on their Web sites. However, only 8.8 percent of counties and 21 percent of school districts post individual contracts online. The study also found an overall absence of clearly labeled information regarding a particular person in charge of public records. Phase two of GAP will include a series on citizen forums.
January 2008: Applicants who appear before the Board of Executive Clemency are now able to receive their case analysis reports. The Parole Commission prepares the reports which were previously confidential and provided only to members of the clemency board. The reports contain a summary of the offense, criminal and traffic history, background information on the applicant, and the Parole Commission’s recommendation to the Clemency Board.
January 2008: More than a dozen lawsuits face the Florida Department of State by civil rights groups seeking access to records of voters turned away from the polls. The groups are challenging the state’s methods of deciding who is eligible to vote, alleging that the current system unfairly denies voters access to the polls.
February 2008: Gov. Charlie Crist established two new initiatives to improve public access to government records. The executive order created the Office of Open Government which directs state agencies to treat citizens with courtesy and respect when responding to records requests. The order also directs agencies to improve the public’s access to important information online, including the request-making process, organizational charts, budget data and contracts with vendors and service providers. The order also bars agencies from demanding that requests be made in writing.
April 2008: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was denied access to former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley’s computers. The U.S. House of Representatives’ legal office denied the access and continues to investigate Foley’s illicit sexual messages to male congressional pages. The House legal office offered the FDLE the option to submit search terms, which the office would use to review the e-mails.
April 2008: The Florida First Amendment Foundation found that half of the 34 state agencies surveyed passed a four-part public records test. Volunteers from the foundation documented whether they were asked to give their name, present identification, provide a reason for the request or provide the request in writing.
June 2008: The Florida Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 opinion that patients have a right to check records on past mistakes made by their doctors and hospitals regardless of when the files were created. The hospital’s argument that the right to inspect such records only applied to documents created after November 2004 was rejected.
June 2008: Committees in both the Florida House and Senate passed separate versions of a bill to increase access to records of the Department of Children and Families. The bills propose making it possible for children and adults who have been through DCF’s childcare system to obtain their own records from the agency.
June 2008: Media General Operation and NYT Management Services, Inc. submitted recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court on the proposed Rule 9.050 of the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. The recommendation encourages a rule that minimizes personal information unnecessary to a court’s determination of the matter prior to the entering the documents into the record.
December 2008: In the near future, Floridians may be able to see and request corrections to information state agencies gather about them. The Fair Information Practices Act would also require the agencies to justify the need for the information. A final report on the recommendations will be submitted to Gov. Charlie Crist by the end of the year.
October 2007: A month before he was fired, town attorney James A. Cornelius, who was also the city manager, expressed his concerns about potential Sunshine Law violations in a letter to a local newspaper, the Chiefland Citizen. Cornelius did not name specific members in his letter. According to Bronson Mayor Beatrice Mongo, the matter had been blown out of proportion and Cornelius should have approached the council before contacting the media.
February 2003: Circuit Judge Robert P. Cates issued a ruling declaring that a meeting of the Chiefland City Commission violated the Florida Sunshine Law. (See also February 2002)
February 2001: Levy County Commissioners Lily Rooks, Don Foley and Tony Parker admitted and apologized for two Open Meetings law violations that occurred in November 2000 when they spoke about proposed board action in private.
March 2002: City Commissioner Sunshine Baynard filed a civil suit against the Chiefland City Commission saying that an "emergency meeting" violated Florida's Sunshine Law. Baynard claims that a critical rehiring/restructuring decision was made while she was not present, and she was told "by virtue of liaison communication" between members of the city commission.
February 2003: Circuit Judge Robert Cates issued a ruling that said Chiefland City Commissioners violated the Sunshine Law when they met January 17, 2002 to suspend their police chief and search for a replacement. The judge ruled all action taken at the meeting void.
September 2006: Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency in Yankeetown, where a dispute over development caused controversy. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has launched an investigation based on residents’ claims that the town mayor and others threw away public documents. The controversy stems from a proposal by developers to build a resort hotel on the Withlacoochee River.
February 2007: Following a six-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Yankeetown officials will likely avoid prosecution due to a lack of evidence that they violated open government laws. The investigation came after residents accused town officials of violating the Sunshine Law by meeting with developers who want to build a riverfront resort in the town.
July 2007: Former Yankeetown clerk, Mona Sinclair, filed suit against the town, its mayor and two council members, alleging Sunshine violations. Sinclair was fired in January and alleges she was dismissed because she told the media she witnessed three town officials routinely violate the Sunshine Law. The Yankeetown council denied any Sunshine violations and cited poor performance as the reason for Sinclair’s termination.
July 2004: Manatee County Port Authority Officials acknowledged that they failed to adequately notify the public of a Manatee County Commission meeting, potentially violating the Open Meetings law and rendering all action taken at the meeting legally void.
October 2005: Manatee County court officials will use a software program to redact portions of electronic records containing Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information. Online access to the records was suspended in March 2004.
March 2006: Manatee County is testing software that redacts sensitive information from records. The move was brought about in response to state legislation passed in 2005 that mandates county clerks of court to redact Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card details and other sensitive information from online records.
April 2007: The pilot program to restore electronic access to court records in Florida could begin as soon as May 1. The Florida Supreme Court currently has a moratorium on Internet access to most court records until adequate privacy safeguards are in place. The safeguards proposed by Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court R.B. “Chips” Shore include software to redact confidential information such as Social Security numbers and limited access based on the type of user.
September 2007: The Manatee County Clerk of Court, R.B. “Chips” Shore, launched a one-year pilot program in public access to paperless court records. Shore said the program is intended to demonstrate to the Court and skeptics that it is possible to protect confidential information while opening court records to public scrutiny through online convenience.
November 2007: School board critic David Miner filed a public records lawsuit against the Manatee County School Board over the release of appraisals it had completed on a $15.75 million building it purchased. Miner filed the suit after the school district said it would not release the records until 30 days after the contract to buy the building was agreed upon.
October 2009: The Manatee County School District wants to eliminate the need for public notice of district meetings in newspaper classifieds. Instead, the district would put the notices on its own Web sites and send out news releases.
June 1999: The Island Bystander filed a Public Records suit against the city of Anna Maria for denying access to the resumes submitted for the open city clerk position. Anna Maria Mayor was subsequently charged and acquitted of all charges stemming from the incident.
January 2000: Judge Doug Henderson (12th Judicial Circuit), ordered former Anna Maria Mayor Chuck Shumard to pay a $250 fine for one count of a non-criminal Public Records violation. Shumard pleaded no contest.
June 2010: A city commissioner in Anna Maria Island is at the center of both a recall petition and a lawsuit seeking his e-mail communications.
August 1999: A three judge-panel from the 2nd District Court ruled that the city of Bradenton violated Open Meetings laws by choosing contractors for a construction project without first meeting in public.
May 2008: Police Chief Sam Speciale asked members of the media to wear ID tags at public meetings to distinguish them from the public. The request stemmed from increasing chatter at meetings where members of the public were speaking loudly and out of turn. While it is acceptable for media to speak to one another during meetings, discussion among non-media members of the audience has become disruptive.
June 2006: The Ocala Star-Banner was successful in its petition to access court documents and Department of Children and Families records related to the beating-to-death of 5-year-old Coreyon Graham in February.
August 2006: The State Attorney’s Office has determined that the board of directors of an Ocala hospital is subject to the Sunshine Law. However, the incident that prompted the inquiry was not a violation. Monroe Regional Medical Center operates the hospital under a lease from the Marion County Hospital District, and is thereby subject to the state’s open government laws.
October 2006: Circuit Judge Sue Robbins temporarily sealed public documents in the case of a man accused of murdering two college students in the Ocala National Forest. The documents related to Leo Boatman’s case will be closed for 60 days, so that Boatman’s attorney can review the documents and decide if he will argue against the release of any items.
November 2006: Munroe Regional Health Systems, Inc. was indicted by a grand jury for violating the Public Records and Open Meetings laws. The publicly-owned hospital is accused of two misdemeanor charges stemming from the hospital’s search for a new CEO.
November 2006: McIntosh residents must redraw their petition asking for an election to recall Councilman James Strange, according to a ruling by Chief Circuit Judge Victor Musleh. The petitioners will be required to provide more specific examples. The recall effort was prompted in response to allegations that Strange violated the Sunshine Law.
March 2007: A hospital indicted on misdemeanor charges for violating Florida’s open government laws during a CEO search has reached an agreement with the State Attorney’s Office. In exchange for amending its lease, the state has dismissed the charges. The hospital did not concede guilt but will pay $2,000 for investigative costs.
August 2009 A grand jury concluded that although the county commission did not break the law in hiring a new county administrator, the process violated the "spirit" of the Sunshine Law.
January 2001: Judge Ben Bryan (19th judicial circuit) ruled that Martin County Commissioners violated the Open Meetings law by meeting in private to discuss possible legal action pending against the county. The trial was difficult to rule on because the law states that commissioners can meet in private to discuss "pending litigation." However, The Palm Beach Post attorney argued successfully that they did violate the Sunshine Law because the county was not a party in either case, a distinction stipulated in the law that sates they are able to meet on pending litigation matters.
February 2001: Judge Terry Lewis, a Leon County Judge (2nd Judicial Circuit) ruled that the Martin County elections supervisor, Peggy Robbins, violated both election and Public Records laws when she allowed republican party members to take absentee ballot applications from her office to fill in missing information.
January 2007: Martin County commissioners declined to move forward with several restrictions on speech during public meetings. Instead, county commissioners voted to ban political campaigning by commissioners or speakers during public meetings.
November 2009: The removal of more than 1,200 files from the computer of a Martin County School district attorney--without warning--is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a Riviera Beach company. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating fraud allegations in the district's manintenance and facilities departments.
November 2 The Martin County Business Development Board has agreed to abide by the Open Meetings and Public Records Laws follwing the settlement of a lawsuit seeking access.
March 2000: The Miami Herald sued Dade Aviation Consultants, the company that oversaw the $5 billion, 20-year-expansion of Miami International Airport, in an effort to gain access to the company's spending records.
January 2008 :The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recent meeting on the environmental impact of mining near the Everglades was open to the public. Attendees were faced with an overflowing crowd and uniformed firefighters who demanded photo identification. After presenting their ID’s, attendees were photographed and received orange badges to wear into the building. The fire department said the security measures were delegated by the Department of Homeland Security.
January 2008: WPLG-TV reporter, Jeff Weinsier was arrested while attempting to interview parents and students at a Miami-Dade high school. Weinsier was charged with trespassing and possession of a firearm on school grounds. Weinsier began carrying a gun after receiving death threats related to his reports on unsanitary conditions at restaurants. The station says it stands behind Weinsier’s actions, but he was suspended for two weeks for carrying a gun without permission.
February 2008: Four men accused of killing Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor are prohibited from speaking to the media about specifics in the case or their statements to police resulting from a gag order issued by Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy. The attorneys for the defendants, prosecutors, police, Taylor’s family and his former attorney were also ordered not to speak to the media. Murphy said he issued his order out of concern that publicity would jeopardize the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
May 2008: U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard imposed a gag order to protect efforts to seat an impartial jury for the retrial of six South Florida men charged with conspiring to support al-Qaida. The defendants, their lawyers, prosecutors, agents, investigators and witnesses were prohibited from speaking to the media.
September 2008: Miami City Commission meetings are now broadcast live online and archived. Maintaining the system will cost the city about $19,000 per year.
April 2009: The United Teachers of Dade is suing the Miami-Dade School Board for violating the Sunshine Law by holding an improperly closed meeting in which it discussed budget issues.
December 1999: The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office filed a civil complaint versus the Village of Biscayne Park for Open Meetings law violations, stemming from a closed-door meeting the held on February 13, 1999.
October 2008: City Manager David Brown admitted in court that he kept public records from a journalist who uncovered suspect purchases on a city-issued Visa card, and was issued a written reprimand by Mayor Don Slesnick. Brown paid a $500 fine and $2,100 for the costs of the investigation.
April 2007: The Cutler Bay Town Council has passed a disclosure law aimed at exposing deals between developers and community groups. The council unanimously approved the law requiring public disclosure of payments made to community groups in exchange for not opposing developments and re-zonings. Details of developer payments to community groups are not subject to the Public Records Law.
August 2000: The Miami Herald agreed to drop a public records suit against the mayor of Hialeah the same day the suit was filed. A journalist for the paper requested records of phone calls received in the mayor’s office. When the mayor’s office did not hand over the records, the newspaper filed suit. When the mayor provided the records, the paper dropped the suit. The city paid The Miami Herald’s $500 legal fees.
March 2001: The Town Council voted to pay more than $15,000 in legal fees for three town officials, including more than $7,000 for a councilman accused of a Sunshine Law violation. The vice mayor and two council members were involved in three separate cases. One of the council members, Al Paruas, was involved in an Open Meetings law case after he ejected a resident from a November 1999 meeting to select a town manager and town clerk. Paruas, who had been in office for 10 months at the time of the incident, should have known the meeting was public, said investigators with the state attorney’s office, who are still investigating the case. Paruas’ legal fees at the time totaled $7,125.15.
February 2006: The University of Miami student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane, is receiving opposition after publishing comments and photos implying that three drunken students jumped into Lake Osceola, where swimming is prohibited. The comments and photos were taken off the Web site Facebook. While the paper defends their actions citing the news value of the photos, lawyers for the site accuse the paper of using the photos without permission.
April 2006: Judge Scott Bernstein rejected an attempt by The Miami Herald and the Daily News to access closed records in a civil case against a Catholic priest. The newspapers allege the closed records may show the Catholic Church failed to protect children from ex-priest William Romero. Access was not granted since the original lawsuit, alleging Romero sexually abused an altar boy in 1975, was settled and dismissed.
May 2006: The county is facing a lawsuit alleging that the Opa-locka Airport Development Task Force violated the Sunshine Law by holding a private meeting. Businessman Stephen O’Neal filed the suit claiming during the first announced meeting a member referenced an earlier “meeting before the meeting.”
May 2006: The mayor vetoed a rule that would have allowed county staff to correct the public record during meetings of the Miami-Dade County Commission. The rule, proposed by Commissioner Dennis Moss, was passed in February. However, Moss declined to challenge the mayoral veto.
May 2006: Florida International University officials confiscated thousands of copies of The Beacon from campus racks after student journalists printed the name of a sexual assault victim. The article reported on the testimony from the trial of an FIU public safety officer convicted of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman. The papers were seized based on a Florida statute that prohibits the publication of information identifying a victim of sexual assault.
June 2006: Miami judge Gill Freeman has ordered Carnival Cruise Lines to disclose its sexual assault records stemming from a 2000 incident where a 12-year-old girl was allegedly fondled by a crew member. The crew member pleaded guilty to criminal charges later that year. The records will not immediately be made public, a decision The Miami Herald seeks to challenge.
October 2006: The Florida Supreme Court is considering adopting new rules for sealing cases in light of several news stories about secret dockets and sealed cases. The Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers submitted proposed rules requiring judges to hold a hearing and give advance public notice prior to sealing a case. The court plans to adopt the new rules once the public is given an opportunity to comment, according to Chief Justice Fred Lewis.
October 2006: Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld demanded the names of the reporters who lawyers for Donald Trump leaked information to regarding a subpoena against Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne. Trump’s suit alleges he was cheated out of a lucrative contract by a former friend and developers. Trump’s lawyers gave the judge the names of two reporters at the Aug. 24 hearing, and the subpoena was withdrawn.
December 2006: U.S. District Court Judge Paul Huck struck down a Florida law that would have prevented exit poll takers from standing within 100 feet of voting places. The Associated Press along with five other television networks challenged the law, claiming it violated the First Amendment. Huck noted in his opinion that reporting on political views would be difficult and incomplete if the media’s ability to interview voters was not protected.
December 2006: The Miccosukee Indian Tribe sued the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to obtain the release of records relating to an Environmental Protection Agency proposed amendment titled “Regulations Implementing the Clean Water Act.” According to the tribe’s lawsuit, when they requested the records in August 2006, the SFWMD said it was not required to release the information.
February 2007: Miami-Dade court officials will stop their practice of altering court records to protect informants. The Florida Bar has recommended rule changes that would require a public hearing before the sealing of a court record.
February 2007: U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez rejected the St. Petersburg Times’ claim of a reporter’s privilege, and ordered William Levesque to testify at a $12 million white-collar fraud trial. Levesque interviewed one of the defendants in the wire fraud case for a November 2004 article.
March 2007: School board member Marta Perez has filed a public records suit against Superintendent Rudy Crew. Perez alleges Crew misused his power and ignored her records requests. The requests are related to renovation costs for board members’ offices, employee salaries and other issues.
March 2007: Miami-Dade police erased its copy of a security video showing Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick at the airport. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested a copy of the video on Jan. 18. But police refused to release it because the video was part of an ongoing investigation. After prosecutors announced on Jan. 23 there would no criminal charges against Vick, the investigating officer erased the video from a flash drive.
May 2007: Martin Sarthou, a television reporter for the Uruguayan station Teledoce, was fined $1,000 for using his cell-phone camera to capture federal court proceedings. Sarthou pleaded guilty to contempt of court charges and is banned from entering federal courthouses in the Southern District for the next year.
June 2007: Annual Washington D.C. trips have raised concerns about the applicability of the Open Meetings Law when local officials lobby federal decision-makers. Several Miami-Dade commissioners and the county mayor attended meetings with members of Congress, many of which the press was barred from because Congress members are not required to conduct meetings in the open. Miami-Dade commissioners defended their trips, saying the visits with federal officials are important to the country’s well-being and that they researched the legality of the trips before scheduling them.
June 2007: Carlos Miller, a freelance photographer and journalist was arrested after photographing police officers on a public street. Miller was in a construction zone and photographed the officers as they interrogated another man. The officers who arrested him claimed he was standing in the middle of the busy street and obstructing traffic. Miller was charged with disobeying officers, obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence.
August 2007: The South Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has asked the Miami-Dade Police Department to open an inquiry into the February arrest of television journalist Michael Kirsch, who was investigating allegations against the department and its director. Kirsch was an investigative reporter for WFOR CBS 4 at the time he was assaulted and treated harshly with no provocation during a traffic stop near his home when he was off-duty with his family.
October 2007: The Bass Museum’s board members and trustees recently learned that they must operate according to the Sunshine Law. The Attorney General’s Office mediated on behalf of a freelance journalist investigating a controversial exhibit. The museum has a $2.7 million annual budget, of which about $1.5 million is funded by Miami taxpayers.
November 2007: The Third District Court of Appeals has decided to not re-hear The Palm Beach Post’s request for access to Rush Limbaugh’s divorce settlement. The Post filed a motion requesting the settlement be filed with the court, which the trial court denied. The Third District chose not to disturb the trial court’s ruling and refused to issue a written opinion.
August 2005: A local developer sued the mayor and members of the Miami Beach City Commission, alleging that they violated the state's Sunshine Law by discussing a condo project he was trying to construct without giving public notice for the meeting. City officials assert that the law was not violated because the meeting was a community forum and not a commission meeting or workshop.
August 2005 :Two residents of Miami Lakes have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to keep their e-mail addresses private. Lynn Matos and Jack McCall submitted their e-mail addresses to Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi in order to receive updates on community activities.
North Bay Village:
June 2004: North Bay Village Mayor Alan Dorne and Commissioner Armand Abecassis surrendered to state investigators on charges they violated the Open Meetings law when they met privately on March 6 to discuss the firing of City Manager James Vardalis.
March 2006: Former North Bay commissioner, Armand Abecassis, pleaded no contest to two Sunshine Law violations. Abecassis, 67, was arrested in April 2004 on charges of conspiring with then-Mayor Alan Dorne to remove the city manager.
June 2007: The South Miami City Commission has approved new rules that include a provision for 30-day expulsion from a meeting if anyone causes disruption during the meeting. The code prohibits board members from making public comments on items they have voted on.
April 1999: A circuit judge ruled that the Lower Florida Keys Health System Board violated the Open Meetings law, and voided all actions taken in the meeting. The ruling originated from a lawsuit brought by doctors who had their hospital privileges revoked by the board in a closed session.
June 2006: The State Attorney’s Office is finishing up its investigation of the February firing of the county attorney, Richard Collins. The action was added to the meeting’s agenda at the last minute. Commissioner Sonny McCoy, who made the motion, cited concerns about the attorney’s health and job performance.
September 2006 (continuation of June 2006 article): A four-month investigation into alleged Sunshine Law violations by Monroe County commissioners resulted in no evidence of wrong-doing, according to a State Attorney’s Office report. The firing of county attorney, Richard Collins, at a February meeting prompted the investigation.
April 2007: Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro and Commissioner Sonny McCoy have been charged with violating the Sunshine Law and each face a civil infraction carrying a fine of up to $500. The charges stem from a September post-meeting discussion regarding an upcoming mayoral election.
August 2008: No Open Meetings Law violation occurred when the mayor Sonny McCoy told the vice mayor Mario Di Gennaro of his plans to change roles on the County Commission. Assistant County Attorney Bob Shillinger said the conversation was not an “exchange of information” in violation of the law. The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office received no complaints about the incident.
April 2009: Monroe County Administrator roman Gastesi plans to implement ethics training that will focus on state gift laws and the Sunshine Laws for the more than 400 county employees.
November 2000: Conference calls place between county commissioners that led to the awarding of a $60 million sewer contract were a violation of the Open Meetings law, according to the State Attorney's Office. On three separate occasions Monroe County Board of County Commissioners spoke via telephone during the selection process. The contract was voided in July 2001.
January 2006: Dennis Reeves Cooper, the publisher of an island weekly newspaper, was arrested and spent three hours in jail in June 2001 for publishing information about a complaint he had filed against the island’s police department. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law under which Cooper was arrested was unconstitutional. Cooper will receive a $40,000 settlement, in addition to covering his attorney’s fees of about $200,000.
March 2007: Florida Keys Community College will pay the legal fees of a newspaper company after the two parties reached a settlement in a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit. Cooke Communications, owner of The Key West Citizen, filed the suit after the college’s president Bill Seeker wrote in a letter to the company that he was ending any business with the company. The college did not admit wrongdoing but did agree to pay $9,000 in attorney fees.
September 2007: Prosecutors decided to not pursue charges against the Key West and Monroe County mayors after allegations that they violated the state open government law when they privately discussed a way to raise more tax money to build affordable housing. The prosecutors said the mayors’ behind-the-scenes negotiations did not constitute a Sunshine Law violation because the council only makes recommendations.
February 1999: The County Attorney filed a motion to dismiss a suit charging the County Commission with violating the Open Meetings law. A private citizen brought suit against commissioners Nick Deonas, Marianne Marshal, "Pete" Cooper and former commissioners John Crawford and Chris Kirkland, alleging they held private meetings to discuss the relocation of the county courthouse.
November 2000: Judge Alban E. Brooke (4th Judicial Circuit) ordered Sheriff Ray Geiger to provide records to attorney John Cascone after Cascone filed a motion due to the "unreasonably slow" nature of a records request.
October 2006: The lunchtime meetings of Nassau County Commissioners and the county administrator may have been “technical” Sunshine Law violations, but prosecutors won’t be pursuing charges unless the conduct continues. According to Assistant State Attorney Jay Taylor, there was no indication of any sinister intent, personal profit or other illicit gains by the participants.
October 2009 County commissioners who have a conflict of interest on a particular issue before the Nassau County Commission may be required to leave the room during debate on that issue, if a proposed ordinance passes.
February 2010: A county attorney handed over nearly 100 personal e-mails between he and his wife in an attempt to put an end to a public records lawsuit filed in federal court.
June 2001: The Callahan Town Council voted in March to reverse a 1999 ordinance that raised the price of public records above the prices set by the state. The council still faced allegations of Public Records violations stemming from instances of failure to deliver records in a timely manner, inquiring as to why individuals wanted records, denying the review of records to requesters and requiring individuals to make requests in writing or in person.
January 2006: City Clerk Cassandra Mitchell released employees’ social security numbers while filling a records request. The numbers were included in an e-mail to a former city commissioner who had requested salary information. Mitchell is currently suspended with pay while the State Attorney’s Office investigates.
February 2006 (continuation of January 2006 article): City Clerk Cassandra Mitchell will not face criminal charges for inadvertently releasing employee Social Security numbers. However, Assistant State Attorney Granville “Doc” Burgess said he would withhold a decision on filing a civil infraction pending further investigation.
January 2009 The Nassau County Commission passed a resolution calling for the state legislature to operate under the Open Meetings Law but some commissioners claimed the law impeded government business.
March 2006: The Okaloosa-Walton College Foundation board’s vote to sell land to developers has been thought to violate the Sunshine Law for a second time. The college first voted at a closed meeting in January 2005, and met again in May 2005 to vote again. An environmental advocacy group claims the second meeting also violated the Sunshine Law. Okaloosa County Judge Patricia Grinsted has not yet issued a ruling.
Fort Walton Beach:
April 2001: Charles Grande, Edward McKay, Roger Sharp and Kevin Stinette sued to get records that involve a criminal probe into environmental violations at Garcon Point Bridge. The records request to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was denied, which prompted the lawsuit on behalf of the four individuals.
December 2008: The Development Review Committee violated the Open Meetings Law for seven years by improperly holding closed-door meetings, according to city attorney Toni Craig. The city is developing plans to keep the committee’s decisions from being negated. Under the plan, the DRC would reconsider some of the projects during new meetings open to the public, and other projects would require City Council approval again.
October 2007: The Office of Open Government has been charged with helping state transportation officials and Sen. Don Gaetz reach a compromise regarding access to bridge inspection reports. Transportation security chiefs have refused to release the reports, citing a 2002 anti-terrorism law that keeps diagrams and blueprints of bridges and other public structures secret.
January 2010: A state senator has formally requested the Attorney General's advice on whether a panhandle economic agency (Florida's Great Northwest) falls under the Sunshine Law.
October 2009 The Valparaiso City Commission has voted to settle its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Air Force. Under the settlement, the Air Force will provide Valparaiso with noise data but will not release mitigation information. A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be complete by September 2010 and will include mitigation information.
June 2010 The city of Valparaiso signed a resolution that it hopes will put an end to allegations that it violated the Sunshine Law when it filed suit against the Air Force, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach).
October 2006: The Palm Beach Post requested a copy of the database and electronic maps of leaks in the Herbert Hoover Dike. The Army Corps of Engineers won’t release detailed information, citing homeland security reasons.
February 2002: Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Tim Moore admitted it was a mistake to close a portion of a November 29th meeting of the state's Domestic Security Advisory Council in Orlando. Moore said he closed the meeting because he believed that meetings in which sensitive intelligence matters were discussed were exempt.
Lake Buena Vista:
April 2006: Reporters were removed from a speech Gov. Jeb Bush delivered to the Florida Republican Party in January. Party leaders said they wanted to keep the function private so “folks were not worried about being on the record.” Bush denied responsibility for the reporters’ removal.
January 2004: Two city residents filed a complaint with state prosecutors prompting an investigation of the Maitland City Council to determine if its members violated Open Meetings laws. Former Maitland City Mayor Homer Hough, one of the complainants, filed suit after he found four of the five city council members dining with top staffers before a scheduled meeting.
October 2004: Former City Manager James Gleason filed suit against the City of Ocoee, the Ocoee Mayor and City Commissioners Scott Vanderift, Danny Howell and Scott Anderson, claiming they violated several Sunshine Laws when they voted to terminate his employment via a series of cell-phone conversations leading up to his firing.
November 2005: The State Attorney's Office charged an Ocoee city commissioner with violating the Public Records Law for allegedly discussing a proposed real estate transaction that was likely to come before the commission during a private phone conversation with a fellow commissioner.
April 2006: Former Ocoee city commissioner, Danny Howell, pleaded no contest to a civil violation of the Sunshine Law. In 2004, Howell had a phone conversation with fellow commissioner Rusty Johnson, when the two allegedly discussed a proposed real estate transaction that would come before the commission. Howell was fined $500 plus court costs.
February 2006: Elementary school teacher Jan Hall, 59, resigned after a letter she wrote to a congressman disparaging Hispanics was published in two area newspapers. The letter stated that Hispanics and Caribbean natives were harmful to schools and the US should not accept immigrants. Hall filed a petition claiming a possible violation of privacy.
June 2006: The Airline/Airport Affairs Committee will no longer record its meetings. An airline spokeswoman defended the privacy of the meetings because “much of the information discussed is proprietary.” The Sunshine Law does not require the group’s meeting to be open to the public.
July 2006: National Football League owners have passed a resolution that would keep local television cameras on the sidelines during games. According to NFL spokesman Seth Palanksy, journalists will still be able to access the field before and after games, as well as interview players in locker rooms. The resolution must be reviewed by member teams before it becomes official policy. A final decision is expected in August.
February 2007: Relatives of Melinda Duckett have sued the CNN network and talk show host Nancy Grace. Grace aggressively questioned Duckett about the disappearance of her 2-year-old son Trenton. Duckett shot herself the next day, and CNN aired the show after her death.
April 2007: Judge Rom Powell ordered Orlando station WKMG-TV Channel 6 not to air contents of documents that once belonged to a controversial political consultant. Several days later, Powell modified his prior restraint to allow publication of the information, except for medical and attorney-client details. The news station is appealing the judge’s modified order to a state appellate court.
June 2007: Hours after ordering court documents in the trial of former astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak to be sealed, Circuit Judge Marc Lubet reversed his ruling and approved their release. Nowak was charged with attempted kidnapping, burglary with assault, and battery.
June 2007: More than two years after NASA paid $26.6 million to survivors of seven space shuttle Columbia astronauts, the space agency released details of the settlements. The Orlando Sentinel received the documents after making Freedom of Information Act requests in 2005 and 2006.
June 2007: The Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution wants Circuit Judge John Marshall Kest to reverse his order sealing medical records seized from Florida pharmacies. The records were seized as part of a national inquiry into the sale of illegal steroids. Florida prosecutors argued that law enforcement agencies should have full access to records to investigate wrongdoing and follow leads.
October 2007: Sealed criminal records reached a record high last year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Of the 15,000 individuals who requested their arrest or court records to be sealed, 9,516 of them succeeded. Sealed cases are still available to the FDLE, law enforcement agencies and some state agencies.
December 2007: Orlando television station WKMG-TV prevailed in a lawsuit challenging a trial court’s order prohibiting it from airing stories about political consultant Doug Guetzloe. The 5th District Court of Appeals ruled that Guetzloe did not prove his privacy concerns outweighed the station’s First Amendment rights. Guetzloe was at the center of an election-law scandal related to a 2003 mayoral election.
March 2008: Three Orlando Weekly advertising sales representatives were arrested after police videotaped Weekly employees selling advertising space to undercover officers who claimed to be prostitutes. The employees were charged with aiding and abetting prostitution and profiting from it. The Weekly was indicted for racketeering and was accused of knowingly profiting from prostitution.
July 2008: Florida’s public universities have responded inconsistently in giving the public information about student-athlete deaths. The page length has varied between three to 407 pages for universities including the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida.
August 2008: Four Orange County Corrections Department officers under investigation for allegedly staging “inmate boxing matches” were identified to the media after Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum ruled that interoffice memoranda on the matter are public. The officers were reassigned to administrative duty apart from inmates.
November 2008: Circuit Judge George Sprinkle awarded the operator of the Veranda Park News Larry Giles $180,000 under a Florida statute that protects homeowners who petition regarding their homeowners’ associations. Giles was initially sued after he allegedly published defamatory statements about Veranda Partners, a real estate developer. Giles counterclaimed that the suit was unlawful under Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute because it intended to stop him from petitioning.
March 2009: An Orange County circuit judge has agreed to restrict access to digital images from Caylee Anthony's autopsy.
September 2010: Rolling R. Ranch Ltd. is suing the Orange County Commission alleging Sunshine Law violations.
May 2006: The 5th District Court of Appeals upheld a recall election based on Sunshine Law allegations. In March 2005, City Commissioner Bill Thompson allegedly admitted on tape that he spoke to Mayor Jack Quesinberry about a proposal to close a mobile home park. Quesinberry has denied the allegations.
February 2005: The Osceola County School District was encouraged by the State Attorney's Office to provide employees with training on the state's Public Records Law following an investigation involving allegations that school officials had violated the law by denying access.
September 2007: A state attorney’s investigation cleared Osceola County School Board members of two complaints by the public of possible Sunshine Law violations. The three board members targeted in the inquiry said no violations occurred.
March 2010: The Osceola County Commission has passed a resolution prohibiting text messaging by elected officials and employees who use county-issued phones.
December 2002: City Commissioners Werndell McKinnon and Bob Makinson were charged with misdemeanor Open Meetings violations for meeting privately to discuss actions they would later take in a public meeting.
MARCH 2003: Two Kissimmee city commissioners charged with violating the Sunshine Law after failing to notify the public about meetings accepted a deal to plead no contest to misdemeanor charges, a State Attorney’s Office official said. Commissioner Wendell McKinnon and former Commissioner Bob Makinson both made last minute pleas to avoid a criminal record. They pleaded guilty to civil violations, will face $50 fines and court costs and were cleared by the State Ethics Commission. (See also November 2002)
February 2008: The Department of Children and Families proposed a plan to the Commission on Open Government advocating more access for foster children to their personal histories. The plan would allow foster children to more easily access information from their foster histories, including previous home addresses, birth and health records.
Palm Beach County:
July 2000: The Palm Beach State Attorney began investigating members of a housing authority board for possible violations of Florida’s Open Meetings law. The state attorney’s office seems to be focusing on a Feb. 28 meeting in which the Palm Beach County Housing Finance Authority voted for the first time in 20 years to put legal contracts out to a public bid. Previously, the contracts for the authority’s attorneys were automatically renewed.
July 2001: The Department of Children and Families was sued by Anne Banks for allegedly violating the Open Meetings law when it met privately to decide to sever her maternal rights to her children.
January 2002: State prosecutors began investigating allegations that Palm Beach County's Housing Finance Authority violated the Open Meetings law after a defendant in a corruption trial testified she had witnessed violations.
December 2003: A former Palm Beach County employee appealed a circuit judge’s decision that a pre-termination conference panel that upheld the employee’s firing is not subject to the Open Meetings law. Former Department of Community Services senior secretary Lee Ellen Dascott exercised her right to appeal to a pre termination panel after she was fired. The panel upheld her firing, which was based on Dascott’s act of bringing a tape recorder to a meeting with her supervisor. Dascott’s attorney, Frederick W. Ford, argues that the closed panel meeting violated the Open Meetings law and that the termination must be rescinded, according to the brief.
February 2004: A Palm Beach Circuit Court judge ruled that prosecutors can review radio commentator Rush Limbaugh’s medical records to determine whether he illegally obtained
prescriptions from a series of doctors to support his addiction to painkillers. Limbaugh’s attorneys had fought to keep the records sealed, arguing that releasing the documents would violate Limbaugh’s right to privacy. Judge Jeffrey A. Winikoff disagreed, ruling that the state’s interest in determining whether Limbaugh broke the law surpassed his privacy concerns. Prosecutors, however, may not make the records public. Roy Black, Limbaugh’s attorney, filed a notice of appeal after the ruling and, in a separate motion, asked the court to stay its order until the appeals court had reviewed the case.
July 2004: The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that a Palm Beach County grievance panel violated the state Sunshine Law when it decided to fire a senior secretary behind closed
doors. The appellate decision reversed a ruling in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court and, according to The Palm Beach Post, could change the county’s firing procedures by requiring that all disciplinary committee hearings be open to the public. The ruling stemmed from the firing of Lee Ellen Dascott, a former secretary in the county’s Department of Community Services. According to court filings, Dascott was suspended by a county grievance committee in 1998 for allegedly using “conduct unbecoming of a public employee.” She was left out of the committee’s deliberations, the county’s first violation, according to her lawsuit.
December 2004: America's Families United, a non-profit organization, filed a lawsuit against Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, claiming she violated the Public Records Law when she refused to provide copies of rejected voter registration applications. LePore said that the law allows public examination but precludes copying of the applications, because they contain sensitive personal information such telephone numbers, social security numbers and driver's license information.
April 2005: A voting-rights activist paid $4,500 as a down payment to access internal logs from voting and tabulating machines used in the 2004 presidential election in an attempt to document voter fraud in Palm Beach County.
March 2006: Prison Legal News has filed suit against a Florida prison operator, Geo Group, alleging Public Records Law violations. Prison Legal News publishes a monthly newsletter, and when it requested documents related to lawsuits, contract audits, violations and court-ordered injunctions against Geo Group, it received limited information.
September 2008: County commissioners provided preliminary budget documents used in the decision-making process online in an effort to inform the public about budgeting. Commissioners also streamed and archived budget workshops on the site.
March 2010: A public defender's request for a blanket ban on the release of evidence in a murder trial and a gag order on all participants will be avoided after attorneys for the media stepped in to encourage a compromise.
September 2010: A member of the Palm Beach County Commission has pleaded guilty to extortion, perjury and violating the Open Meetings Law.
September 2004: The League for Educational Awareness of the Holocaust (LEAH) filed a lawsuit against the city of Boca Raton and The Rouse Co., claiming they violated the state’s Open Meetings Law. The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) chose a plan submitted by Rouse to renovate an old cartoon museum. LEAH submitted a competing proposal, which it said was dismissed in an unfair process that favored Rouse. The group asked the courts to stop negotiations between Rouse and the city, award it the building lease and pay its legal fees. In addition to accusations of discrimination, the lawsuit detailed claims that the city violated the state Sunshine Law when it failed to provide public notice of its sessions.
September 2004: Deborah Bennett sued Delray Beach Mayor Jeff Perlman for access to documents detailing his publishing venture with the Palm Beach County School Board. Bennett was contracted by the school board to produce six editions of "Education Today" to be published by Perlman's company "Magnum Publishing." The suit claims that because Perlman stood to earn $70,000 of public money as a result of the arrangement, documents detailing the project should be made public. The suit was dismissed by a judge in November of 2004.
January 2005: A West Palm Beach resident filed a complaint with the State Attorney's Office, claiming the Delray Beach City Commission violated Florida's Open Meetings Law by privately discussing the addition of bike paths to State Road A1A.
August 2005: A former mayor of the city filed a lawsuit against city officials claiming they violated the Sunshine Law while selling city properties. The suit alleges that the city manager held a meeting in his office to draft the order to sell the property after commissioners had earlier decided not to sell.
November 2007: The Community Land Trust of Palm Beach County has agreed to operate under Florida’s open government laws. The trust is a nonprofit that will buy property and build and sell homes, retaining the titles so that it can remain affordable.
August 2009 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 director.
September 2010 A task force created by the Palm Beach Town Council to monitor the county budget must meet in the Sunshine, according to a decision by the council.
December 2010: The 4th District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court ruling that the city must maintain minutes of its agenda-review meetings.
May 2006: The Wellington Village Council unanimously voted down a proposed resolution that would bar residents from asking council members questions or referring to them or staff in a “negative manner” during meetings. The council directed staffers to delete phrases from the resolution related to how residents should speak during meetings.
West Palm Beach:
January 1999: A police union complained that the WPB Sheriff's Office violated Open Records law by withholding details of an internal affairs investigation.(A three-judge panel later ruled on the incident in April 2000).
January 2000: Judge Terry Lewis (2nd Judicial Circuit) ordered a group of municipal utilities to make public the terms of its legal settlement with the Florida Power & Light Group (FPL). The Florida Municipal Power Agency claimed that FPL broke its contract to sell electricity to the utilities including power companies in Clewiston, Fort Pierce and Vero Beach. Under the agreement reached in October, FPL will pay the utilities a cash settlement and enter into a new power-buying agreement, giving the city utilities the right to buy power at a specific price. The Palm Beach Post sued the power company for access to the settlement, and the circuit judge ruled in the newspaper’s favor.
April 2000: The Palm Beach Sheriff's Office violated the Public Records law by withholding the results of an internal affairs investigation according to a three-judge panel from the 4th District Court of Appeals.
November 2003: The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Public Records lawsuit against a maximum-security prison for girls. The lawsuit charges the Florida Institute for Girls juvenile prison in suburban West Palm Beach with “illegal, malicious and willful” evasion of the Public Records law. The attorney who filed the suit, Frank Kreidler, requested a variety of records from the prison after hearing inmates’complaints about their treatment. Since the request of the records, staff members of the prison have been accused of sexual misconduct and breaking the arms of two inmates while restraining them.
April 2007: Criminal charges have been dropped against freelance journalist James S. Henry, 56, who was arrested in 2004 for photographing voters waiting in line at the polls. Henry was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, unlawful solicitation of voters and resisting arrest without violence.
June 2007: Rep. Mary Brandenburg (D-West Palm Beach) is fighting the release of a grand jury report to the public, though her attempts have failed at the circuit court level. Brandenburg testified before the grand jury during its investigation of “pay to play” city politics. She maintained that she opposed the release of the report’s details in order to avoid distractions during the legislative session.
November 2007: South Florida lawmakers are continuing to challenge the release of a grand jury report which examines the role of campaign contributions in city contracts and project approvals. Lawmakers hope the Fourth District Court of Appeals will reverse a lower court’s ruling that the report should be open to the public.
January 2008: The South Florida Water Management District has created an Office of Ombuds and Open Government, which combine the SFWMD’s public records, ombudsman and citizen services functions into one main location.
February 2008: The names of Palm Beach County School Board employees enrolled in the deferred retirement option program (DROP) are public records, according to Circuit Judge Elizabeth Maass. Following the ruling, district officials have agreed to provide many of the records, but other issues raised in the suit remain unresolved.
March 2008: Portions of a grand jury report about Mayor Lois Frankel’s delay of a 2004 rebroadcast on the city’s public access cable channel will not be deleted from the report. The rebroadcast was of a city meeting in which citizens criticized the city’s efforts to fight crime.
October 2008: Discussions about the state’s proposed $1.75 billion buyout of U.S. Sugar violated the Open Meetings Law, according to a lawsuit filed by former U.S. attorney Dexter Lehtinen. Under the deal, U.S. Sugar would cease business and sell its land to the state. The 187,000 acres of farmland would be converted to marshes and reservoirs to help restore the Everglades.
November 2010: Media wins access to records in Jupiter capital murder trial.
October 2007: The Village of Tequesta is seeking $69,000 in attorney’s fees from council member Basil Dalack following a legal dispute over the village’s oath of office. In 2006 Dalack won a council seat, but objected to the oath of office, claiming the pledge to support the government violated his First Amendment rights by forcing him to say he supported President Bush and the war. Tequesta has spent $130,539 defending Dalack’s suit. Dalack lost at the trial and appellate level in federal court.
January 2000: A Pasco County "adult clubs consultant" filed a complaint with the State Attorney's Office claiming that former Assistant County Attorney R.C. Burnette violated the Public Records law by withholding a study on regulating adult business.
November 2010: Pasco County ha smoved its e-mail system to the "cloud" meaning that it will be stored online through a third-party service in the hopes of quicker more accurate response to public records requests.
New Port Richey:
May 2005: The city council agreed to pay $45,000 in damages to a former employee who alleged that city officials did not address his public records requests. The city also agreed to provide employees with training on the Sunshine Law.
August 2006: A circuit judge ruled that Pinellas County violated the Public Records Law when it refused to release a settlement agreement between the county and a former employee, Rick Dodge. Since the county lost the lawsuit, it must pay the St. Petersburg Times’ legal bill of $19,806.
June 2007: Fired City Manager Steven Stanton turned in two portable storage devices after the city demanded to review the devices to determine if any public records had been removed from Stanton’s city-issued laptop computer. Stanton was fired about a month after revealing he planned to become a woman named Susan Stanton.
January 2010: A county housing authority has complained to prosecutors about its city counterpart, alleging a violation of the Open Records Law.
October 2008: Circuit Judge Linda Allan ruled that crime scene photographs of the suicide of Deborah Palfrey, the D.C. Madam, are public but cannot be copied or published. Judge Allan said the order was a temporary injunction that could be revisited.
January 2009 An internal audit revealed that hundreds of documents were not being destroyed as required by law. Personal information was found in documents placed in the trash. The IAD is "not aware o fany instances " where the public may have had access to the documents according to the Tampa Tribune.
August 2009 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.
June 2007: Fired City Manager Steven Stanton turned in two portable storage devices after the city demanded to review the devices to determine if any public records had been removed from Stanton’s city-issued laptop computer. Stanton was fired about a month after revealing he planned to become a woman named Susan Stanton.
March 2008: The Tampa Bay Water utility board was criticized by state officials and media attorneys after it held what they considered to be an unannounced meeting to vote for a new general manager. Tampa Bay Water usually advertises a notice of its board meetings and agendas on the utility’s Web site, but this meeting was advertised in a publication that circulates to a few lawyers and two dozen public libraries.
November 2008: An 11-member group created to search for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays has agreed to open its discussions, meetings, e-mails and other documents to public review. The group agreed to solicit public input at some meetings and hold public forums in order to combat the criticism that it does not represent the interests of Tampa Bay residents.
April 2006: A circuit judge ruled that Pinellas County violated the Public Records Law by refusing to release a settlement agreement with an ex-employee. Judge Mark I. Shames ordered the county to disclose the settlement to the St. Petersburg Times, who sought to access records relating to an agreement between the county and fired assistant administrator Rick Dodge.
January 2007: A seminar regarding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was hosted by the First Amendment Foundation and The Poynter Institute. The seminar was put on to clarify myths and realities about the federal law that protects patient privacy.
September 2007: The child welfare records of a 2-year-old girl whose disappearance from a Lake County foster home went unreported for months were released after a Pinellas Circuit judge found “good cause” to open them to the public. The 900-page case file of Courtney Clark was released by Chief Judge David Demers after the St. Petersburg Times and The Tampa Tribune asked the court to make the records available to the public.
September 2008: City and county officials approved a $34.4 million incentive package deal for Jabil Circuit but withheld the details from the public. Hours before a city council meeting, the deal was added to the agenda, the commission also approved the deal in two separate meetings without explicitly identifying Jabil.
April 2009: An attorney filed a lawsuite protesting a $7721.35 charge resulting from a public records request for e-mails and documentsw related to a separate lawsuit.
January 2010 A county housing authority has complained to prosecutors about its city counterpart alleging a violation of the Open Records Law.
February 2010: Facebook friendships should be avoided among lawyers and judges, according to a recent opinion of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.
August 1999: A Circuit Judge awarded attorney fees to The St. Pete Times in a suit versus the governing foundation of Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital to determine whether the foundation was exempt from state access laws. Despite that award, the judge previously ruled in favor of the foundation, determining that it was in fact exempt from the Sunshine Law.
October 2003: The weekly Clearwater Gazette and Beach Views newspaper filed suit against Belleair Beach Mayor Mike Kelley, alleging he violated the Sunshine Law when he prevented the distribution of the paper as well as restricting a reporter's access to public documents.
August 1999: State Auditor General, Charles Lester, determined that the Polk Community College trustees violated the Open Meetings law by inviting four candidates for the position of college president to an informal party. The ruling was based on the fact that the party served as a means of evaluating the candidates in a social setting, and was consequently subject to state Sunshine Laws.
December 1999: A Lakeland attorney filed suit against the Polk County Commission for an Open Meetings violation stemming from their failure to provide adequate notice of their weekly agenda review sessions.
December 2007: The disappearance of 1,000 archived e-mails from Eagle Lake City Hall has prompted an investigation by law enforcement. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is looking into the missing e-mails from Mayor Suzy Wilson to city officials. It is not known whether the e-mails were intentionally deleted or are missing because of a computer problem.
August 2008: The Polk County Opportunity Council Open Meetings Law violators were fined $278 apiece, but were billed almost $163,000 for defense by Tampa law firm Ford & Harrison. Their attorney unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the ruling three times, which constituted a significant portion of the fees.
August 2009 A school board attorney was ordered to pay $475.50 in fines and costs by a county judge after pleading no contest to violating florida's Public Records Law.
September 2010: Polk county is using interactive webcasts as a new tool to engage citizens in local government.
December 2005: The State Attorney's Office is investigating a possible Sunshine Law violation by the Polk County Opportunity Council after it closed a portion of a public meeting to meet privately with legal counsel.
February 2006: Ten members of the Polk County Opportunity Council Board of Directors were charged with violating the Sunshine Law when they closed a meeting in September during which the board discussed former executive director Carolyn Speed. Each member could pay up to a $500 fine if convicted of the civil infraction.
March 2006: The ACLU filed suit in federal court against Polk County, claiming the county’s requirements to use the free-speech zone were unconstitutional. The ACLU and Polk County have reached a temporary agreement.
April 2006: (continuation from March 2006): The Polk County Commission voted to end a controversial free speech zone. This move will likely end in a lawsuit filed against the county by the American Civil Liberties Union who claims the zone is unconstitutional.
April 2006 (continuation from Februay 2006 article): Ten council members of the Polk County Opportunity Council, a nonprofit agency, are charged with violating the Sunshine Law when they held a secret meeting to discuss the firing of their executive director. The PCOC’s lawyers argue that the law doesn’t apply to members because they are volunteers, not public officers. However, County Judge Anne Kaylor ruled that the members are subject to the law.
June 2006 (continuation from February and April 2006 article): County Judge Anne Kaylor found ten members of the Polk County Opportunity Council guilty of violating the Sunshine Law for discussing former executive director Carolyn Speed at a closed meeting in September.
June 2006: The state Commission on Ethics found no probable cause to find that two Polk County commissioners, Jack Myers and Paul Senft, abused their positions by providing the memo to a landowner who sought a zoning change from the commission. The memo concerned a landowner’s attempt to change the zoning for 10 acres from residential to industrial.
September 2006 (continuation of a February, April and June 2006 article): Members of the Polk County Opportunity Council (PCOC) appealed County Judge Anne Kaylor’s ruling that they were guilty of violating the Sunshine Law. The charges stemmed from a September 2005 closed meeting. On appeal, the members maintain that neither they nor the PCOC are subject to the Sunshine Law. The PCOC is a nonprofit agency that aims to help the area’s poor with its $13 million annual budget.
January 2007 (continuation of February, April, June and September 2006 articles): Lawyer for the Polk County Opportunity Council, William Grob, appealed the decision made by county judge that 10 of the council’s board members had violated the Sunshine Law. The verdict stems from a 2005 closed meeting.
March 2007: A circuit judge denied the appeal of Polk County Opportunity Council board members who challenged their non-criminal infraction convictions for violating the Sunshine Law. Chief Circuit Judge Ron Herring upheld convictions handed down by County Judge Anne Kaylor.
May 2007: Board members of the Polk County Opportunity Council found guilty of violating the Sunshine Law appealed their civil infraction convictions to the 2nd District Court of Appeals, but the Attorney General’s Office has asked the court not to hear the case. The 2nd District requested the advice of the AGO prior to deciding whether to take the case.
October 2007 (continuation of a May 2007 article): The Polk County Opportunity Council has reached a dead-end in their effort to overturn a ruling that they violated the Open Meetings Law. The 2nd District Court of Appeals rejected the PCOC’s motion for rehearing. Because the court did not issue a written opinion, the PCOC has nothing to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
December 2008: A circuit judge ordered the Polk County School District to turn over the names, phone numbers, addresses and dependents’ names of the nearly 13,000 employees receiving health care. The PCSD unsuccessfully argued the information requested by copy salesperson Joel Chandler was protected under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The PCSD was also ordered to pay Chandler’s attorneys’ fees.
March 2009: New legislation has been introduced to prohibit the release of information of children insured under health insurance plans through their parents who are current or former employees of state agenices and also to make personal identifying information of the health and benefit coverage of a public school employee, spouse and dependents confidential.
May 2010: A Lakeland resident has filed suit against the Lakeland Police Dept. alleging the $23.50 fee for a one-page report violated the Public Records Law.
May 2010: Circuit Judge Robert Rouse ruled that cell phone records that document personal calls made on public phones are public records in Florida. This ruling stems from a lawsuit seeking cell phone records of New Smyrna Beach Police Commander Bill Drossman who had been accused (but was cleared)of forwarding a racist e-mail.
September 2007:Almost 20 students at Interlachen High School protested their school’s policy banning the display of the Confederate flag by hanging the flag from their vehicles in the school parking lot. IHS Dean Andrew Burnett told students the reason for the ban was the concern that motorists driving on the road running adjacent to the school might be offended by the battle flags.
November 2001: An audit of the town of Welaka's business practices identified several problems, including failure to keep public records and several instances of Open Meetings violations. The closed records include financial records of two $50,000 certificates of deposit, and not providing adequate public notice of a scheduled vote to raise the council members' and mayor's pay.
December 2002: The State Attorney's Office charged Mayor Gordon Sands with violating the Open Meetings law for meeting with a town council member in March 2000 to discuss upcoming votes they would take at a public meeting. Sands met with Shirley Gillins to discuss nominating another member as council president.
July 2003: Judge Peter Miller withheld adjudication of guilt on former Welaka Town Official Steve Richardson on an Public Records violation. Richardson refused to allow Bob and Pat Ford, two Welaka citizens, to inspect a sign-out sheet of recreational equipment.
JULY 2003: Former Welaka town official Steve Richardson was found guilty of violating Florida’s Public Records Law. Richardson will not have a criminal record in the case, but he was ordered to pay a $150 fine. Richardson was accused of refusing to let two men inspect a sign-out sheet of recreational equipment, which according to the complaint, was accessible immediately.
December 2002: Six lawsuits were filed against a water authority formed by the City of Gulf Breeze. The lawsuits sought to stop the sale of a private company to the town for a sewage system improvement, and alleged in part that the authority's decision to purchase the company was void because it violated Open Meetings laws (meetings were not public and not announced in advance).
September 2009: The State Attorney's Office for the 1st judicial Circuit is reviewing several complaints of Sunshine Law violations by county commissioners. The State's Attorney's Office has said the inquiry is considered a "review" and not an "investigation".
January 2010: Santa Rosa County commissioners have adopted a new e-mail policy based on the recommendations of a State Attorney's Office report, after an investigation which determined an exchange of e-mails between commissioners regarding the Regional Transportation Authority were not a violation but were "troubling."
December 2009: A Santa Rosa County economic development council operated outside of the Sunshine and Public Records Law for years, according to a State Attorney's Office investigation. The investigation into TEAM Santa Rosa waas prompted by citizen complaints which also accused Santa Rosa county commissioners of violating open government laws.
January 2010: Santa Rosa County commissioners have adopted a new e-mail policy based on the recommendations of a State Attorney's Office report. It prohibits the use of private e-mails to conduct county business. It also encourages commissioners to avoid e-mail communications with each other and put a disclaimer on e-mails to other commnissioners warning against a response.
May 2008: Circuit Judge Deno Economou reaffirmed his denial of a defense motion for a 60-day delay of public release of documents about the murder of Denise Lee. Assistant Public Defender John Scotese argued that the documents should be kept sealed for a “reasonable time” to avoid prejudicial publicity.
June 2008: The Sarasota Circuit Court dismissed a 2006 defamation suit filed by elementary school principal Eddie Hundley against TV new station WWSB-TV, ABC7 after 10 months of inactivity on his behalf. Hundley claimed the station’s assistant manager and news director spread misinformation about his 2002 arrest for stalking, a change that had been dropped.
August 2008: The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office posts the names of all people arrested online, however, it has been leaving off the arrests of law enforcement officers and their relatives. According to a sheriff’s spokesman, the records were left off because the office’s computers were unable to redact protected information such as the addresses and photographs of the law enforcement officers in addition to their spouses and children.
August 2008: The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office settled a suit alleging the office failed to give the public enough notice of disciplinary hearings. In exchange for dropping the suit, the sheriff’s office is required to have a training session on open government laws, amend its internal rules and pay $15,613 in attorney fees to the plaintiff.
August 2008: Public officials in Venice admitted to deleting e-mails sent to the clerk’s office, citing a misunderstanding of Public Records Law requirements. Under an agreement approved by the council two years ago, the sender, not the city clerk, is the records custodian.
September 2008: Thirty-seven Florida hospital groups and the Florida Medical Association sued the Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Attorney General’s Office, to keep records of medical errors from the public. The groups claim the federal medical privacy laws trump state law.
September 2008: The Google Map project enables internet users to tour nearly every road in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. The maps are extremely detailed, sometimes showing citizens engaged in everyday business, but have caused controversy in some larger cities.
December 2008: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement asked the court to decide who owns the software used in machines that determine DUI defendants’ blood-alcohol content. The defendants claim if the state owns the software, it must disclose the code under the Public Records Law. The FDLE says the code is a confidential trade secret owned by the manufacturer. The ruling affects whether the defendants can examine the Intoxylizer 8000 software code for anything that might cause a false positive.
December 2008: The Venice City Council allegedly used code-names for city officials, hand-delivered memoranda and private citizens to evade the Public Records Law. The motion, filed by a citizen suing the city and a dozen former and current officials, says the council and the airport advisory board members used five private citizens to relay information on airport plans.
December 2009: E-mail correspondence among Sarasota County Commissioners related to a potential offer of $41millin in taxpayer funds to the Baltimore Orioles could be the focus of an open government lawsuit.
May 2010: A Sarasota County Commissioner surrendered his personal computer after being sued by two ciitzen groups who claim he violated open government laws by not turning over at least 28 county-related e-mails from his personal e-mail address.
September 2010:A circuit judge has ruled in favor of Sarasota County following a trial on alleged violations of the Open Meetings and Public Records laws.
December 2010: The Florida Supreme Court has denied an appeal by citizens groups who claim that Sarasota County officials broke the Open Meetings Law while negotiating a spring training deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
August 2005: Judges in the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that a judge erred when he sealed records in the case against accused killer Joseph P. Smith, saying it would be an "unnecessary annoyance and embarrassment" to witnesses who have had medical or drug problems. The appellate court found no legal basis for the closure.
February 2006: Attorney General Charlie Crist withdrew his petition for a full U.S. Supreme Court review of a state appellate court’s decision to allow the media to view autopsy photos presented as evidence in trial. Crist intended to keep autopsy photos of Carlie Brucia sealed, but was unsuccessful in his request to the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts.
April 2006: Eddie Hundley, the principal of an elementary school, is suing a news station, alleging that the assignment manager Ric Russo and news director Kay Miller defamed him. The suit stems from Hundley’s 2002 arrest for stalking his girlfriend, in which prosecutors dropped the charge. The suit states that Russo recruited parents to stand in front of the school and pass out copies of the police report from the arrest, but offered no evidence showing the charge was dropped.
October 2006: A sealed lawsuit that involved a Republican candidate for Congress, Vern Buchanan remained out of public view prior to a Sept. 5 primary election which he won. The lawsuit was related to Buchanan’s involvement in developing the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton. The other parties to the suit agreed to release the information, but attorneys for Buchanan objected.
December 2006 (continuation of October 2006 article): Vern Buchanan, winner of a seat in Congress, finally dropped objections to opening his suit with the developers of the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton. Buchanan had successfully kept the details of the lawsuit sealed prior to the September primary election because he feared his opponents would use the case to damage his reputation.
April 2007: Photos related to the homicide of a 6-year-old girl were leaked to Sarasota news station WWSB ABC-7. The leak resulted in a criminal investigation. The judge ruled against a ban on publishing the photos and declined to impose a prior restraint on the news station.
December 2007: The trial and documents related to NBA player Tracy McGrady’s child support obligations will be open to the public, even though both sides argued for closure. However, the Manatee Herald-Tribune argued and the judge agreed that the desire of both parties to litigate in private did not meet the heavy burden required to close the case.
June 2010: A discussion between two Civil Service Board members during a break from a public meeting landed both in hot water with the city. A city employee allegedly overheard volunteer board members Dan Major and Frederic Bigio discussing the fired police officer whose appeal was being heard by the board. City officials accused the pair of violating the Sunshine Law and moved to recuse them from the board during the meeting.
April 2009: The City Council voted to accept a settlement brought against five fomer city officials alleging improper use of e-mails in violation of the Sunshine Law. The city will pay legal fees for both sides estimated at $1 million.
November 2009: The city of Venice has been ordered to pay more than $775,000 in legal fees in connection with an open government lawsuit filed last year by a citizen activist.
August 2010: The Venice Taxpayers League has reached a settlement in its open meetings lawsuit against the Sarasota County School Board.
January 2000: Oviedo City Councilman Tom O'Hanlon admits he may have violated the spirit of the Public Records law, prompting the Oviedo City Council to drop an investigation of O'Hanlon's handling of a Public Records request.
August 2001: The Sanford Housing Authority Board agreed to settle a lawsuit with two tenants who claimed the board violated the Open Meetings law when they secretly met to allow four former housing board members to resign.
March 2006: Jett Aire, a former airline fuel company, is suing the city of Sanford and the Sanford Airport Authority, claiming secret meetings cost the company millions. Jett Aire is seeking over $100 million in damages, alleging the city violated the agreement by doing business with another fuel company, the meetings that led to which were in violation of the Sunshine
August 2008: The Winter Springs City Attorney Anthony Garganese ruled that a commissioner could serve on a homeowner’s association board without a conflict of interest. Garganese did caution that association meetings should not be used to circumvent Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Ponte Vedra Beach:
January 2008: A committee which was designed to recommend names for a new high school and address other educational issues is not subject to the Sunshine Law, according to the St. Johns School Board attorney, Frank Upchurch. Because the school board did not delegate duties to the committee, the law did not apply. Despite this determination, the meetings will be open to the public because panels formed to advise governmental bodies are typically subject to the Open Meetings Law.
November 2008: During discussions to support a resolution to amend the Florida Constitution to make state legislators operate under the Open Meetings Law, an outgoing St. Johns County Commissioner Ben Rich slammed the law, calling it “garbage” that “suspends the rights of people to talk.” No vote was taken on the resolution, but commissioners expressed their opinions.
March 1999: State Attorney John Tanner determined that the Municipal Service District trustees violated the Open Meetings law when they held closed-door meetings to finalize a $6.3 million sewer project. The officials issued a public apology and took corrective measures, rendering decisions made in the closed-door meeting void.
May 2009: An attorney in St. John's County warned homeowner associations(HOA) an dassociation subcommittees in Ponte Vedra Beach that they may be violating the sunshine law.
August 2004: Thelma Shearer, Robert Ulanowicz and Rose Walker, residents of the Ponce De Leon Golf Course Community filed suit against the city, claiming the approval of a development project should be reversed because the plan may have been negotiated with developer Chester Stokes prior to the city commission's meeting.
November 2006: Copies of the Gargoyle, the student newspaper at Flagler College, were pulled off the stands after College President William Abare objected to the article’s headline and sub-headline. Abare interviewed with journalism student Kimberly Hosey, who wrote an article accompanying the reportedly inaccurate headlines regarding the school’s finances and tuition hikes. Abare will allow the newspaper to reprint the issue if the headline and sub-headline are corrected.
November 2010: The 450th anniversary of the city of St. Augustine and the plans surrounding the celebration have raised Sunshine Law issues for city commissioners.
St. John's County:
March 2004: Saint John's County officials admitted they failed to provide notice to the public about their meeting with legislators and therefore unintentionally violated the Open Meetings law. Although the meeting was announced at a previous workshop meeting, written notice was never supplied to the public or media, a condition of Sunshine Law compliance.
June 2006: Florida law contains a public records exemption for economic development agencies, and the Fort Pierce City Commission has voted to create one. By doing so, any conversation with prospective employers will be kept from public view for up to two years.
November 2006: During an anti-gang rally, Fort Pierce police threw away copies of Urban Village magazine because it contained photos of youths exhibiting gang hand gestures and wearing gang colors. The magazine’s publisher and a substitute teacher, Jauhnisha Oliver, did not agree with the police actions and claims the photos in question featured her students and were taken at locations away from school. Oliver, who is black, has filed a complaint with the St. Lucie County chapter of the NAACP.
December 2006: Deputy City Manager David Recor will pay a fine and attend public records training after pleading no contest to a Public Records Law violation in which he shredded the original copies of officer evaluations. Florida law requires original copies of personnel records to be retained for 50 years past termination of employment.
March 2008: The State Attorney’s Office said it found “absolutely no evidence” that Mayor Bob Benton and two city commissioners violated the Sunshine law when they decided to hear an appeal regarding the demolition of the historic Governor’s House. The complaint raised concerns that the appeal was discussed behind closed doors
Port Saint Lucie:
June 1999: Paul Curry, a private citizen, filed a complaint in the 19th Judicial Circuit against CORE, a private provider of misdemeanor probation services, over its failure to produce certain records for his inspection. A judge subsequently ruled that CORE is subject to Open Records law and ordered the company to produce the documents.
December 2010: The union representing Port St. Lucie police officers claims in a lawsuit that the city council took a secret vote on a budget measure that would eleminate 24 police jobs and three civilian jobs.
January 2010 A town manager was terminated after the inadvertent release of a CD with the Social Security numbers of 99 town employees.
May 2008: Sumter County law enforcement agencies have been providing victims of certain violent crimes with the opportunity to remove their names from the public record, a practice which is contrary to Florida Law. Victims of domestic violence, aggravated stalking, harassment and aggravated battery are able to petition for their names and contact information to be removed from the public record for five years.
December 2008: Will Pruitt, chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Lake County, said all public records requests must be reviewed by an attorney. According to the First Amendment Foundation director, the review of the requests could delay the release of the information.
February 1999: Edgewater City and The Daytona Beach News-Journal settled a lawsuit accusing three city councilmen of violating the Open Meetings law during an October 1997 meeting. The council supposedly met in secret about firing the city manager and discussing the hiring of his replacement.
April 2000: Private meetings held between DiMucci Development Corporation and the Daytona Beach City Council on five separate occasions were determined to have violated the Open Meetings law after a complaint was filed with the council by The Daytona Beach News Journal.
July 2003: Circuit Judge David Walsh refused to throw out a lawsuit against three Ormond Beach Commissioners which alleges they violated the Sunshine Law by coordinating the firing and subsequent rehiring of City Manager Isaac Turner.
August 2004: R. Bruce McLaughlin, a land-use planner who represents several adult entertainment venues, filed a lawsuit against the City of Daytona Beach, claiming city officials violated the Public Records law when they failed to respond to a records request he made for all communications between city officials and Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, the largest property owner in Volusia County.
April 2005: A circuit court ruled that hospitals are subject to the Public Records Law when they receive public reimbursement for services and act pursuant to government authority.
May 2005: A circuit court judge ruled that photographs and video from a murder crime scene should be temporarily withheld from the public. Motions were filed by both the state and the defense to seal the records.
October 2005: A circuit judge authorized gag orders in the cases of five teenagers accused of beating a homeless man to death.
June 2006: Florida Hospital DeLand does not need to comply with Florida’s open government laws, according to a ruling issued by the 5th District Court of Appeals. The hospital was not subject to open government laws because Memorial Hospital-West Volusia Inc. bought the hospital from the West Volusia Hospital Authority taxing district. The Florida legislature has since passed a bill allowing corporations that purchase public hospitals to be exempt from open government laws.
July 2006: Circuit Judge William Parsons allowed the public and press to attend a hearing about statements given by one of four suspects in the 2004 Deltona mass murder. Jerone Hunter, 19, and three others are accused of beating six people and a dog to death in August 2004.
May 2010: Daytona State College Board of Trustees chose to re-do a previously held meeting after a complaint that the public were turned away from the public meeting.
April 2002: Circuit Judge Joseph Will found a 1998 law that exempted private corporations running public hospitals from Florida's Sunshine Law was unconstitutional; he also ruled that a Deland hospital's efforts to close records between 1999 and the passage of the law in 1998 were also illegal. This halted Deland Hospital's efforts to bar the public from its business meetings and records.
JULY 2003: In Deland, Oak Hill City Commissioner Bob Jackson pleaded no contest to charges that he violated the Open Meetings Law. Jackson has been ordered by a county court to pay $250 in fines, and to take a Sunshine Law class. Jackson was accused of illegally meeting with Commissioner Ron Mercer to discuss several issues scheduled to come before the commission.
July 2004: Tanner Andrews, a private citizen, filed a lawsuit against Volusia County, claiming that private meetings in September of 2003 between the Lively Arts Center Inc. and individual town council members violated the Open Meetings law.
February 2006: The Deltona City Commission has decided to replace the traditional prayer before its meeting with a moment of silence. Commissioner William Harvey supported the move, and said the moment of silence would be better for the purposes of promoting diversity.
October 2006: The State Attorney’s Office won’t pursue charges stemming from a private tour of the city by City Commissioner Janet Deyette, Mayor Dennis Mulder and four candidates for city mayor. Linda Pruitt, the State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, said there was not sufficient evidence to find Deyette violated the Sunshine Law.
May 2010: A local weekly newspaper has filed suit against Orange City, asking a judge to order city officials to furnish public records related to a police lieutenant under investigation. The suit, filed by the parent company of the West Volusia Beacon, claims the newspaper’s efforts to cover the investigation have been impeded by the city’s refusal to respond to public records requests, and the Beacon wants a judge to order the city officials to hand over the public records.
June 2009: A reporter from the News Journal was denied access to a local hospital’s meeting in which officials considered the future fate of its operations. Memorial Health Systems and the The News Journal have been at odds regarding access to the hospital’s records and meetings. In January, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the private corporation created to run Memorial Hospital is subject to the Open Meetings and Public Records laws because it acts on behalf of the taxing district’s Hospital Authority. The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the 1998 exemption, but refused to apply it retroactively to the Memorial Hospital.
June 2009: The Deltona city commission voted 6-1 to ban commissioners from using cell phones or text messaging during commission meetings.
New Smyrna Beach:
August 2010: The city of New Smyrna Beach has agreed to settle a public records lawsuit over cell phone records.
October2010: The Southeast Volusia Hopsital District will start over a nearly two-year long negotiation process for a possible hospital merger after The Daytona Beach News-Journal and a lawsuit drew attention to a series of closed meetings.
January 2003:The State Attorney's Office charged City Commissioners Robert Jackson and Ronald Mercer for violating the Open Meetings law by privately meeting to discuss city business, specifically a state grant application, the appointment of city officials and the licensing a restaurant. Ron Mercer was ordered to pay a $500 fine in 2004.
October 2006:Ron Mercer was charged with disrupting a public meeting on Feb. 27 when he interrupted to ask if commissioners followed proper procedure. Former City Attorney Mary Hansen filed the charge, saying Mercer “waved his cane” and was threatened with removal. Volusia County Judge John Roger Smith found Mercer not guilty, concluding that his actions did not amount to “willful” disruption.
June 2006: The Ormond Beach City Commission has adopted a policy that seeks to prevent those who speak during audience remarks from making the same point at three different meetings. According to the new policy, Mayor Fred Costello can ask speakers to provide new information or switch topics if they attempt to make the same remarks about a subject at a third meeting. The “repeat” policy applies to the portion of meetings when residents are permitted five minutes to talk about any matter not on the agenda
February 1999: The Daytona Beach News-Journal sued Volusia County and the clerk of court for denying access to results of a vote to remove Phyllis Garvin from the city council.
December 2000: Following objections by residents over a closed door meeting, the Utilities Commission reaffirmed its $7.6 million purchase of 1,100 acres as part of a court settlement
with a private landowner at a specially called public meeting. In 1996 and 1998, the city used its powers of eminent domain to acquire 85 acres from Samson Land Trust. The group sued the city, alleging that the taking and construction of a wastewater treatment plant damaged its marketing ability. In a closed door session, the Utility Commission approved the settlement purchase. Following concerns raised by attorney Jon Kaney, representing the News-Journal, the county agreed to reaffirm its settlement decision at a special public meeting.
NOVEMBER 2003: Volusia County Judge Mary Jane Henderson imposed a noncriminal judgment against Oak Hill City Commissioner Ron Mercer for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. He was fined $500. The judgment stems from a conversation between Mercer and another commissioner, Bob Jackson, in Jackson’s driveway in January 2002. The pair reportedly discussed the possible appointment of Jackson as mayor. (See also December 2002, July 2003, and August 2005)
April 2006: Circuit Court Judge Edwin Sanders ruled that Volusia County Council members did not violate the law when they met individually with Lively Arts Center board members prior to approving the $2.4 million grant. Despite the allegations, the center will go ahead as planned.
November 2006: The Wakulla Independent Reporter is challenging the Florida Election Commission’s designation of the publication as an “electioneering communication” subject to fines if it publishes again. The paper’s editor, Julia Hanway alleges her publication is protected by the First Amendment and should not be subject to Florida election laws.
November 2006: Howard Kessler, a Wakulla County commissioner violated state law when he declined to vote at an emergency meeting. Kessler attended the meeting, but refused to vote because he felt the community did not receive adequate notice of the meeting. Florida law requires commissioners to vote unless they have a conflict of interest. Kessler won’t be penalized because no penalty was established by the legislature, according to State Attorney Willie Meggs.
January 2009: The county Canvassing Board met briefly behind a closed, locked door at the supervisor's office. Members closed it to block out noise and it was opened when a reporter sought entrance.
February 2010: On the eve of trial, Walton County Commissioners voted to settle a public records lawsuite and pay the resident requesting e-mail records $148,000 in attorney's fees.
June1999: The State Attorney's Office found that three State Department of Health officials violated the Open Meetings law by not permitting a witness to attend a grievance committee hearing.
May 2001: As part of a settlement with racing legend Dale Earnhardt’s widow, a head-trauma expert looked at Earnhardt’s autopsy photos on behalf of the Orlando Sentinel. However, the Independent Florida Alligator, a student-run newspaper, was allowed to challenge the settlement that sealed the photos. Judge Joseph Will (7th Judicial Circuit) in allowing the lawsuit to proceed, said that others are not bound, by the agreement signed by the Sentinel and the Earnhardt family. The Alligator also challenged the state law passed to bar access to autopsy photos.
May 2006: Forty-two percent of local government agencies violated the state’s Public Records Law, according to a statewide public records audit by Florida news organizations. During a week in February, volunteer journalists posed as ordinary citizens and requested records from county governments, city halls, school boards and sheriff’s offices. Sixteen percent of agencies demanded the journalists names, 18 percent required a form or written request to release records, and 40 percent took longer than an hour to provide the information.
August 2006: A circuit judge ruled in favor of the state Department of Transportation, finding the agency made a good faith effort to remedy Sunshine Law violations. The violations stem from meetings two years ago where Citrus County residents Teddi Bierly and Robert Roscow were excluded from the meetings and filed suit against the state.
January 2009: A statewide audit by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors showed that Forty-three percent of government agencies failed to comply with the Public Records Law.
February 2009: Nine Florida Community Colleges became elegible to offer bachelor's degrees as part of a program put together in part during a meeting held without proper notice.
March 2009: The Commission on Open Government Reform created by Gov. Charlie Crist to review the state's public records and public meetings laws has made several recommendations to the legislature including one to create universal exemptions that would apply to all agencies and to repeal redundant exemptions.
March 2009: The Flroida Supreme Court ruled that the "Patients' Right to Know About Adverse Medical Incidents" constitutional amendment does not apply to nursing homes.
April 2009: Gov. Charlie Crist and CFO Alex Sink unveiled the Sundhine Spending Website which allows floridians to track how the state government is spending tax dollars.
July 2009: A spot check of five south Florida cities by The Miami Herald, found that financial disclosure forms of public officials are difficult for residents to get a hold of, despite the forms being public records., Officials cited low public interest among the reasons initiativesd to publish the forms online have failed or are not pursued.
October 2009: The Florida Supreme Court rejected a proposal to restrict disclosure of digital recordings of court proceedings.
November 2009: A controversy over BlackBerry messaging codes given to a Florida Power & Light attorney by Public Service Commission aides has prompted policy changes by Attorney General Bill McCollum. His new policy will now treat BlackBerry PIN and text messages as public records. He has also formed a "Sunshine Technology Team" to explore issues related to open government laws and emerging technology.
December 2009: An audit of transparency in Florida school districts shows that the average citizen might not have the time or money to take advantage of his right to public records. The nonprofit group Sunshine Review which ranks openness of government conducted the review as part of its "Back-to-School" guide for parents. The Back-to-School guide is avialable onoine at www.sunshinereview.org.
April 2010: The 1st District Court of Appeal has ruled Florida's Open Meetings Law does not give citizens the right to speak at meetings.
April 2010: Florida doctors could be sitting in federal prison but still have a profile showing a "clear and active" medical license on the Depatrment of Health Web site, according to The Miami Herald.
April 2010: State lawmakers are considering a law that would prohibit private conversations between staff members of the Public Service Commission and utility companies.
April 2010: A bill that would have exempted recordings of 911 emergency calls from Florida's Public Records Law has been abandoned after a backlash by the press and crime victims.
April 2010: The 1st District Court of Appeal has ruled Florida's Open Meetings Law does not give citizens the right to speak at meetings.
May 2010:Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum wants an update to the state's rules on electronic communications in light of the prevalence of cell phone messaging.
June 2010: More than a dozen sheriff’s offices surveyed about their e-mail storage policies don’t have one, according to the Naples Daily News.
July 2010: The Sunshine Review analyzed 5000 websites using a 10-point transparency checklist and awarded six Florida agencies with "Sunny Awards." Duval County, Hillsborough county Public Schools, Seminole County Public Schools and the St. Johns County School District all earned perfect scores. Marion County Public Schools and the Palm Beach County School District received an "A" grade.
September 2010: Office Depot is suing the Florida Attorney General's Officew in an effort to block the release of documents inresponse to a public records request.
March 2009: A Chief Judge ordered tall pea agreements be made available through the PACER system beginning in late February. This rescinded an April 2007 order making plea agreements accessible for viewing only at the courthouse.
May 2003: The Department of Children and Families released a list of missing children who were found since fall in response to a lawsuit brought by the South Florida Sun- Sentinel. Leon Circuit Judge Nikki Clark ordered the DCF to release the 26-page document which disclosed information showing the condition of the children, where they had been and where they were placed after they were found. In many cases, however, the list provided few details about the children. Some of the names appeared without any information and some appeared only with the word “closed” under the name.
June 1999: Former Pinellas County Democratic Party Chairman Terry Gourdine filed a complaint with the ethics commission claiming that Senate President Toni Jennings and Majority Leader Jack Latvala violated the state constitution and Senate rules by failing to notify the public of a secret dinner meeting. On April 12, 20 republican Senators gathered at Georgio’s restaurant near the Capitol, where they discussed Gov. Job Bush’s controversial school voucher proposal due for a vote the next day. Bush’s chief lobbyist, Ken Plante, took part in the dinner. On April 15, Senate leaders admitted they made a mistake by failing to provide public notice of the gathering. Latvala said, it "won’t happen again."
November 1999: An insurance company lost a courtroom battle to keep secret the detailed notes from a private investigator hired to follow a state Department of Insurance employee. In 1995, Bankers Insurance Co. hired private investigator Peter Rayner to collect personal information on the Department's employee Kevin McCarty after it lost a $16-million contract with the Joint Underwriting Association. Rayner provided Bankers with details of McCarty's property, financial and driving records, as well as information about his personal life. After Rayner pleaded guilty to a federal wiretap charge in 1997, Judge N. Sanders Sauls, 2nd Judicial Circuit, ruled that the Public Records law requires the release of documents once an investigation is closed.
February 2000: A 2nd Judicial Circuit court judge in Tallahassee released training materials used by the National Abortion Federation after removing the names of patients and clinics. The St. Petersburg Times filed a motion to unseal the materials which was evidence in a trial over Florida’s parental notice abortion law. The law, approved last year, was blocked by a temporary injunction issued by Lewis.
August 2000: Kathy Bush sought to open hearings in front of a judge who will decide whether to terminate her parental rights. The state is attempted to sever Bush’s parental rights to her daughter after Bush was convicted of child abuse. During her trial, Bush claimed she had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a parent causes a child’s illnesses to get attention. Bush asked that her parental rights hearing be open to the public in hopes of avoiding a “star-chamber proceeding,” according to her attorney.
September 2000: A private meeting held by the state Department of Management Services to evaluate competing bids by two telecommunication companies has prompted one to file suit, claiming the meeting violated Florida’s Open Meetings law. Motorola Inc., claims the meetings should have been open to the public. Company officials cite a March 1999 informal opinion by the state attorney general’s office that states some panels established by a state agency to evaluate vendors seeking a state contract are subject to the Sunshine Law.
February 2001: The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that will determine if an exemption to the state’s Open Meetings and Public Records laws can be applied retroactively. In 1998, the legislature passed a law that says that private companies that lease public hospitals are not subject to the Sunshine Law. Memorial Hospital-West Volusia was leased to a private company in 1994 and said its records and meetings were never open and should remain closed.
May 2001: State investigators are looking into whether former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford violated the Sunshine Law in awarding contracts for the state fair to Ed Gregory, a friend who received a presidential pardon. State investigators are probing whether Crawford, now the director of the state’s Department of Citrus, arranged the contracts in private rather than in public meetings.
December 2001: The Sarasota Herald-Tribune filed a lawsuit against the Department of Children and Families to access records regarding the Mentally Retarded Defendant Program. The newspaper requested records on the Mentally Retarded Defendant Program, which attempts to train defendants to communicate with their attorneys, assist in their own defense and understand the court proceedings. If the defendants are not found competent to stand trial within two years, the charges are dismissed, but a defendant can be held longer on a judge’s order. The newspaper first filed a public records request on May 2. DCF officials partially filled some requests and denied others.
October 2002: The Independent Florida Alligator sued to gain access to the autopsy photographs of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, challenging a law barring public access to autopsy photographs that passed in the wake of Earnhardt’s death. The state Supreme Court was asked to rule on the issue after the 5th District Court of Appeal upheld the law, citing privacy concerns. The photos were never unsealed and remain inaccessible to the public.
December 2002: The Florida Democratic Party sued Gov. Jeb Bush in a Leon County Circuit Court. Bob Poe reportedly made numerous public records requests including requests for appointment schedules, travel records and briefing materials. Poe also requested fiscal data, spending records, contract information and revenue projections. Other records requested included communication with school superintendents on the class size constitutional amendment and records of business dealings.
December 2002: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged two men in connection with a scheme involving improper payment for public records. Former state Department of Insurance (DOI) employee Jamie Glenn Payne was charged with three counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior, and grand theft. His father-in-law, Theodore Charles Hale, was charged with grand theft and criminal conspiracy. While working for the DOI, Payne improperly processed public records requests, having the requester pay his father-in-law for the records, according to the FDLE. The payment Hale and Payne received for the public records is estimated to exceed $20,000.
FEBRUARY 2003: The Lakeland Ledger filed suit against the Florida Department of Citrus, claiming that the department violated the Sunshine Law. The department has been accused of withholding records and closing meetings concerning a scientific generic citrus advertising study involving $190,000. The study is important, as it could potentially change the size and actions of the Citrus Department, a state agency.
March 2003: A Leon County Circuit judge turned down a request by Alliance Capital, a New York based investment firm accused of losing more than $300 million in Florida state pension money during the Enron crash, to keep some records secret. The state sued Alliance in May, claiming mismanagement by the company when it purchased nearly 3 million Enron shares for the state’s pension fund, resulting in serious losses. The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times joined the state in December in pursuing access to documents Alliance provided to the state as part of the trial. The state is also seeking release of documents as part of its lawsuit to force Alliance to pay the state at least some of the money that was lost.
November 2003: The state Department of Education asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to review a lower court ruling that allows parents access to test questions and answers of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. In 2002, Steven Cooper, parent of a high school student who failed the FCAT, sued the Department of Education after it refused to release his son’s questions and answers from the test. Leon County Circuit Judge Janet Ferris ruled that questions and answers should be released.
January 2004: Circuit Judge Janet Ferris refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming a state agency allowed a Suncoast Parkway 2 advisory group to violate the Sunshine Law. Ferris denied a motion by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to dismiss a suit filed by community members Teddi Bierly and Robert Roscow. The two alleged that the Environmental and Resource Agency Group (ERAG), a branch of the state’s Turnpike Enterprise, met privately in violation with the state’s Sunshine Law. FDOT was conducting a study to determine if a suitable route could be identified to build Suncoast Parkway 2, a toll road constructed entirely in Citrus County.
August 2004: A state court judge ruled that the Florida board of elections had to immediately release a list of nearly 50,000 suspected felons to Cable News Network (CNN). In May 2004, CNN sued Florida’s Division of Elections for access to the list, which contained the names of people who could be ineligible to vote in the 2004 presidential election because they are felons, have multiple registrations or have died since the previous election. The state responded to the lawsuit, claiming the list was preliminary and should not be released publicly. The list is a public record, but according to state law, only certain people and groups such as political parties or candidates can get copies. CNN, in addition to members of the general public, was invited to view the documents at the division’s headquarters in Tallahassee, only under the condition that there was no photocopying or note taking.
August 2004: A judge ordered the Department of Education to release public records containing teachers’ Social Security numbers to the Sarasota Herald- Tribune. The newspaper requested the information for a story about where high quality teachers worked. The Social Security numbers were needed to merge two databases, one that showed basic information on the teachers and another about teacher certification. The Florida Legislature subsequently passed a law that ordered the redaction of Social Security numbers from all public records containing information about public workers, including teachers. The department was given five days to release the newly redacted documents to the newspaper.
February 2005: The Department of Children and Families was ordered by the 2nd District Court of Appeals to release records of several foster children to an advocacy group. The ruling was considered a victory for the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council, which wanted access to DCF's records so it could investigate complaints against the agency.
March 2005: The Florida Supreme Court refused to take the case of WFTV v. Seminole County School Board, allowing the 5th District Court of Appeals ruling, which states that student records are confidential and exempt from the Florida Public Records Law, to stand.
April 2005: Passage of a 2004 law mandates that information detailing whether Florida hospitals comply with measures designed to prevent surgical infections be accessible to citizens online.
April 2005: The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that the Social Security numbers of Florida's public school teachers must be released in some circumstances. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune sought access to the numbers in the Department of Education's computer database to verify teacher performance. The newspaper is not permitted to publicly release the numbers.
June 2005: Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist recently issued an opinion stating that the state's Government in the Sunshine Act applies to "direct support organizations" of community colleges. The opinion only covers community colleges but has been interpreted by some to apply to organizations and foundations that support universities and school districts as well.
July 2005: The 2005 legislative session concluded with 13 new exemptions to the state's open government laws. In addition to the new exemptions, the legislators also renewed seven exemptions that were up for review under the Open Government Sunset Review.
July 2005: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement's sex offender tracking Web site was updated to allow searches by street address to determine the whereabouts of offenders within a five-mile radius. Previously, users could only search by zip code.
December 2005: The Florida Supreme Court rejected several proposals to limit cameras in the courtroom.
December 2005: Gov. Jeb Bush barred reporters from attending his early morning gathering with Republican legislators to discuss the legacy he wishes to leave behind after his term expires, including discussion about Florida's public school system. Bush said the meeting was exempt from the state's Open Meetings Law because no policy was discussed.
March 2009: The state attorney is investigating wheter Northwest Florida State College trustees improperly held a meeting that may have violated Sunshines laws because it was only advertised in a newspaper 150 miles away one week before the meeting.
May 2009: The House of Representatives e-mail retention policy came under scrutiny when former House speaker Ray Sansom's office said e-mails are routinely deleted each month to make space on the server. The Senate does not have a deletion policy but said e-mails are saved nightly and deleted e-mails are saved on back up for about a month.
May 2009: A bill, HB971, was introduced by State representative Dorothy L. Hukill to provide online access for the public to track how state and local tax dollars are spent.
August 2009: The Florida Supreme Court ruled that electronic recordings of court proceedings are public records.
September 2009: A Circuit Court judge ruled that NCAA documents related to alleged cheating among dozens of Florida State University athletes are public records.
September 2009: E-mails not release by Northwest Florida State College as part of a public records request were recovered as part of a criminal investigation into the dealings of ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom and fired college President Bob Richburg.
November 2009: The 1st District court of Appeal has ruled tha thte records received by Florida State University attorneys via a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Web Site are public records.
February 2010: Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation of e-mails between transportation officials regarding a commuter rail bill wiht subject lines such as "pancakes" and French Toast," but ignored calls to delay siging the bill which allows for the creation of a commuter rail in the Orlando area called Sunrail and payment to CSX Transportation, Inc. of at least $432 million for the track.
February 2010: The office of Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has issued an informal opinion stating that Florida's Great Northwest does not fall under Florida's Open Meetings and Public Records laws.
February 2010, cont. of story from September 2009: The NCAA appealed the 1st District Court of Appeal's ruling that documents sought by the media in the Florida State University student athlete cheating scandal, were public recordes, to The Florida Supreme Court. The Court has yet to deicde wheter to take the case.
February 2010: Circuit Judge Marck Walker denied a co-defendant's request to partially close a Tallahassee murder trial. Walker did not elaborate on the reasons behind his decision.
February 2010: A report issued by Gov. Charlie Crist's chief inspector general after an investigation of e-mails between transportation officials regarding a commuter rail bill with subject lines such as "pancakes" and "French Toast," found that Florida's Transportation Secretary and her aide were not using code words.
April 2003: The Lakeland Ledger sued the Florida Department of Citrus, claiming the department violated the state's Sunshine Law after withholding records from a study on generic citrus advertising. The Ledger was denied access to a meeting in which the firm hired to research the advertisements met with department officials to review some technical aspects of the project.
February 2005: In the case of MicroDecisions, Inc. v. Skinner, the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that public officials in Florida have no right to copyright public records unless they are given specific statutory permission by the state legislature. The Collier County Property Appraiser's Office had copyrighted maps it created and charged royalties for the documents.
October 2003: Robert Roscow and Tedd Bierly, two landowners in Citrus County, filed a lawsuit against Florida Department of Transportation secretary in an attempt to open public meetings between several government agencies discussing options for a proposed Citrus County extension of the Suncoast Parkway. The expansion would potentially affect the two men's property and its land value.
May 2001: As part of a settlement with racing legend Dale Earnhardt’s widow, a head-trauma expert looked at Earnhardt’s autopsy photos on behalf of the Orlando Sentinel. However, the Independent Florida Alligator, a student-run newspaper, was allowed to challenge the settlement that sealed the photos. Judge Joseph Will (7th Judicial Circuit) in allowing the lawsuit to proceed, said that others are not bound, by the agreement signed by the Sentinel and the Earnhardt family. The Alligator also challenged the state law passed to bar access to autopsy photos.
May 2005: A Florida law prohibiting the release of information from internal investigations of law enforcement officers is unconstitutional, according to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. The court said the law discriminates against speech regarding pending investigations of law enforcement officers merely because of its content, in violation of the First Amendment.