Volume 22, Number 7
A monthly report:
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
- Michele D. Bush, Editor
- Jackie Thomas, Production Coordinator
- Allyson Beutke, Production Assistant
- Jennifer Page, 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
Hospital board open to public
No charges for paper with
student suspended, reinstated
USF police may
have unlawfully seized student's tape
Billboards tout freedom of
officials threatens reporter with stalking charge
Reporter ordered to
give up interview source
Judge rejects paper's
objection to jury's outing
IRS granted access to cable
U.S. Supreme Court
refuses to hear broadcast case
Appeals court affirms
libel suit dismissal
Chiles' staff accuses newspaper of spying
Mortham staff violated records
End of legislative
session brings new exemptions
DID NOT PASS:
THE BACK PAGE
New shield law
an asset to free flow of information
board open to public
TARPON SPRINGS Tarpon Springs Hospital Foundation must
open its records and meetings to the public, according to a circuit judges order.
Judge Crockett Farnell, 6th Judicial Circuit, said the foundation
acts as a public agency because it uses hospital facilities acquired with public money,
and it provides services that were formerly provided by the city of Tarpon Springs.
Therefore the hospital must allow the public to inspect its business records and attend
board meetings, Farnell wrote.
Previous to the ruling, the foundation said it needed to meet in
secrecy to stay competitive with other hospitals. (6/2/98)
charges for paper with hidden camera
FRANKLIN COUNTY The Franklin County State Attorneys
Office will not file charges against the manager of the Apalachicola Times for a
video camera in the employees bathroom because there is no specific statute dealing
with the use of hidden cameras in bathrooms.
Sheriffs deputies seized the camera and videotapes from the
newspapers bathroom in March, (Brechner Report, May 1998) prompting five female
employees to walk off their jobs. The five employees have retained an attorney and plan to
file a civil rights lawsuit.
According to management at the Apalachicola Times, the
video cameras were part of a larger surveillance system installed at the newspaper as an
anti-theft measure. (5/16/98)
student suspended, reinstated
MIAMI Miami-Dade County school officials suspended, then
reinstated, a high school student after he posted criticism about his high school on a web
site he created.
Administrators said they suspended Hialeah-Miami Lakes High
School senior Kyle Stevens for 10 days because a section of the web site discussed
shooting a bazooka at the school and hitting a teachers car.
After reviewing the incident with the school districts
superintendent, the schools principal rescinded Stevens suspension. (5/8/98)
USF police may have unlawfully
seized student's tape
TAMPA A federal appellate court ruled that the University
of South Florida Police may have unlawfully seized an allegedly obscene video.
Amy Andre, a former USF student, filed the suit against police
officers after the officers stopped a late-night, outdoor projection of a sexually graphic
videotape during a party. Judges on the Court of Appeals in Atlanta for the 11th Circuit
held that the lawsuit against the officers may progress because the officers seized the
videotape without a warrant. The remainder of the case will be heard in Tampa, in U.S.
District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Debra King, attorney for USF, said she plans to argue that
obscenity laws are not applicable in this case because the video was shown in a public
place with minors present. Andre projected the video against a dormitory wall, violating
university rules against showing graphic materials in outdoor places, King said. (5/5/98)
tout freedom of expression
MIAMI A Miami political group installed billboards around
the county advertising the freedom of speech.
The Florida chapter of People for the American Ways ArtSave
Miami project sponsored 50 billboards throughout Miami-Dade County, and it has plans for
50 more. The billboards have quotations from Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and
others, and they are printed in English and in Spanish.
The project was created in response to incidents in the area that
threatened free speech, such as a violent demonstration against a Cuban pianist and the
ousting of a member of Miami-Dades Film Commission for questioning the banning of
Cuban musicians from a Miami music convention. (5/9/98)
Former officials threatens
reporter with stalking charge
TAMPA A former public housing director has threatened to
sue the Tampa Tribune the next time a reporter calls her for comment.
An attorney representing Audley Evans has threatened to file
stalking charges against Tampa Tribune reporter Darlene McCormick for repeated
calls to Evans home. Evans was executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority
from 1988 to 1996. Arnold Levine, Evans attorney, contends that calling Evans at her
home after 9:30 p.m., especially after Evans told McCormick not to call, is a form of
McCormick was working on a story about a federal audit of the
Tampa Housing Authority while it was under Evans leadership. The audit raised
questions about bidding, apartment maintenance and financial deals. McCormicks
editor, Preston Trigg, said she was trying to do her job to get Evans side of the
story, and she was not stalking her. (5/13/98)
Reporter ordered to give up interview
DADE CITY A circuit judge ordered a former St.
Petersburg Times reporter to turn over his notes from a jail house interview with a
woman convicted of murder.
In June, Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper, 6th Judicial Circuit, ordered
Ian James to give his notes to defense attorneys for Earl Linebaugh, who is also charged
with murder. James had interviewed Melissa Harris, convicted in the deaths of two Crystal
Springs women, about that case and Linebaughs part in it. Harris contends Linebaugh
shot the women, while Linebaugh contends that Harris did.
Tepper has also ordered James to submit to a deposition about his
knowledge of the case. (6/6/98)
Judge rejects paper's objection to
TALLAHASSEE A circuit judge rejected objections from a
newspaper that a jurys visit to a murder scene should have been open to the public.
Judge N. Sanders Sauls, 2nd Judicial Circuit, said the
jurys visit to the crime scene was a last-minute decision agreed upon by both the
prosecution and defense. The jury was taken to the murder scene, a restaurant, while the
trial was in a short afternoon recess. Sauls said the jury view was not a closed
The Tallahassee Democrat objected to the jurys visit
to a crime scene because Judge Sauls never discussed the trip in open court. Michael
Glazer, attorney for the paper, likened the move to closing off access to trial
proceedings. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, when a reporter tried to gain
access to the jury view, the door was barred. (5/15/98)
granted access to cable information
PENSACOLA The U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Florida has ordered Cox Cable Communications to release to the Internal
Revenue Service information that is protected by the Cable Subscriber Privacy Act.
The Act prohibits cable companies from disclosing personal
information about cable subscribers because that information can reveal details about bank
transactions, shopping habits, political contributions and viewing habits. There is a
provision in the Act that allows such information to be released to government agencies
only if the agencies obtain court orders and show that the information being sought is
evidence that the cable customer is suspected in engaging in criminal activity.
The IRS was attempting to obtain Kent and Jo Delia Hovinds
billing and payment history to use to determine the couples income by adding up all
of their expenditures. The Hovinds were suspected of tax evasion. (4/27/98)
U.S. Supreme Court refuses to
hear broadcast case
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a
challenge to Alachua County School Boards contract with Channel One, a company that
once broadcast educational programming in schools.
Parents and teachers had sued the school board because they
objected to the boards decision to carry Channel One programming, and they wanted
monetary damages from the school board for subjecting students to it.
Channel Ones in-school broadcasts carried current events
information intermingled with paid advertising. Channel One offered free television
equipment to schools that would broadcast its programming. The Alachua County School Board
voted in 1996 not to renew its contract with Channel One. The company is now defunct.
The trial court held in favor of the school board, and an appeal
court affirmed that ruling last year. (6/9/98)
court affirms libel suit dismissal
FORT MYERS The 2nd District Court of Appeal dismissed a
libel lawsuit against the Fort Myers News-Press.
The court affirmed the trial courts ruling, which dismissed
the suit on the grounds that the disputed statements were substantially accurate.
Dr. David Fancher brought suit against the newspaper after it
published an account of Fanchers employment status with the Lee County Humane
Society. (Brechner Report, September 1997) The newspaper said Fancher was
"suspended with pay" while Fancher contended he was "placed on
administrative leave with pay." (Decisions on File, Fancher v. Lee County Humane
Society, Case No. 97-04697, May 20, 1998)
Member of Chiles' staff
accuses newspaper of spying
TALLAHASSEE Gov. Lawton Chiles communication
director accused the Tampa Tribune of using a public records request to spy on
other news organizations.
April Herrle, director of communications for the governors
office, said the newspapers request for copies of all freedom of information
requests the governor received as of March 1, 1998 was an attempt to find out what stories
other news organizations were working on. Instead of responding to the request, Herrle
sent it by fax to other news organizations in the area.
Tampa Tribune bureau chief John Wark said the newspaper
was requesting the information as a way to measure public reaction to a series on state
officials involvement in questionable fund-raising activity. The information request
was a way to follow-up the series, not to spy on other news organizations, Wark said.
According to Floridas Public Records Law, requests for
information are open to the public. (6/13/98)
staff violated records law
TALLAHASSEE State Attorney Sandra Morthams staff
violated Floridas Open Records Law, according to a state attorneys report.
State Attorney Willie Meggs reported that Morthams staff
violated the law when they refused to provide the Tampa Tribune with a tape recording of a
1997 Florida History Associates meeting. Morthams staff instead gave the newspaper
written transcripts of the meeting, later saying that the tapes were lost in the mail and
all other copies had been thrown away.
Meggs report, while also finding that Morthams staff
misspent taxpayer money, cleared Mortham and her staff of criminal wrongdoing. (5/30/98)
End of legislative session brings
The following is a list of bills from the Florida Legislature's
SB 112 (Latvala, R-Palm Harbor):
Makes confidential communications and records regarding state
employee participation in state assistance programs for substance abuse or behavioral,
emotional or medical disorders.
SB 150 (Sullivan, R-Seminole):
Creates a shield law, which grants journalists a qualified
privilege not to disclose information, including the names of confidential sources.
This privilege is only applicable to professional journalists who
receive information during the course of their duties. Professional journalists are
defined as journalists who regularly gather and publish or broadcast news for full or
part-time "gain or livelihood." Book authors are not covered by the shield law
Journalists would be required to testify only if the following
three conditions are met: the information is relevant to unresolved issues raised during a
proceeding, the information cannot be obtained from an alternate source, and there is a
compelling interest for requiring a journalist to disclose the information. The shield law
does not apply to physical evidence, eyewitness observations of crimes, or visual or audio
recordings of crimes.
SB 348 (Cowin, R-Leesburg):
Exempts from the Public Records Law videotaped statements from a
minor that reveals personal identifying information when the minor is the victim of
specified crimes involving sexual battery, lewd acts or other sexual misconduct.
SB 814 (Dyer, D-Orlando):
Exempts from the Public Records Law information such as trade
secrets or investigation records regarding stationary sources, such as buildings,
installations, transportation containers, structures or equipment subject to the
Accidental Release Prevention Program under the federal Clean Air Act.
SB 920 (Gutman, R-Miami):
Automobile accident reports and statements made about auto
accidents are not confidential or privileged and may be used as evidence in civil,
criminal or administrative proceedings.
SB 1230 (Brown-Waite,R-Brooksville ):
Exempts from the Public Records Law identifying information
provided by applicants to Florida Kids Health Program, including medical or financial
SB 1408 (Clary, R-Destin):
Exempts from the requirements of the Public Records Law any
information revealing the identity of an individual or employer in Workers
Compensation records unless the individual or employer authorizes disclosure in writing.
HB 1139 (Sindler, D-Apopka):
Exempts from the Public Records Law information contained in
rabies vaccinations certificates, which includes the license number of the administering
veterinarian, the name, address, and phone number of the veterinarian and pet owner and
the species, age, sex, color, breed, weight and name of the animal vaccinated.
HB 1433 (House Governmental Operations Committee):
Revises requirements for releasing Department of Children and
Family Services investigation records regarding abuse, neglect, abandonment or
exploitation of a child, or disabled or elderly adult.
Deletes the requirement of a court order to obtain access to
information in cases involving the death of a child, or disabled or elderly adult a result
of abuse, neglect, abandonment or exploitation.
Prohibits the release of information identifying the person who
reports the abuse, neglect, abandonment or exploitation.
HB 1437 (Saunders, R-Naples):
Keeps confidential information that identifies a patient involved
in a grievance proceeding before a managed care provider.
Also exempts identifying information and the grievance hearing
from the Open Meetings Law.
HB 1613 (Dawson-White, D-Fort Lauderdale):
Limits access to medical history records, bank account numbers,
credit card numbers, telephone numbers, and information related to health or property
insurance furnished by an individual to any agency pursuant to federal, state, or local
housing assistance programs.
HB 1639 (Hill, D-Jacksonville):
Exempts from the Public Records Law the disclosure of addresses,
telephone numbers and social security numbers of participants in the Address
Confidentiality Program for Victims of Domestic Violence.
HB 1849 (Lacasa, R-Miami, Murman, R-Tampa):
Exempts from the Public Records Law personal information
contained in foster parent licensing files concerning licensed parents, their spouses,
children and other adult household members. This exempted information includes the home,
business, work, childcare, and school addresses, as well as phone numbers, social security
numbers, birthdates or photos of the individuals or floor plans of their homes.
HB 1887 (Ball, R-Titusville):
Requires that the Florida Automobile Joint Underwriting
Association is subject to Floridas Open Records and Open Meetings laws. However, it
exempts from the requirements of the open records law underwriting files, some claims
files, internal audit records, attorney-client communications, employee medical
information, information regarding employee participation in substance abuse programs, and
some information regarding negotiations. It also exempts from the meetings law meetings
during which confidential records are being discussed, but it requires that transcripts of
those meetings be kept.
HB 1903 (Crow, R-Dunedin):
Exempts from the Public Records Law investigation information
regarding the Florida Land Sales Division until the investigation ceases to be active or
until 10 days after a notice to show cause has been filed.
HB 3311 (Saunders, R-Naples):
Adverse incident reports provided to the Agency for Health Care
Administration by healthcare facilities are exempt from the Public Records Law.
HB 3053 (Stafford, D-Ft. Lauderdale):
Exempts from the Public Records Law information identifying the
executioner who administers lethal injections in death sentences.
HB 3585 (Peaden, R-Crestview):
Provides that a private corporation that leases a public hospital
or other public health care facility is not acting on behalf of such an institution for
purposes of the Public Records and Open Meetings laws. However, this exemption to the
Public Records and Open meetings laws will not apply if the public institution was the
incorporator of the private corporation and the majority of members on the governing board
of the private corporation are also members of the governing board of the public facility.
DID NOT PASS:
SB 260, SB 364 (Senate Health Care Committee):
Would have provided an exemption to the Public Records Law for
identifying information in health, medical, patient and insurance records belonging to
SB 468 (Klein, D-Delray Beach), HB 3677 (Hafner, D-St.
Would have created the Community Hospital Protection Act, which
would have required public access to records of proposed transfers and all records
relating to the transfer of a nonprofit hospital to a profit-making company.
SB 850 (Turner, D-North Miami), HB 3317 (Cosgrove, D-Miami):
Would have exempted from Public Records and Open Meetings
requirements information regarding disciplinary proceedings involving art therapists and
registered art therapist interns.
SB 1170 (Myers, R-Stuart), HB 3605 (Fasano, R-New Port Richey):
Would have provided an exemption from the Open Meetings law for
meetings at which hospitals governing boards modify or approve strategic plans.
Would have defined strategic plans as any written plans to acquire, expand, merge,
consolidate or market the hospitals services or facilities.
SB 1180 (Forman, D-Hollywood):
Would have exempted from the Public Records Law information in
Statewide Public Guardianship Office records regarding individuals medical,
financial or mental health.
SB 1186 (Kirkpatrick, D-Gainesville):
Would have exempted from the Public Records Law and Open Meetings
Law any written or recorded information regarding the promotion, re-employment or tenure
of a faculty member in the State University System.
SB 1604 (Harris, R-Sarasota):
Would have created the Clerks of Circuit Court Public Records
Access Act, which would have required required clerks of circuit court to make public
records information available on Internet by January 1, 2001.
HB 1167 (Harrington, R-Punta Gorda):
Would have exempted from the Public Records Law personal
information relating to Department of Corrections clinicians and educational personnel,
their spouses and their children. The personal information exempted would have included
home addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and photos of the personnel, their
spouses and their children, spouses locations of employment and the childrens
schools or day care facilities.
HB 1197 (Sublette, R-Orlando):
Would have provided confidentiality for disciplinary proceedings
for boards within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as well as in the
Department of Health. Information pertaining to active investigations could have been
disclosed when the case ceased to be active. Information regarding cases that were
dismissed would have remained confidential.
HB 1939 (Posey, R-Rockledge):
Would have provided an exemption from the public records law for
bank account numbers and debit card, charge card or credit card numbers used by state or
local government agencies.
HB 1945 (Melvin, R-Fort Walton Beach):
Would have made confidential the identities of donors, applicants
and clients of the Florida Endowment Foundation for Floridas Graduates. The
foundation funds a program called Jobs for Floridas Graduates, which is a
school-to-work program that will help place high school graduates into full-time jobs.
HB 1957 (Arnall, R-Jacksonville Beach):
Would have exempted from the Public Records Law information
concerning the identification and treatment of drug abuse among applicants for and
recipients of public assistance under the WAGES program, a financial assistance program
for low-income women with dependent children.
HB 3121 (Mackey, D-Lake City):
Would have limited an offenders access to Department of
Corrections records to only situations in which the offender made a written request
demonstrating an exceptional need for information contained in the departments
records and when the information was otherwise unavailable.
Also would have prohibited disclosure of personal information
already exempt from disclosure by the Public Records Law by an inmate or offender about
another with intent to gain a benefit or to harm or defraud another.
HB 3209 (Wise, R-Jacksonville):
Would have provided an exemption from the Public Records Law for
licensed social workers disciplinary proceedings. Also would have provided an
exemption from the Open Meetings Law for probable cause hearings regarding investigations
concerning licensed social workers.
New shield law an asset to free
flow of information
By Laurence B. Alexander
Thank goodness for friends in high places.
In this instance, the friends were elected officials in the state
During their latest round of lawmaking, state legislators
approved a bill to give journalists a qualified privilege, protecting them from testifying
about their confidences and shielding their documents and other materials from subpoena.
Governor Lawton Chiles agreed with the notion and signed the bill into law.
And in one glorious instant, Florida became the 30th state to
enact a shield law. Like most shields, Floridas came after a series of tough losses
in the courtroom over the journalists privilege and a serious behind-the-scenes
lobbying effort. While the state Supreme Court recognized a privilege as early as 1976,
recent court attempts to define the parameters of the privilege began to chip away at its
The new shield law, section 90.5015 of Florida Statutes,
specifically provides working journalists with a privilege to refuse to testify or
disclose information they may obtain while news gathering. This includes information about
a confidential source, but it excludes journalists eyewitness observations or
recordings of crimes. A party that seeks to overcome the privilege must prove that the
sought-after information is relevant to unresolved issues raised in the proceeding; the
information cannot be obtained from alternative sources; and there is a compelling
interest requiring disclosure of the information.
Historically, the jailing of a journalist who has refused to
testify in official proceedings has preceded laws granting journalists this kind of
privilege. The reason for this is anybodys guess. Maybe the complexity of the press
privilege issue is so great that it takes someone to do jail time before policy makers sit
up and take notice. On this point, the Florida shield law is no exception. Two reporters
recently spent time behind bars because of their refusal to discuss their confidential
sources or information. In 1993, Tim Roche, a St. Petersburg Times reporter, spent
18 days in jail after refusing to reveal the source of a sealed court order while he
worked for his previous employer, The Stuart News. Efforts to pass a shield law
failed when Chiles vetoed the bill in 1993. Then, in 1996, Miami Herald reporter
David Kidwell was jailed for 15 days for his refusal to testify about a jailhouse
interview he conducted with John Zile, a suspect in the murder of his 7-year-old daughter.
We owe a debt of gratitude to these reporters and others who risked incarceration for
refusing to respond to a subpoena.
Will journalists fare better with the shield? Its difficult
to say for sure. A lot will depend on how the judiciary applies the law. At the very
least, we can say that the act gives journalists something legislatively that they could
not achieve judicially.
And this legislative solution could not have been realized
without the help of some friends. I hope those well-placed friends who passed the shield
dont expect any favors in return for assisting the journalists news gathering
role. If they are as politically astute as we think they are, then surely they will not.
Instead, they will accept this act for what it is: a helping hand for the free flow of
information from the source to the public.
Laurence B. Alexander is an associate professor of journalism
at the University of Florida
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