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Former Federal Prosecutor Charts Strategy for Leadership of Florida First Amendment Foundation


By Tori Whidden

The Florida First Amendment Foundation (“FAF”) will be starting the new year with a new face and fresh ideas. On December 1, former U.S. attorney Pamela Marsh will be taking Barbara Petersen’s position as president of the FAF. Peterson, who occupied the role for the last 25 years, announced her retirement earlier this year. 
Marsh served as U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Florida from 2010-2015. She joins the FAF after a successful career as an attorney at the Tallahassee firm Ausley McMullen.

Read the full article here

Setback for libel defendant points the way for reforms to expedite review of lawsuits that intimidate speakers

A state appeals court declined to hear a plea by a Palm Beach campaign strategist trying to cut short a libel suit by a political rival. But in rejecting the case, the judges drew a roadmap for the Florida Supreme Court to make state law more protective of libel defendants.
The 4th District Court of Appeals found that it lacked jurisdiction to hear an appeal under Florida's anti-SLAPP law ("Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation"), which enables libel defendants to get speedy dismissal of unfounded cases meant to inhibit speech.
But the judges invited the Florida Supreme Court to amend the state appellate rules so that, in the future, appeals courts will have jurisdiction to accept immediate review when a trial judge refuses to grant a libel defendant's SLAPP dismissal motion.

Read the full story: Palm Beach Post
Read the court opinion here

Legislation would shut out public access to hiring of state college presidents

A powerful state senator is seeking to give state college trustees the power to hire presidents in near-total secrecy. A bill pre-filed for the upcoming 2020 legislature would add Florida to the growing list of states where the public has no input into the presidential hiring process. Critics suspect that the bill is a response to the troubled Miami-Dade College search, which resulted in a do-over when no candidate proved satisfactory.

Source: Miami Herald

Jackpot bill for producing email records stuns animal-rights advocates

Animal-rights activists who question whether the state's methods of culling invasive pythons and iguanas are humane got an unwelcome surprise from state wildlife regulators. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received a $75,000 bill that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants paid before producing the agency's internal emails about how the culling policy was made. 
Source: Palm Beach Post

Brechner Center research on free-speech rights of public employees spotlighted nationally

The Association of Health Care Journalists featured the Brechner Center's research on the free-speech rights of public employees in an article explaining how journalists can push back against agency policies that deny reporters access to expert sources with first-hand information: "Gag orders become a problem when reporters aren’t able to speak with experts in the field. Journalists then have to rely on statements from public relations professionals, which typically provide less detail and nuance than could be obtained from an interview with the source." The AHCJ is a professional association representing about 1,500 journalists who cover science and medical issues.

In a newly published article for the Kansas Law Review, Brechner Center director Frank LoMonte explains how federal courts reached the consensus that public employers can't gag employees from speaking to the media -- and why that well-established First Amendment prohibition so often goes ignored. The article concludes that: "The notion that employees must be restrained from saying anything to the public about their work because they might compromise the image of the government agency or undercut the message that the agency hopes to convey devalues the public’s interest in an unvarnished understanding of how government works. 

Nondisclosure agreements and the #MeToo movement: How news organizations can challenge NDAs that gag their sources

Employers are getting increasingly aggressive about demanding that workers sign broad confidentiality agreements, whether to resolve a workplace dispute or as an initial condition of obtaining a job. These nondisclosure agreements can frustrate journalists' access to people with information about wrongdoing.

In a column for the latest edition of the ABA's Communications Lawyer, the Brechner Center's Rachael Jones and Virginia Hamrick explain how a news organization could step into the shoes of gagged sources -- who are unlikely to sue in their own right -- and challenge over-broad NDAs that prevent the public from learning about hazardous people and practices.

As the authors explain: “While NDAs are commonly (and harmlessly) used across the business world to safeguard competitively advantageous information, significant legal and public policy questions arise when the agreements are used to conceal potentially hazardous wrongdoing.”

Read the article in Communications Lawyer...


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How news is gathered and shared through social media: a UF Law symposium

Join top experts in the law and ethics of social media for a two-day workshop about cutting-edge data privacy issues that arise as news is distributed through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms. The event is free and open to anyone, Thursday, Feb. 13, and Friday, Feb. 14. in the Chesterfield Smith Auditorium at UF's Levin College of Law in Gainesville.


Opening the data floodgates

Dams across the country are nearing the end of their useful lives with no plan for replacing them -- putting communities everywhere at risk of flooding. That's the takeaway from a deep dive into federal data by the Associated Press, where reporters spent two years analyzing state and federal inspection reports.

The reporting team identified 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The actual number is almost certainly higher: Some states declined to provide ratings for their dams, claiming exemptions to open-records laws. Others simply haven't rated their dams, citing a lack of funding, staffing or legal authority. 

TCOG releases white paper on labor fees for inspecting government records

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (“TCOG”) recently published a white paper that addresses how agencies decide how much to charge requesters for the time public employees spend retrieving and reviewing records. Through an examination of Attorney General opinions, legislative history, and case law, TCOG questions whether production fees should apply when a requestor merely wants to inspect (as opposed to making copies of) records.

Read the white paper


That must be one long email

Aides to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers are refusing to honor a freedom-of-information request for one day's worth of his emails, invoking an exemption under state law that allows agencies to refuse requests for a "burdensome" volume of documents.
Evers told reporters he sends no more than one email a day -- and that the public should be welcome to see it.
His staff still isn't budging.

Read the full story: FOX6, Milwaukee
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