Volume 20, Number 9
A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
- R. Michael Hoefges, J.D., Editor
- Eric Fritz, Production Coordinator
- Bobbie Stewart, Prod. Assistant
- Bill F. Chamberlin, Ph.D., Director
- Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Asst. Director
3208 Weimer Hall
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611
judge rejects accord in Scientology records case
5th DCA says
town must pay fees for record violation
Court clerk may charge $1 per page
School board to pay
$39,000 in legal fees
Woman may not sue for
subject to open records law
AG says meetings must be
denies motion to ban media access to evidence
Court denies to
seal discovery in murder case
Judge releases court files to
City passes news
rack regulations and permit fees
strikes down Lee noise ordinance as unconstitutional
AG says officials do not
have to swear oath
reinstated after filing grievance
THE BACK PAGE
FOI and First
Amendment information available on line
TAMPA - U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew refused to approve a settlement agreement
between the city of Clearwater and the Church of Scientology that would have sealed access
to files detailing police investigations dating back to 1979 of church members. The
investigations did not result in criminal charges against members.
The ruling came in a court action filed by the city in 1994 after the church objected
to public release of the files. Clearwater officials claim that the files are subject to
the Public Records Law.
The church filed a counterclaim against the city and removed the action to federal
court. The church claims that release of the files would violate members' constitutional
rights of privacy and religious freedom.
The settlement agreement would have sealed the records and required anyone seeking
access to get a court order. The St. Petersburg Times and The Tampa Tribune
intervened in the case and objected to the settlement agreement as a contravention of the
Florida Public Records Law.
Bucklew agreed and refused to approve the settlement. The agreement would have
"carved out an exemption" to the Public Records Law, she stated in her order.
With the settlement rejected, the court case could proceed to trial. The city had hoped
to settle the case and avoid the expenses of more litigation. (4/13/96-6/21/96)
MIAMI - In a recent hearing, Judge Robert P. Kaye, 11th Judicial Circuit, denied a
motion to dismiss a public records action filed by New Times Newspapers against
Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder.
New Times is seeking documents from Ridder concerning negotiations to finance and build
a new arena for the Miami Heat professional basketball team.
New Times claims that the documents are subject to the Public Records Law because
Ridder was acting on behalf of the the public during negotiations concerning the arena.
Ridder claims that the requested documents are not subject to the Public Records Law
because they were not shown to public officials. He had agreed to produce the documents
after suit was filed.
Kaye's ruling in the case means that the court ultimately could decide whether the
documents are public records, which may affect other records in addition to those Ridder
agreed to produce.
Ridder was appointed by the Metro-Dade Commission to lead efforts to keep the Heat in
Miami. Ridder retained a private consultant to assist in the negotiations and half of the
consultant's $490,000 fee was paid with public funds. The commission has announced plans
to construct a new arena under a financing plan that Ridder helped to negotiate.
DAYTONA BEACH - The 5th District Court of Appeal held that the town of Eatonville must
pay attorneys' fees and court costs after violating the Public Records Law. The decision
reversed a lower court ruling that the town was not obligated to pay fees and costs.
Michael Barfield sued Eatonville after being denied access to public records related to
the opening of a topless club in the town. Barfield prevailed in his suit, but the trial
judge refused to order the town to pay fees and costs. Barfield ultimately received the
requested documents. (Brechner Report, November 1995)
The appellate court found that Barfield was entitled to fees and costs despite the town
attorney's argument that the town should not be responsible for the wrongful actions of
its clerk, who ultimately was fired.
"The Town's defense, that the delay in production of the records was caused by
either the intentional wrongdoing or ineptitude of its Town clerk, amounts to an unlawful
refusal," the appellate court wrote. (Decisions on File, Barfield v. Town of
Eatonville, Case No. 95-2715 (June 14, 1996))
WEST PALM BEACH - The 4th District Court of Appeal held that the Palm Beach County
Circuit Court clerk can charge $1 per page for court records.
The maximum charge for the records under the Public Records Law would be 15 cents but
the court held that those provisions do not apply to court records.
The court instead ruled that Florida Statute section 28.24(8)(a), which permits circuit
court clerks to charge $1 per page for copies of "any instrument in the public
records," applies to all court records.
The court distinguished the case of Times Publishing Co. v. Ake, in which the
Florida Supreme Court ruled that access to records controlled by court clerks is governed
by judicial rules and not the Public Records Law. (Brechner Report, July 1995)
However, the 4th District ruled that the Ake decision does not prevent the
legislature from setting copy charges for court records, such as the charges set forth in
section 28.24(8)(a). (Decisions on File, WFTV Inc., et al., v. Wilken, Fla. L. W.
D1412 (June 19, 1996))
PALM BEACH - The Palm Beach County School District has agreed to pay $39,000 in attorneys'
fees and court costs to resolve a public records action filed by the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
and The Palm Beach Post .
The papers sued the school board in 1994 after the board refused to produce a school
survey conducted by a private marketing company. (Brechner Report, January 1995).
At trial, the board was found to have violated the Public Records Law and was ordered
to pay $30,163 in attorneys' fees and costs. In June, an appellate court upheld the
judgment and ordered the trial court to recalculate the award of fees and costs after the
appeal. (Brechner Report, August 1996) The settlement resolves that issue. (7/9/96)
TALLAHASSEE - The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that a woman may not sue the
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for an inaccuracy in her driving
record that resulted in her being arrested on a mistaken charge.
"We conclude that the maintenance of DHSMV records is a function undertaken by the
government for the public generally and that the duty to perform this function runs to the
public and not to individual licensed drivers," the opinion states.
Nancy Ann Layton was arrested and jailed on a charge of driving with a suspended
license. The charge was dropped after it was discovered that a computer error had caused
her license to be categorized as "suspended."
The court stated that the "state has no common law or statutory duty to Layton to
accurately maintain motor vehicle records." (Decisions on File, Layton v.
Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, Case No.: 94-285 (July 2,
WEST PALM BEACH - Judge Richard I. Wennet, 15th Judicial Circuit, ruled that the
Hispanic Human Resources Council, a for-profit organization supported with tax dollars, is
subject to the Public Records Law.
In 1994, columnist Ricardo Casas requested financial records from the council.
The council agreed only to provide some of the requested records, but Wennet ruled that
all records of the council are subject to the Public Records Law. (6/29/96) (Decisions
on File, Casas v. Hispanic Council, Inc., et al., Case No. CL 95-2041 AN (July 28,
TALLAHASSEE - In a recent opinion, Attorney General Bob Butterworth stated that the
Open Meetings Law requires that public meetings be held in places that are easily
accessible to the public.
Butterworth advised the city of Sunrise against holding Police Pension Board meetings
in a room that requires visitors to leave their identification with an officer, obtain a
security pass and then ask a receptionist permission to enter the room. These procedures
could create a "chilling effect" on the public's willingness to attend.
Butterworth also wrote in the opinion that the board may not refuse to honor public
records requests until it can vote on each request. (7/18/96) (Decisions on File,
Fla. Atty. Gen. Op. 96-55 (July 15, 1996))
FORT LAUDERDALE - Judge Robert B. Carney, 17th Judicial Circuit, denied a defense
motion to ban media access to all prosecution evidence in the criminal trial of Kathy
Bush. The prosecution evidence includes medical and financial records.
Carney also ruled, however, that he would review psychological records before
permitting access to them.
Bush is charged with aggravated child abuse and organized fraud in connection with
medical treatment she had obtained for her daughter, Jennifer, 9.
Officials claim that Bush suffers from a rare psychological condition that causes
parents to harm their children to gain attention.
In other proceedings, the state is seeking to remove custody of Jennifer from Bush. The
judge in that case denied a motion to close the custody proceedings but agreed to limit
the reporting of personal information about relatives who offered to care for Jennifer. (Brechner
Report, July 1996, August 1996) (6/29/96)
FORT MYERS - Judge Isaac Anderson, Jr., 20th Judicial Circuit, denied a defense motion
to seal pretrial discovery in what he called a "high profile" murder case.
Christopher Paul Black, indicted with three others for first-degree murder in the
killing of a Lee County high school teacher, asked the court to seal discovery in his case
due to extensive pretrial publicity.
Anderson held that despite the media coverage, the defendant had "failed to
satisfy his burden to prove that sealing discovery is necessary to preserve his right to a
"It is the Court's responsibility to ensure that public access remains unfettered
except to the extent necessary to preserve the Defendant's right to an impartial
jury," Anderson wrote in his order.
The Florida Supreme Court held in Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Lewis, a
1982 decision, that in order to close court proceedings, the party requesting closure
first must demonstrate that closure is needed to prevent a serious and imminent threat to
the administration of justice. (Florida Freedom of Information Clearing House
Newsletter, September-October 1982) (Decisions on File, Florida v. Black, Case
Nos. 96-1361 CFA, 96-1362 CFA, 96-1363 CF and 96-1364 CF (June 20, 1996))
CLEARWATER - Chief Judge Susan F. Schaeffer, 6th Judicial Circuit, unsealed court
records in a case against James Randall, an ex-convict being investigated in the killings
of four prostitutes. No charges have been filed against Randall.
The records included a search warrant for a truck allegedly driven by Randall. The type
of tires on the truck allegedly matched tracks near where a body was found.
The records also indicated that investigators posed as dog groomers and gave a free
bath to a dog belonging to Randall's girlfriend. Experts then determined that dog hairs
from the towel used on the dog were similar to hairs found on another body.
Schaeffer's ruling came in an action filed by the St. Petersburg Times, The
Tampa Tribune and WFLA-Channel 8 seeking to unseal the records. (7/16/96-7/17/96)
COCONUT CREEK - Newspaper racks in Coconut Creek must be the same style and must be
painted beige according to city regulations passed in June. Newspapers have 120 days to
comply with the new regulations or appeal to the city commission.
The regulations allow no more than five racks grouped together at any one location, and
authorize permit fees and insurance requirements. (6/14/96)
LAKELAND - The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that key provisions of the Lee County
Noise Control Ordinance violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The ordinance prohibits the "use or operation of any radio receiving set, musical
instrument, television, phonograph, drum, exterior loudspeaker, or other device for the
production or reproduction of sound" that is "plainly audible" between the
hours of midnight and the following 10 a.m.
According to the ordinance, "plainly audible" means "clearly heard by a
person using his or her normal hearing facilities" when 50 feet from the sound's
The court found that the "plainly audible" standard is vague and subjective,
making it unconstitutional. The court relied on a 1980 federal court ruling in which a
Texas ordinance with similar provisions was struck down. (Decisions on File, Easy
Way of Lee County, Inc. v. Lee County, Case No. 95-02905 (May 24, 1996))
TALLAHASSEE - In a recent opinion, Attorney General Bob Butterworth stated that before
taking office, elected officials must take a statutory loyalty oath and at least affirm
that they will "support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of
An elected official may decline to swear to the oath, however, Butterworth wrote.
The opinion was requested by Tamarac city attorney Mitchell Kraft after an elected
board member refused to take the oath for religious reasons. (Decisions on File,
Fla. Atty. Gen. Op. 96-41 (June 5, 1996))
LAKE MARY - Lake Mary High School teacher Dianne Burd was reinstated in July as faculty
adviser of the school newspaper, The Rampage. She had been fired from the position
in June after the paper published a student column containing mild profanity.
In the column, senior Christopher Cline criticized "Bible-beating ...
snake-handling, holier-than-thou people who believe I'm going to hell," and referred
in jest to another student as a "bastard."
After she was fired, Hurd filed a grievance with the teachers union that resulted in
her reinstatement. She agreed to advise an assistant principal before publishing material
that may be controversial. (6/6/96-7/3/96)
by Patricia F. Lewis
The Internet has expanded the resources available for researching freedom of
information and First Amendment topics. For instance, the Brechner Center web site is
located at and includes the Brechner Center FOI Online Library with links to many FOI
sites, some listed below. The Brechner site also features an on-line version of the State
Media Law Sourcebook, on-line issues of The Brechner Report back to July 1995,
and the Telecommunications Policy Online Library.
The following on-line links have been selected as particularly valuable sources of FOI
and First Amendment information:
Electronic Frontier Foundation at : Articles and court cases about federal and
state FOI issues.
Electronic Privacy Information Center : Homepage of public interest research center in
Washington, DC has links to information about emerging civil liberties issues relating to
Federal, State, and Local Government Links at : Links to federal government agency
FedWorld Home Page at : Extensive links to government information; the site is updated
on a daily basis.
First Amendment Cyber-Tribune at : Links to information about the First Amendment; 1996
Editor & Publisher award-winning on-line site.
Florida Public Records Law at : Full text of Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, the Public
Florida Open Meetings Law at : Full text of Chapter 286, Florida Statutes, the Open
Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law at : View and search the Florida
Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual online.
The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at : Includes First Amendment resources and a
timeline of First Amendment history.
Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri at : Wide range of FOI
resources and links.
Galaxy's EINET State Government Site at : Links to a number of state government
Government Information Sharing Project at : Information on U.S. demographics,
education, economics, and other government web sites.
Kennedy School Online Political Information Network at : Broad range of Internet-based
information by and about individual states, local governments and related organizations.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at : Site designed for journalists and
media lawyers; links to the First Amendment Handbook and News Media & The
Law, a bi-weekly news media law update.
Society of Professional Journalists Resources on FOI Issues at : Links to organizations
and resource centers, hotlines, periodicals, books and other on-line resources.
U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library, Privacy and Information Access at :
A collection of mostly U.S. links on privacy and information access.
U.S. Federal and State Government Information at : An extensive collection of federal
and state government information links.
Patricia F. Lewis is a doctoral student in media law and policy at the UF College of
Journalism and Communications and researches in the area of universal access and new
technologies. She previously was employed as a telecommunications policy analyst for
Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Virginia, and currently is working on a project for BellSouth.
the Online Issue Index
Return to the Brechner Center