Volume 22, Number 8
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
association subject to Open Meetings Law
$250,000 in damages in student's lawsuit
Attorney sues paper's columnist
Judge: Plastic surgeon is
a public figure
New shield law
used: Journalists will not testify
Reporter not required to
name her source
Mayor acquitted of battery charge
Company asks for trial to be
Council limits new store's
Radio group disregards FCC's
Initial complains open to public
for documents used in city official's firing
NEWS & NOTES
Brechner Center director
Kogan recognized for court
THE BACK PAGE
difficult First Amendment lesson
Athletic association subject to
Open Meetings Law
TALLAHASSEE The Florida High School Activities
Association, Inc., is subject to Floridas Public Meetings Law, according to Attorney
General Bob Butterworth.
The association is a not-for-profit corporation legislatively
designated to oversee athletics in public schools. Floridas Public Meetings Law
applies to all meetings of state agencies, unless specifically exempted, during which
official action is taken. Therefore the association is required to open its meetings to
the public, according to Butterworth in Attorney General Opinion 98-42. (7/14/98)
awards $250,000 in damages in student's lawsuit
GAINESVILLE An Alachua County jury ruled that a University
of Florida student was libeled during a student government campaign.
Charles Grapski, a doctoral candidate, sued Florida Blue Key and
two of its members over fliers posted during the 1995 campaign that falsely accused
Grapski of child molestation.
The jury awarded Grapski $250,000 in damages. However, Judge John
Booth, 8th Judicial Circuit, said he will not make his final ruling on the jurys
award until September. (4/5/98 - 6/6/98)
PUNTA GORDA A former city attorney filed a libel suit
against a newspaper columnist, claiming that the columnist published false and defamatory
statements about him.
David La Croix filed suit against Tom DAndrea, a columnist
for the Sun Herald. La Croix contends that DAndrea libeled him by printing that La
Croix gave sworn testimony during a deposition in which La Croix was not sworn in, and he
contends that DAndrea misattributed information given during the deposition to him.
In the complaint, La Croix said that he should not be considered
a public figure in the case because he resigned from the position of city attorney two
days before DAndreas column ran. However, La Croix continued to work for the
city while it looked for his replacement. (5/2/98)
Plastic surgeon is a public figure
PALM BEACH COUNTY A circuit judge determined in a plastic
surgeons defamation suit that the surgeon can be considered a public figure. Dr.
Schuyler C. Metlis filed suit contending he was defamed during a WJNO radio broadcast
during which the show host discussed Metlis.
Judge James Carlisle, 15th Judicial Circuit, ruled that Metlis
had put himself at the forefront of public debate about his practice and the value of
plastic surgery, and therefore he fits the definition of a public figure. Metlis had
cooperated with The Palm Beach Post in publishing a package of articles about
plastic surgery that included stories about Metlis and his patients. During the radio
broadcast in question, the host made some negative statements about Metlis after seeing
the articles in the newspaper. (2/24/98)
New shield law used: Journalists
will not testify
TALLAHASSEE The new Florida shield law was invoked for the
first time when a federal judge ruled in June that a St. Petersburg Times reporter
does not have to answer questions about an interview for a 1996 story.
U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul, for the Northern District of
Florida, held that Lucy Morgan was not required to divulge information about an interview
with executives with an insurance company she reported had spied on a government official.
According to Morgans news story, executives of the Bankers Insurance Co. of St.
Petersburg admitted to hiring a private investigator to find any information about a state
Department of Insurance official that could cause the state insurance commissioner to fire
The reporters shield law was enacted during the 1998
legislative session. (Brechner Report, June, 1998). In his opinion, Paul wrote that
the federal common law standard and the states new shield law would yield the same
result because they are practically the same.
Morgan was also involved in one of the first cases in which the
Florida Supreme Court recognized a common law reporters privilege. In the 1976 case
of Morgan v. State, the Court overturned a lower courts contempt citation
against Morgan for refusing to reveal the identity of a confidential source. (7/4/98)
not required to name her source
MONROE COUNTY A reporter will not have to disclose the
identities of sources from whom she received information about a defendant in a criminal
trial in which participants had been under a gag order.
The defendant in the criminal case, Thomas Overton, subpoenaed
reporter Marika Lynch of the Miami Herald after the newspaper published
Overtons reactions to crime scene photos.
Judge Mark H. Jones, 16th Judicial Circuit, held that Lynch is
not required to name her sources because doing so would constitute an invasion of the
newsgathering process and Lynchs First Amendment rights. Judge Jones also reasoned
that Overton failed to show that Lynchs testimony would have been relevant to the
crimes for which he had been charged, that there was no alternative source for the
testimony or that there was a compelling need for the information.
This trial took place before the Florida Legislature passed a
qualified reporters shield law. (3/20/98)
acquitted of battery charge
FORT MYERS A Lee County jury acquitted Mayor Bruce Grady
of hitting a reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press.
Grady admitted to pushing reporter Roger Williams away during a
confrontation about a news story, but said he did so because he was provoked by
Williams questioning. Williams had been asking Grady questions about the effects of
a proposed ferry system on the manatee population. (Brechner Report, May 1998)
Gradys attorney said that physical contact between the two
had occurred, but he would not characterize it as hitting. (7/13/98)
asks for trial to be closed
PALM BEACH COUNTY A company that manufactures electronic
monitors for people who are on house arrest has requested that portions of a murder trial
be closed to the public. The company, BI Inc., said it is trying to keep company secrets
away from criminals.
The companys monitors are at issue in the murder trial of
Ralph Jamie Hayes, a 17-year-old who slipped out of his monitor. He is suspected of
killing his girlfriend while he was unmonitored.
The monitors are bracelet-like tracking devices that fit around a
criminals ankle. BI Inc. would like to seal courtroom discussion of how Hayes
escaped his monitor so criminals dont use the information to escape.
Last year, BI Inc. had asked Judge Harold Cohen, 15th Judicial
Circuit, to seal the records and close the hearings when discussion turned to Hayes
escape from the monitor. Cohen denied the request, so BI Inc. has asked a special
arbitrator to hear the motion. (7/14/98)
limits new store's advertising
PALM BEACH The town of Palm Beach voted to allow a
developer to build a Neiman Marcus department store on Worth Avenue, but with a caveat:
the store must restrict its advertising.
One of the conditions the Palm Beach Town Council placed on the
development of the store is that advertising must be limited to publications that serve
only Palm Beach. After the stores first year of business, the council will
reconsider whether to let the store expand its advertising.
The council intended to limit the number of nonresidents shopping
at the store. (6/10/98)
group disregards FCC's warning
GAINESVILLE An underground radio station plans to continue
to broadcast despite warnings of sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.
The Free Radio Collective runs a 40-watt station that broadcasts
locally produced music, news and political programming three nights a week.
The FCC ordered the collective to stop broadcasting or face
possible seizure of their equipment, a $11,000 fine and imprisonment. The members of the
collective said they will exercise their First Amendment rights and continue to broadcast.
complains open to public
TALLAHASSEE Initial complaints of wrongdoing from
whistleblowers are public records, but the complainants identity remains
confidential, according to Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
The initial complaint of wrongdoing is open to the public because
it takes place before an official investigation is commenced, Butterworth said in AGO
98-37. Butterworth said that information collected during an investigation is not open to
the public. The whistleblowers identity remains confidential while the investigation
into the complaint remains active. (7/5/98)
sues for documents used in city official's firing
ST PETERSBURG The St. Petersburg Times filed suit
against the city of Pinellas Park because it wants access to documents relating to the
firing of the assistant city manager.
The newspaper is seeking access to a document an employee created
at home that the city manager later used as evidence when he disciplined the assistant
city manager. The Times is also trying to get access to a memo the city manager put
in the assistant city managers personnel file. (6/24/98)
Center director receives award
MINNEAPOLIS, MN Bill Chamberlin, director of the Brechner
Center for Freedom of Information, was awarded a 1998 Achievement Award from the National
Coalition for Freedom of Information. The award, given for Chamberlins role in the
development of a 50-state access website, was presented at the organizations annual
meeting in Minneapolis in June.
The website can be accessed at http://www.reporters.net/nfoic/,
the National Freedom of Information Coalitions website. (6/22/98)
recognized for court website
DAYTONA BEACH Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, of the Florida
Supreme Court, received the 1988 Pete Weitzel / Friend of the First Amendment Award, which
is sponsored by the First Amendment Foundation.
Kogan received the award for his program that made court
information available on the Internet. He received the award during the annual June
convention of the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.
learns difficult First Amendment lesson
By Lonnie Groot
If First Amendment freedoms are to continue to be honored by our
children, it is incumbent upon adults to instill the values inherent in free speech at
every opportunity. Unfortunately, some recent events in my county indicate that some
adults in authority are not inclined to encourage our young people to value the right to
The Orlando Sentinel reported that teachers told a sixth-grade
girl, C.C. Engilis, the recently elected student body president at Deltona Middle School,
to write a retraction to a letter she wrote to the Volusia County School Board. Engilis,
11, had written a letter to the school board favoring a return to interschool athletic
competition at the middle school level. By writing the letter, C.C. was keeping her
campaign promise to try to get intramural sports at her school.
After she sent the letter to the school board members, C.C. said,
her teachers told her to write another letter to them explaining that she didnt have
the principals permission to write the first letter. They also asked her to explain
to the board members that she was expressing her personal opinion, not the opinion of the
C.C.s mother pointed out what seems all too obvious
that C.C.s teachers should have encouraged her instead of scolding her. Worse yet,
when C.C. later attempted to discuss the issue with other members of the Student
Government Association, her teachers told her not to broach the subject. C.C.s
father was livid and said, "If the letter was the wrong way to go, then she should
have been able to discuss the issue at the meeting."
At least one school board member had something positive to say
about the matter. "I really dont think we do a good enough job in public
education of encouraging kids to express themselves," Chairwoman Judy Conte said. Ms.
Contes recognition is a tremendous understatement, particularly in view of the other
actions of school officials in her county. For example, school principals are allowed to
ban hair ornaments because they may be used to convey a message relating to gang identity.
Principals are allowed to screen the messages and publications of school clubs and they
are allowed to ban the wearing a graduation chords signifying membership in clubs or other
If we are to pass on our time-honored value of free speech and
free expression, we must ensure that the school officials in charge of teaching our young
citizens show a full and complete respect for those rights even when bureaucratic
lines are breached or a little bit of control over campus is loosened. In any event, it
must seem peculiar to a young person that under the protection of our Constitution, they
can obtain virtually any type of message over the Internet, but they cant write to
their school officials, wear a hair ornament or post a bulletin without obtaining
clearance from school officials.
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