Volume 22, Number 1
A monthly report:
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
- Anthony L. Fargo, Editor
- Jackie Thomas, Production Coordinator
- Sarah Rabin, Production Assistant
- Stacey Silver, Production Assistant
- Bill F. Chamberlin, Ph.D., Director
- Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Asst. Director
3208 Weimer Hall
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611
charges against 2 city council members
Environmental group drops port
Grand jury passes issue to
FSU changes tenure
and promotion review process
planners to be on TV; commission wont be
- PRIVATE INFORMATION
votes against privacy amendment
Principal sues over release
quashes subpoena for TV reporter
of secret hearing transcript released
release of school bus tape to TV station
jail health services must release records, judge says
FAU staffer fired in
dispute over column change
district allows photo in yearbook
teacher may sue after flap over use of Bible
THE BACK PAGE
Shining light on
public business remains a priority
dismisses charges against 2 city council members
RIVIERA BEACH A county judge dismissed charges against two
Riviera Beach City Council members accused of violating the Open Meetings Law.
A grand jury in Palm Beach County indicted Marge Confrey and Marilyn
Moffitt in May. Confrey and Moffitt were accused of meeting secretly plot the ouster of
the city manager and police chief. Moffitt also was accused of meeting illegally with a
council member-elect. (Brechner Report, July 1997)
Palm Beach County Judge Nelson E. Bailey dismissed the charges shortly
after Confrey and Moffitts trial began. He said the states case was too
circumstantial to support the charges. Judge Bailey also said that the incoming council
member, Lenora Hurley, was still a private citizen when the alleged secret meeting with
Moffitt took place. The judge said there was no law against meeting with Hurley before she
was sworn in as a council member. (11/20/97)
group drops port suit
BRADENTON An environmental group that sued the Manatee County
Port Authority over an alleged Open Meetings Law violation has dropped its suit.
Manasota 88 attorney Tom Reese said the group wanted to devote its
resources to other issues.
The suit alleged that the Port Authority broke the meetings law when a
committee that ranked the bidders for a port expansion project failed to properly notify
the public about its meetings. The county clerk, R.B. Shore, also filed suit over the same
issue and refused to pay any bills to the company that won the $3.5 million construction
contract because of the alleged violation. (Brechner Report, July 1997)
The company that won the contract, NDC Construction, sued Shore to get
payment. Shore settled with the company out of court and dropped his lawsuit. (10/22/97)
passes issue to next panel
KEY WEST -- A grand jury looking into allegations of Open Meetings Law
violations by Monroe County Mosquito Board members took no action but recommended that the
next grand jury study the issue.
The decision to take no action came after three members of the grand
jury attended a Mosquito Board meeting and spoke out when the board voted to fire Director
Greg Scott, Assistant Director Dennis Wardlow and board attorney Tracy Adams. One the
grand jurors was dismissed from the jury panel and the two others were prohibited from
discussing the Mosquito Board matter.
The grand jury was investigating allegations that Mosquito Board members
Steve Smith and Bill Shaw met secretly to discuss firing Scott and Wardlow. Smith and Shaw
also face a lawsuit over the alleged meetings-law violations filed by Scott and Wardlow in
June. (Brechner Report, August 1997) (10/22/97-11/1/97)
changes tenure and promotion review process
TALLAHASSEE - Florida State University changed its procedures for
reviewing faculty members for tenure and promotion to conform to Floridas Open
President Sandy DAlemberte decided, on advice from university
attorneys, that reviewing faculty members applications for tenure and promotion can
no longer take place in closed meetings. Instead, DAlemberte has instructed faculty
members to evaluate peers by using secret ballots.
FSU follows the University of Florida in deciding to change the process.
UF President John Lombardi halted tenure and promotion committee meetings after a
university attorney advised him that the meetings were subject to Floridas Open
Meetings Law. (Brechner Report, November 1997) (11/16/97)
planners to be on TV; commission wont be
FORT LAUDERDALE Two public bodies in Broward County came to
different conclusions about whether to televise their meetings.
The Broward Planning Council agreed to ask county administrators to have
its monthly meetings televised on the local cable system. The vote came two days after the
County Commission decided to have its twice-monthly public hearings televised but not its
weekly regular meetings.
County commissioners said they wanted to encourage more public scrutiny
of the commissions business, but the majority of the seven-member commission voted
to limit the televised meetings. The majority said televising the meetings would attract
"gadflies" who would monopolize camera time and make meetings longer.
Supreme Court rejects
WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in a
former principals appeal of the dismissal of his libel suit against The Miami
Marvin Dunn, who was principal of an alternative school for troubled
children in Dade County, sued the Herald after it ran a story in 1993 that said the
schools directors asked Dunn to resign. The story said an auditor told the directors
the schools financial books were "in a shambles." Dunn also sued over an
editorial a week later that said he "put public funds to personal use" and
"paid the price with his job."
A circuit judge dismissed Dunns suit. (Brechner Report,
April 1996) A state appellate court upheld the dismissal. In his Supreme Court appeal,
Dunn argued that the trial court erred in finding the defamatory statements were protected
opinion. But the Herald lawyers noted that the judge also said that the statements
were true. (10/7/97)
against privacy amendment
TALLAHASSEE - A committee of Floridas Constitution Revision
Commission voted against a proposal to amend the state constitution to prohibit the sale
of personal information to marketers. The proposal can still be passed on to voters if the
full commission decides to override the committees decision.
The proposed change to Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution
would read: "The sale of personal information relating to a natural person which is
obtained from a database is prohibited, unless the natural person gives written
If the Constitution Revision Commission approves the amendment, it would
go before voters in November 1998. (10/30/97-11/13/97)
over release of records
WEST PALM BEACH The principal of Chiefland High School is suing
an insurance company that he claims did not adequately protect his medical records from
Terry Andrews medical records became part of the public record
after a colleague sued him for sexual harassment in 1991 when he was a high school
principal in Palm Beach County. The records showed that Andrews had visited a psychiatrist
for treatment of depression.
After Andrews moved to Chiefland, someone anonymously sent copies of his
records to school officials and other people in Chiefland. A local paper did a story about
his past based on the records.
Andrews claims the insurance company was careless in its handling of the
records. A subpoena for the records had required that they be taken to the courthouse for
a trial on the sexual harassment allegation, according to Andrews. The trial was delayed,
however, and the company mailed the records to an attorney for the woman suing Andrews.
The insurance company said it had no obligation to keep the records private and could have
been held in contempt if it had not mailed the records to the attorney.
Andrews attorney said the suit highlights a gap in Florida law on
medical records. Florida requires doctors and other health-care providers to keep health
records confidential, but the law does not apply to insurance companies, the attorney
Judge quashes subpoena for TV reporter
MIAMI A judge quashed a subpoena for a television journalist,
saying she was not an eyewitness to a relevant event in a lawsuit.
The defendants in the lawsuit, Mount Nebo Memorial Gardens Inc. and
Levitt-Weinstein Memorial Chapels Inc., subpoenaed Martha Sugalski of WTVJ-TV after she
reported on a lawsuit filed against the cemetery and funeral home. The suit alleged that
the cemetery and funeral home negligently lost a womans right leg, which then could
not be buried with her in accordance with Jewish law.
Judge Bernard Shapiro, 11th Judicial Circuit, ruled that the defendants
in the civil suit had not shown that the information they sought from Sugalski was
relevant to their case, that they had a compelling need for the information, and that no
alternative sources were available. (Decision on File, Zellner v. Mount Nebo
Memorial Gardens Inc., Case No. 97-12077 CA 11, Nov. 21, 1997)
secret hearing transcript released
TALLAHASSEE A federal judge agreed to release most of the
transcript of a closed sentencing hearing for a former state official accused of fraud.
Attorneys for The Tampa Tribune and the Tallahassee Democrat
filed protests with U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, Northern District of Florida, and
sought the transcript after court officials refused to let reporters into the hearing or
even confirm that it was taking place.
Judge Hinkle said he still could not explain why the hearing was held in
secret. He said some parts of the hearing transcript would remain confidential.
Thompson, the daughter of Florida 5th District Court of Appeal Judge
Emerson Thompson, pleaded guilty to fraud charges. She was accused of using different
names and Social Security numbers to apply for credit, then accumulating thousands of
dollars in bad debt. She was a former political consultant to Gov. Lawton Chiles and Lt.
Gov. Buddy MacKay and was a former official at the state Commission on Minority Economic
and Business Development.
Thompson was sentenced to eight months of house arrest, placed on five
years probation, and ordered to pay $36,783.53 in restitution. Judge Hinkle said.
The Democrat reported in August that sources said she was
cooperating in an investigation of corruption in federally funded projects, which could
explain why her hearing was secret.
orders release of school bus tape to TV station
MELBOURNE -- Judge Lawrence V. Johnston, 18th Judicial Circuit, ordered
a videotape released to WCPX-TV that showed four junior high school students harassing a
fifth student on a bus.
The videotape was used as evidence in the four students
misdemeanor proceedings. The tape was part of regular school bus surveillance, and the
four students did not know they were being taped. According to the judges order, the
tape shows the four students taunting the fifth student. The four students originally were
charged with felonies, including aggravated stalking and assault, but the charges were
reduced to misdemeanors.
Judge Johnston also instructed the television station to block the faces
of students not charged in connection with the bus incident. (Decisions on File, In the
Interest of D.P., J.B., T.B., L.B., Case Nos. 97-4001, 97-3984, 97-3999, 97-3998, Brevard
County Circuit Court, Nov. 6, 1997)
Private jail health services must release records, judge says
LAKELAND - A circuit judge ordered a private health service within a
county jail to release settlement records in accordance with Floridas Public Records
Judge Charles Davis, 10th Judicial Circuit, ordered Prison Health
Services to tell The Ledger of Lakeland how much it paid to settle a lawsuit
in connection with an inmates death.
Prison Health Services is a private company paid with public funds. The
health service agreed to comply with Floridas Public Records Law in its contract.
The court relied in part on News-Journal Corp. v. Memorial
Hospital-West Volusia. In that case, the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that when
a private company relieves a public agency of a public obligation, the company is subject
to the Open Meetings and Public Records laws. (Brechner Report, July 1997)
staffer fired in dispute over column change
BOCA RATON A staff member at Florida Atlantic Universitys student newspaper was
fired after publicly complaining that the editor of the Boca Raton News influenced the
removal of sexually explicit language from a column.
The Boca Raton News publishes and buys advertising for the University Press, FAUs
paper. Boca Raton News Publisher Roger Coover called the University Presss editor,
Jennifer Goddard, and questioned one section of the column that was to appear in the FAU
paper. Columnist Matthew Johnson described masturbating while watching an Oral Roberts
sermon on television, according to the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale. Goddard decided to
remove the reference.
Goddard also fired Jon Boho, a copy editor and writer, who brought the issue to the
medias attention. She said she terminated Boho because he had acted without her
consent on various occasions. (10/29/97-11/1/97)
district allows photo in yearbook
ST. AUGUSTINE The St. Johns County schools superintendent
reversed a principals decision and allowed a religious club to place a group
photograph in a yearbook.
Officials at Allan Nease High School at first refused to allow the
Brothers and Sisters in Christ club to put a photo in the yearbook because they feared it
would violate the separation of church and state.
The students in the club contacted the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit
religious legal defense organization, for help. An attorney for the Liberty Counsel
contacted the school district, whose attorney recommended that the photo be included after
researching the law. (11/21/97)
Substitute teacher may sue after flap over use of Bible
FORT MYERS A substitute teacher who was sent home for teaching
from the Bible is threatening to sue the Lee County School Board.
School officials said Jerry Mount took the Bible to school when he was
called to substitute for a literature teacher at Riverdale High School. The regular
teachers lesson plan called for a discussion of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien,
but Mount read portions of the New Testament to students and discussed the parable of the
Mount said the students enjoyed the lesson. However, school officials
said they received complaints from some of Mounts first-period students and pulled
him out of a classroom during third period. Mount refused to agree to stop teaching from
the Bible and was sent home. He was later removed from a list of available substitute
teachers in the district.
School officials said the issue was that Mount did not teach from the
lesson plan, not that he used the Bible. Mount said the issue was censorship, and he
planned to take the case as far as he could if he was not reinstated. (10/15/97)
light on public business remains a priority
By Robert A. Butterworth
At different times and for different subjects some men impose and
other men accept a particular standard of secrecy. The frontier between what is concealed
because publication is not, as we say compatible with the public interest,
fades gradually into what is concealed because it is believed to be none of the
Walter Lippman (1946)
Twenty years ago, Walter Lippmans warning about the danger of
secrecy in public proceedings served as a preface to the first edition of the
Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual. The purpose of that initial publication was to
"provide all government officials, as well as the needs of the public and press, with
appropriate guidelines for the conduct of the publics business." This goal
remains as valid today as it was in 1978 and serves to remind government officials of the
importance of the peoples right to know in ensuring the continued strength of our
Many Floridians are already familiar with the Government-in-the-Sunshine
Manual, which is prepared annually by the Attorney Generals Office and published
by the First Amendment Foundation. The Manual serves as a reference guide on open
government issues and incorporates key court decisions, Attorney General Legal Opinions
and legislation relating to public access.
Several years ago, a voluntary open government mediation program was
established in the Attorney Generals Office to encourage voluntary resolution of
public access disputes as an alternative to costly litigation. The cost savings generated
by the mediation program are considerable. From August 1995 through August 1996, the
mediation program handled 115 cases involving a total of 136 issues. Eighty-six cases or
74 percent were resolved through the mediation program.
In November 1996, the mediation program received a Davis Productivity
Award from Florida TaxWatch in recognition of the programs effectiveness in averting
litigation and saving public funds that could otherwise have been spent to pay
attorneys fees. However, while the cost savings resulting from the mediation program
are significant, the most important benefit may be the intangible value derived from
facilitating the right of access to public meetings and records.
In his introduction to the 1978 Manual, then-Attorney General, now
appellate Judge, Robert L. Shevin strongly endorsed Floridas leadership role in
providing public access to governmental proceedings and records:
"It has been accurately observed that public officials, whether
career civil servants, elected or political appointees, seem all too often to have one
thing in common -- they like secrecy. Confidential memos, secret documents, closed
meetings and the like were at one time the rule in this state rather than the exception
they are today. . . .
"While other states and the federal government are in the process
of debating the merits of expanding their Sunshine and Public Records Laws, Florida has
served as a working example of what can be accomplished when officials in policy-making
positions sincerely believe in and follow the spirit and the letter of open government
Judge Shevins forceful advocacy of Government in the Sunshine in
1978 still rings true today. Floridians can all take pride in our heritage of open
government. And we can all work to ensure that over the next 20 years -- and beyond --
Florida will continue to be nationally recognized as a leader in providing public access
Robert A. "Bob" Butterworth has served as Floridas
attorney general since 1987. Butterworths office produces the Florida Government-in-the
Sunshine Manual. The 1998 edition will be available in mid-January. For more
information, call (850) 222-3518. A report on the open government mediation program will
also be submitted to the Legislature this month (January 1998). For more information about
mediation, please contact General Counsel Pat Gleason at (850) 488-9853.
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