FEBRUARY 2008 (Fort Myers): The federal government will pay $105,000 in attorneys’ fees to The News-Press following the newspaper’s successful lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for the release of public records. The agency was sued after it refused to release information about the 1.1 million recipients of $1.2 billion in disaster aid after the 2004 Florida hurricane season.
FEBRUARY 2008 (Washington, D.C.): A federal judge ruled that White House visitor logs are public records, rejecting the Bush Administration’s efforts to avoid release of records that show visits by prominent religious conservatives. The Bush Administration is expected to appeal the ruling.
FEBRUARY 2008 (Marco Island): Marco Island 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.
MARCH 2008 (West Palm Beach): The 4th District Court of Appeals ruled that portions of a grand jury report about a government official’s alleged manipulation of a public meeting rebroadcast will not be deleted from the report. The investigation criticized Mayor Lois Frankel’s delay of a 2004 rebroadcast on the city’s public access cable channel of a city meeting in which citizens criticized the city’s efforts to fight crime.
MARCH 2008 (Fort Lauderdale): The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s attorney fees following a legal battle for the identities of disaster-aid recipients of the 2004 Florida hurricane season.
APRIL 2008 (Sneads):The City of Sneads agreed to pay former Police Chief William Nelson $10,000 and his attorneys $25,000 seven years after he filed suit alleging the city violated Florida’s Open Meetings Law. The former police chief was fired by the town council during a special meeting to which, he alleged, the public was not given proper notice.
APRIL 2008 (Hallandale Beach):City Commissioners have agreed to pay former Hallandale Beach Police officer Talous Cirilo more than $100,000 to settle a lawsuit. In 2005, the city refused to reinstate Cirilo on the police force after he was charged with and acquitted of three misdemeanor counts of battery on a prisoner. The two lawsuits filed against the city alleged that the city civil service board held and illegal meeting a week before the scheduled meeting. It also alleged falsification of evidence and persuasion of a felon to lie under oath about Cirilo.
APRIL 2008 (Jacksonville): 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 unless there is evidence of a kickback to a Jacksonville City Council member or other criminal act.
APRIL 2008 (Highlands County): The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that public records providers can include both salary and benefits when calculating their special service charges for responses to extensive public records requests. The case stemmed from a 2005 records request which charged $65 in advance to cover the estimated costs of locating the records. The suit alleged that the county failed to make the records available to the requester and that he should have not been required to prepay for the records search.
MAY 2008 (Broward County): Collier County Judge Mike Carr found Marco Island city council member Chuck Kiester guilty of a noncriminal public records violation for deleting e-mails that contained information about city business from his personal computer. Kiester was ordered to pay the maximum $500 fine.
JUNE 2008 (Washington, D.C.): Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy appealed a district court judge’s contempt order imposing fines of up to $5,000 per day—from Locy’s own pocket—for refusing to reveal confidential sources. The order was issued after Locy refused to disclose the names of sources who identified a former Army infectious disease researcher as a suspect in a federal investigation into terrorist attacks. Locy was prohibited from receiving assistance in paying the fines.
JUNE 2008 (Sarasota): The Sarasota Circuit Court dismissed a 2006 defamation suit filed by an elementary school principal against a TV news station after 10 months of inactivity on behalf of the plaintiff in the case. The suit alleged that the station’s assistant manager and news director spread misinformation about the principal’s 2002 arrest for stalking, a charge that had been dropped.
JULY 2008 (Venice): After an emergency hearing, a circuit judge ruled three Venice City Council members must allow a computer expert to obtain government business e-mails from their home computers. A recently filed lawsuit claims that four council members violated the Open Meetings Law by discussing city business in private e-mails.
JULY 2008 (Naples):Terminated Collier County school district superintendent Ray Baker settled his Open Meetings Law violation lawsuit 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. The School Board attorney advocated settling and estimated that had the case gone to trial, the district would have faced $2.2 to $2.67 million in exposure.
AUGUST 2008 (Sarasota County): The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office settled a lawsuit alleging the office failed to give the public enough notice of disciplinary hearings. In exchange for dropping the suit, the settlement agreement requires the office to have training on open government laws, amend its internal rules and pay $15,613 in attorney fees to the plaintiff.
AUGUST 2008 (Sebring): Highlands County Commissioners settled a lawsuit filed by a watchdog claiming that the county failed to copy a grant application for state funds to refurbish a high school as a hurricane shelter. Plaintiff Preston Colby received over $9,100 in the settlement.
AUGUST 2008 (Washington, D.C.): A U.S. district judge ruled that the White House’s Office of Administration does not have to comply with FOIA and make public internal documents about the disappearance of e-mails.
NOVEMBER 2008 (Orlando): A circuit judge awarded Larry Giles, the operator of the Veranda Park News, $180,000 under a Florida Statute that protects homeowners who petition regarding their homeowners’ associations. Giles was initially sued by real estate group Veranda Partners after he published allegedly defamatory statements saying the company misspent homeowners’ association dues, among other things. Giles counterclaimed that the suit was unlawful under Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute because it intended to stop him from petitioning.