Volume 21, Number 4
A monthly report by:
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
- Anthony L. Fargo, Editor
- Mary Gallant, Production Coordinator
- Bobbie Stewart, Production Assistant
- Kelly Kroll, Production Assistant
- Bill F. Chamberlin, Ph.D., Director
- Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Asst. Director
3208 Weimer Hall
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611
Judge releases youth's
juvenile court records
Papers can see taped
to make it easier to check up on doctors
Harbor pilot's records
are public, AGO says
pays newspaper $15,000 to settle dispute
tells Port Richey to release petition or say why not
DCA says official's
financial records open
Suit claims code book costs too
information can be released, AGO says
reversal of judge's order not to use info
rescinded by judge
Secret settlement not a violation
Miramar fails to settle
suit by official
Meetings law violation
refuses to close murder trial to protect witnesses
Traffic citation a
record under forgery law
judge says newspaper can reject doctor's ads
DCA upholds suit dismissal
Polk judge quashes subpoena
Judge turns down Kidwell deal
removes paper's editor, advisor over photos
activities will mark 20th Anniversary
ST. PETERSBURG - A judge ordered the release of most of the juvenile court records of
Tyron Lewis, an African-American youth who was shot to death by a white police officer
during a traffic stop in October 1996, sparking rioting in south St. Petersburg.
Judge Dee Anna Farnell, 6th Judicial Circuit Juvenile Division, said that state law has
generally required that juvenile court records be private, but they may be inspected by
anyone demonstrating to the court a "proper interest" in seeing them.
Judge Farnell noted that the Legislature passed laws in 1994 and 1996 that established
a public right to learn about juveniles accused of serious offenses. However, she said,
Florida Statutes have not made it completely clear what circumstances end privacy
protection for juvenile court records.
In this case, the judge said, Lewis' death meant that his privacy interests no longer
needed protection, but the privacy rights of his family still had to be considered. Judge
Farnell said that after weighing the privacy rights of Lewis' family against the right of
the public to know the facts concerning Lewis, she determined that "the greater
good" to the community would be served by releasing the records.
She said she hoped that making Lewis' juvenile court records public would allow the
community to "begin to heal" and would help improve the juvenile justice system.
The judge, whose order was in response to a motion from the St. Petersburg Times
to unseal the records, also challenged the Legislature to study further the issue of
confidentiality for juvenile records. (Decisions on File, In the Interest of Tyron
M. Lewis, Juvenile Court No. 00641394, Feb. 10, 1997)
TAVARES - A judge agreed to allow two newspapers to see portions of videotaped
statements made by teenagers charged with killing a Eustis couple to help their daughter
run away from home.
Judge Mark Hill, 5th Judicial Circuit, said The Orlando Sentinel and the Ocala
Star-Banner could see edited versions of tapes of police interrogations of the four
suspects. Hill said the papers also could see portions of a taped interrogation of the
victims' daughter, who was cleared of involvement in the slayings.
Defense attorneys argued that release of the tapes could hurt their clients' chances of
a fair trial.
Hill set a hearing on what parts of the tapes to release. (1/31/97-2/9/97)
reversal of judge's order not to use info
TAMPA - A judge rescinded an order prohibiting The Tampa Tribune from publishing
information it obtained about a child abuse suspect's juvenile delinquency file.
Judge Perry A. Little, 13th Judicial Circuit, said he determined his earlier order
telling the Tribune not to publish the information was "unenforceable"
after reading case law and consulting with the state Attorney General's Office.
The newspaper obtained the juvenile delinquency file of Eric Shumpert after another
judge gave the paper permission to see the file.
Shumpert, 20, and his girlfriend, Tammy Kidder, 21, are charged with willful torture
and aggravated child abuse of their 2-year-old son. The boy recently had been returned to
the couple by the state Department of Children and Families.
After the Tribune printed a story about the contents of Shumpert's juvenile file
despite Little's original order, Shumpert's attorney asked Little to find the newspaper in
contempt of court.
The attorney dropped the motion after Little lifted his first order. (2/1/97-2/8/97)
ORLANDO - A judge reversed himself within days after ordering three Orlando television
stations not to broadcast patient information from a Kissimmee psychiatric hospital.
Charter Hospital Orlando South sued WFTV, WESH and WCPX and Jose Proenza-Sanfiel, a
nurse who said he found the information on a used computer he bought. He gave the
information to the television stations and offered to sell it back to the hospital.
Judge John H. Adams Sr., 9th Judicial Circuit, ordered the stations and Proenza-Sanfiel
not to release any of the patient information. After the stations protested, citing First
Amendment concerns, Adams reversed his order regarding the stations. The order remains in
effect for Proenza-Sanfiel. (1/29/7-2/16/97)
TAVARES - An assistant state attorney said the Lake County School Board did not violate
the state Open Meetings Law when it agreed to settle a lawsuit in a closed meeting.
However, Ric Ridgway, 5th Judicial Circuit, said the board may have committed a
"technical violation" when it did not finalize the settlement in a public
The board voted to pay $37,500 to settle the suit, which was brought by a mother whose
daughter said she was raped in a storage closet at Tavares Middle School by another
The mother claimed her daughter and the other students were not adequately supervised.
Cecelia Bonifay, the school board's attorney, denied that the board did anything wrong.
MIRAMAR - The City Commission could not agree on settling a lawsuit filed by one of its
members, who claimed the city violated the Open Meetings Law.
Commissioners deadlocked 2-2 on whether to pay Commissioner Dan Lewis $5,000 in legal
expenses to settle the suit he filed in April 1996. Lewis did not vote.
Lewis' suit claims that the city manager and the Development Review Committee violated
the Open Meetings Law. His lawsuit grew out of a City Commission decision to give final
site-plan approval on new residential and commercial developments to the committee, which
consists of eight city staff members. The City Commission had approved final site plans in
City officials have maintained that meetings of the committee already are open and no
laws are being violated. (4/18/96-1/26/97)
FORT LAUDERDALE - A deputy attorney for Broward County said officials
"inadvertently" violated the state Open Meetings Law by rescheduling a meeting
without proper notice.
Officials with the county's aviation department and an Americans with Disabilities Act
compliance office were scheduled to meet on a Thursday. They moved the meeting to
Wednesday without advertising the change.
Two advocates for the disabled who had planned to attend the meeting complained to the
County Attorney's Office. Deputy County Attorney Larry Lymas-Johnson told the officials
that they would have to void any action taken at the meeting and hold the meeting again.
The officials discussed a contract with a company that is studying ways to make Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport more accessible. (2/1/97)
try to make it easier to check up on doctors
TALLAHASSEE - Two state agencies are trying to make it easier to find out if a doctor
or hospital has a history of malpractice insurance claims or serious complaints.
The state Insurance Department created a World Wide Web site listing closed-case claim
forms filed against doctors since the early 1980s.
The list will include claims payments for awards in malpractice suits and out-of-court
The address for the site is http://22.214.171.124/index.htm
The Agency for Health Care Administration is publishing a book that will list the names
of physicians who have paid more than three claims in the past five years and physicians
who have been disciplined by their state governing boards, health maintenance
organizations or hospitals in the past five years. The book will be available at AHCA
offices and libraries, and the agency also hopes to put the information on the Web.
Spokeswomen for both of the agencies said the information has been available in public
records but often was hard to find. (1/3/97)
TALLAHASSEE - Financial information submitted by harbor pilots in support of a rate
increase for their work is not exempt from the Public Records Law, Attorney General Bob
In an advisory opinion, Butterworth said that a section of Florida Statutes that
requires the Department of Business Regulation to keep financial information supplied by
harbor pilots confidential applied only to information submitted in license and
The Pilotage Rate Review Board had received an application for a rate increase from
harbor pilots in Jacksonville.
The pilots had requested that financial information submitted with the application be
Butterworth said that keeping the information confidential would be unfair to
interested parties who wanted to respond to or participate in a hearing about the rate
change request. (Decisions on File, Fla. Atty. Gen. Op. 96-96, Dec. 13, 1996)
FORT PIERCE - The city and a local newspaper settled a public records dispute spanning
one year. The city agreed to pay $15,000 to cover part of the paper's legal expenses but
did not admit any wrongdoing.
The dispute began in January 1996 when a reporter for The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie
News found a document at Fort Pierce City Hall discussing the Main Street
redevelopment agency's plan to buy a theater. City Manager Dennis Beach tried to stop the
newspaper from printing the story, saying the sale was being negotiated.
After the newspaper ran the story anyway, Beach wrote a memo to the city staff saying
that Amy Rippel, the reporter who found the document, could not view public documents
without a written application, an appointment and Beach's approval. The city also began
charging the News 10 cents more a copy for public records than it charged other
PORT RICHEY - Judge Wayne Cobb, 6th Judicial Circuit, gave the city 20 days to release
a petition it received or explain in court why the petition, which opposes the merger of
Port Richey with New Port Richey, is not a public record.
John King, a vocal critic of city government, filed a complaint in Circuit Court after
a city public works employee who organized the petition drive gave copies of the petition
to the media but refused to give one to King.
City officials had claimed that the petition contained the names of 477 registered Port
Richey voters who were opposed to the proposed merger. However, the St. Petersburg
Times checked a cross-section of the names and found that only 60 percent could be
verified as belonging to city voters.
Vice Mayor Patricia Guttman mentioned the petition at a meeting with the county's
legislative delegation, saying it was proof that Port Richey voters opposed the merger.
However, she, City Manager Vince Lupo, and City Attorney Paul Marino all said they had not
kept a copy.
The city employee who organized the petition drive, Herbert Schmitt, at first refused
to let the media see the petition, saying it was not a public record. He later released a
copy to the media but not to King, who suggested that the city was trying to keep the
petition secret because it did not confirm Guttman's statement to the legislative
Florida's Public Records Law defines a public record as any material made or received
"pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official
business by any agency." (1/30/97-2/8/97)
MIAMI - The personal financial records of the Dade County Housing Finance Authority
chairman, submitted to a state agency as part of the authority's application to open a
bank, are not exempt from disclosure, the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled.
Milton J. Wallace, chairman of the authority, sought to keep his financial records
Leo Guzman, a Miami investment banker, sued for release of the records after he was
removed from a list of underwriters that Dade County planned to use for a $450 million
bond issue. However, Guzman said he was motivated by an interest in protecting taxpayer
money. Wallace and other members of the housing authority submitted personal financial
information to the state Department of Banking and Finance, which is reviewing the
authority's application to set up a state-chartered savings bank.
The authority's purpose is to provide affordable housing loans to qualified residents.
The Court of Appeal said that nothing in state law or in the federal Freedom of
Information Act made the records exempt from disclosure. (9/17/96-2/7/97)
MIAMI - A Dade County man has filed a class-action suit against the county over the
$100 charge for a copy of the South Florida Building Code.
Bill Stroop says the price charged by the Building Code Compliance Office is more than
the actual cost of duplicating the material. But Charlie Danger, Dade County's chief of
code compliance, said the price was a bargain when one factored in the research and the
time and effort it took to put the book together. The code book is 3.5 inches thick.
TALLAHASSEE - A law enforcement agency may release records pertaining to sexual
offenders even if no one has requested the information, the Florida Attorney General's
Responding to a question from James T. Moore, commissioner of the Florida Department of
Law Enforcement, Attorney General Bob Butterworth said in an advisory opinion that Florida
Statutes did not prohibit the release of information about sexual offenders.
State law was revised in 1996 to require the FDLE and other law enforcement agencies to
notify a community and the public of the presence of a sexual predator, defined as a
sexual offender who had repeat convictions, used violence or targeted children.
However, the statute said that the FDLE and other agencies were not authorized to
notify the community and public about the presence of other sexual offenders.
Butterworth said that the legislative record and the Public Records Law indicated that
the Legislature did not intend to prohibit the release of information about sexual
offenders, with or without a request, as long as the information was not exempt from
disclosure under other statutes.
A bill pending before the Legislature would remove the language from the statute that
appeared to prohibit the release of sexual offender information. (Brechner Report,
March 1997) (Decisions on File, Fla. Atty. Gen. Op. 97-09, Feb. 10, 1997)
DAYTONA BEACH - A judge refused to close part of a murder trial to the press and public
after the defense attorney said some witnesses were reluctant to testify in open court.
Judge S. James Foxman, 7th Judicial Circuit, told Assistant Public Defender Larry
Powers there were less restrictive means to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial
than closing the courtroom or gagging the press. Judge Foxman told Powers to subpoena the
three men, who could then be charged with contempt of court for failing to appear.
Powers' client, Jofre W. Miller, 17, is accused of armed robbery and murder in the
death of state probation officer Floyd Merritt Jr. Police said Merritt picked up Miller in
a gay nightclub in Daytona Beach. Merritt was later found stabbed to death in Ormond
The three reluctant witnesses are either homosexual or work in nightclubs that cater to
homosexuals, Powers said. He said he feared the men would leave the area rather than
testify openly and possibly face public ridicule.
He said at least one of the witnesses could corroborate Miller's story that Merritt
went with him to Ormond Beach willingly. (2/4/97)
DAYTONA BEACH - A statute that makes it a crime to forge a public record applies to
traffic citations, the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled.
The court said Circuit Judge Thomas D. Sawaya, 5th Judicial Circuit, was correct when
he refused to dismiss charges of forging a traffic citation.
Mary Washington signed a fictitious name to two traffic citations after being stopped
for a traffic violation.
She said that section 831.01 of Florida Statutes, which makes it a crime to forge a
public record, did not apply to traffic citations.
The Court of Appeal said that in a case involving a motor vehicle certificate of title,
the 3rd District Court of Appeal held that the title was a public record. The court said a
traffic citation fits the same principle. (Mary Washington v. State of Florida, Case No.
96-1542, Jan. 3, 1997)
TAMPA - A federal bankruptcy judge ruled that the St. Petersburg Times does not
have to accept advertising from an orthopedist who is suing the paper for defamation.
Dr. Alfred O. Bonati of Pasco County sued the newspaper in U.S. Bankruptcy Court,
saying the Times was retaliating against him for his defamation suit.
He said the paper also was violating federal bankruptcy law by trying to force him to
pay advertising debts he incurred before he filed for bankruptcy.
Chief Bankruptcy Judge Alexander L. Paskay, Middle District of Florida, said federal
case law made it clear that the government could not force the Times to publish
anything it did not want to.
Bonati filed a $300 million defamation suit against the Times in 1992 after the
paper ran a story about his medical practice. The suit is still pending.
Bonati filed for bankruptcy protection later after an ex-patient was awarded $3.5
million in a suit against him. However, a U.S. magistrate threw out $2 million of the
WEST PALM BEACH - Corrections officers at a jail are public officials for the purpose
of determining the burden of proof needed in a libel suit, the 4th District Court of
Seven corrections officers sued the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, WSVN-TV, two
newspaper reporters, a television reporter, four sheriff's officers and a lawyer. The
lawsuits, which were consolidated on appeal, arose out of stories about an investigation
into the beating of inmates by corrections officers in Broward County. A sheriff's
committee recommended firing 10 officers suspected of participating in two inmate beatings
in 1993, but no one was ever fired because it could not be determined who actually
participated in the beatings.
A trial judge granted summary judgment to the defendants and dismissed the suit.
The appeal court said the trial judge was correct in ruling that corrections officers
perform a function similar to that of police officers, who the courts have determined are
The court also rejected the officers' other claims. (2/12/97-2/25/97)
BARTOW - A judge agreed to quash a subpoena for a newspaper reporter, but left open the
possibility that she could be subpoenaed later.
Jennifer Ellis, a reporter for The News Chief in Winter Haven, wrote a series of
stories after a Lake Wales physician was charged with battery and exposing a sex organ.
The stories quoted police records and alleged victims, some of whom spoke to Ellis only on
condition of anonymity.
The physician, Nicolas Alfonso, subpoenaed Ellis to testify in a deposition about where
she got her information. Judge Ronald A. Herring, 10th Judicial Circuit, said that because
the information sought was confidential, the reporter's qualified privilege applied. Judge
Herring said that Alfonso had not satisfied the three-part test formulated in Tribune
Co. v. Green in 1983 to overcome the privilege.
However, Herring said that Alfonso could subpoena Ellis in the future if he could meet
the conditions of the Green test.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal in the Green case said that a party subpoenaing
a reporter to testify had to show that the information sought was relevant to the case,
that it could not be obtained from another source, and that there was a compelling need
for the information. (Decisions on File, State v. Alfonso, Case No. CF96-04924,
Jan. 31, 1997)
MIAMI - A judge in Palm Beach County declined an offer by reporter David Kidwell's
attorney to sentence Kidwell to time served on a contempt charge in return for dropping an
Judge Roger B. Colton, 15th Judicial Circuit, said it would be premature to consider
the offer because Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal had not ruled on Kidwell's
Kidwell, a reporter for The Miami Herald, was sentenced to 70 days in jail in
October 1996 after he refused to testify about a jailhouse interview he had in 1994 with
John Zile. (Brechner Report, December 1996)
Zile was convicted of first-degree murder earlier this year in the death of his
7-year-old stepdaughter. (Brechner Report, February 1997)
A federal judge released Kidwell after 15 days, pending the appeal. (2/8/97)
JACKSONVILLE - Administrators at Jacksonville University removed the editor and faculty
adviser of the student newspaper from their posts after the paper ran photos of scantily
clad participants in a homecoming show.
Angie Koury, the editor of The Navigator and a senior at JU, also was placed on
disciplinary probation. She was allowed to keep the scholarship she received for being
editor. The adviser, Marc Charisse, will remain as an assistant professor of
The photos were of male students at the annual Big Man on Campus pageant, a spoof of
the women's traditional homecoming queen pageant.
The photos showed one male student exposing his buttocks and wearing only a sweatsock
over his genitals and another student wearing only two female inflatable dolls. The
university said the two students were also disciplined.
In a letter to students and faculty, Jesse Robertson, JU's vice president for academic
affairs, and Daniel Kelly, the dean of students, called both the male students' behavior
and the decision to publish the photos "offensive, irresponsible and disrespectful of
others." Kelly said he was in favor of doing away with the pageant, which was already
under review by the student homecoming committee because of past problems with student
Koury said she felt the school made her a scapegoat when the university got complaints
about the pageant after the photos ran. (2/25/97)
The Brechner Center will celebrate a birthday this year. The center staff plans to
recognize the center's 20th anniversary with conference activities in Oklahoma City,
Naples, Chicago, and Gainesville. We also will publish a new edition of our citizen's
guide to Florida government information and substantially enhance our appearance on the
The center opened in 1977 under the direction of Professor Jo Anne Smith as the Florida
Clearinghouse for Freedom of Information. The center was renamed in 1987 after donor
Joseph Brechner, an Orlando broadcast executive, provided funding for an eminent scholar
chair. I became the eminent scholar and center director and Sandra Chance was hired as
assistant director in 1993.
During 1997, the center has already co-sponsored the 23rd annual Florida Bar Media-Law
Conference. Professor Chance planned and moderated a session reviewing the history and
examining the practical implications of our Public Records and Open Meetings laws. In
April, the center will sponsor an examination of the problem of increased fees for access
to computerized government records. I am planning the program for the annual convention of
the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the umbrella organization of state freedom
of information organizations, in Oklahoma City.
In Naples, I will discuss the state of Florida access laws at the annual convention of
the Florida Press Association. Then, in Chicago, I will be a panelist at a luncheon at the
annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications,
our professional journalism educators organization. The program will feature
university-sponsored freedom of information centers and honor the Brechner Center's
For the center's celebration in Gainesville, we have already received commitments from
two of the foremost experts on state access to government information: Jane Kirtley,
executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Paul
McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman of the Freedom Forum. Jane and Paul will join us for
a day-long examination on Oct. 17 of the strengths and weaknesses of Florida's access
laws, and a discussion of how they can be improved. The day will conclude with the
presentation of our Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award and a ceremony
acknowledging the accomplishments of the center. Everyone interested in these issues is
encouraged to set aside the date.
During 1997 we plan to republish Florida Government in the Sunshine: A Citizen's
Guide. We distributed 20,000 of the last edition to citizen groups, public officials
We are taking several steps to enhance our Web site at
http://www.jou.ufl/brechner/brochure.htm. We already have a sample request letter for
records on the site. We also are putting the monthly editions of this newsletter on the
site. We currently are updating The State Media Law Sourcebook, a manual listing
media law resources available in all 50 states. Shortly after you read this column, you
also will be able to find lists of the prosecutions of public officials under the Open
Meetings and Public Records laws and of the times when officials had to pay attorney's
fees for refusing to open meetings or disclose records. Other Brechner Center-sponsored
research will be posted on the Web during the year.
We invite you to visit our Web site and to make suggestions for how we might serve you
better. More information about the 20th anniversary birthday party will be provided in
upcoming issues of The Brechner Report.
Bill F. Chamberlin is the director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
and is the Joseph L. Brechner Eminent Scholar in the College of Journalism and
Communications at the University of Florida.
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