From the Legal Hotline (1-877-NEWS-LAW)

From the Legal Hotline (1-877-NEWS-LAW)

Q. Our daily news reporter has requested records from our city manager regarding emails that would show negligence/wrongdoing on the city’s behalf by a departed employee. My concern is the city manager’s warning that the cost of fulfilling our request will be substantial. It does not seem that onerous a request to me. Is there anything in Florida law limiting what local governments can charge or regulating their fees for public records requests? It is worth noting that the city manager was for many years the city attorney before assuming the manager’s chair eight months ago, and he has had a successful general law practice in the county for many years.

A. The city can impose a special service charge when the nature or volume of the public records request requires extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance. Extensive clerical assistance can include the need to review and delete exempt information. “Extensive” has been defined differently by local governments/agencies–some have said 1 hour, others as little as 15 minutes.

So, you might question the manager on what, if any, the city’s policy is on “extensive use” and/or can they provide an estimate of the charges in advance. Or, as Virginia Hamrick, counsel at the First Amendment Foundation, advises, you might limit your first request (i.e., “all of the employee’s emails from Feb. 8-19”), which seems broad to her. The reporter, for example, could limit his request to only emails between the employee and certain city staff or containing certain words.

Q. Our paper has been getting a lot very nasty political attack ads and we have come up with the following new policy which I am going to add regarding political ad placements: “All content of political advertisement placed in any media platforms must be entirely about the candidate placing the advertisement. This will also hold for any advertisements placed in support of candidates but not placed by them. [The newspaper] will not accept any advertisements (political or otherwise) placed by candidates and outside entities that attack opponents in any form or manner.”

A. From a legal perspective, I think it is fine – you have the right to decide what types of ads you will accept. The practical problem may be the possible business repercussions, that is, how much advertising will you lose out on if you follow the policy? You might consider loosening it in some ways (less than “entirely,” define in more detail what you mean by “attack,” etc.).

Q. I have a question about whether digital affidavit copies can be multi-pages given the length of a notice — or if they need to be condensed into one. The statute says that “a white margin…shall be left at the right side of each affidavit form and upon or in this space shall be substantially pasted a clipping which shall be a true copy of the public notice or legal advertisement…” Any thoughts?

A. We reached out to one of our members with experitse in preparing affidavits. She says that when a notice that is too large, they put it on a second page by itself. On the affidavit page, they put (Page 1 of 2) at the bottom, and on the second page with the notice (Page 2 of 2) on the bottom. They did this when it was a newspaper clipping prior to the electronic format, as well.

Q. Is there any statute that requires law enforcement personnel to keep incident logs and provide them to the public?

A. I’m not aware of any requirement that a log be kept. If such a log exists, then of course the Public Records Act would apply, but some information might be exempt as active criminal investigate information. Finally, keep in mind that there are requirements for incident reports for law enforcement use of force and complaints against law enforcement personnel.

Q. I don’t know if the Florida Press Association can help out, but we have a story that we’d like to have reviewed by a lawyer. Could you recommend a lawyer? This is a story related to sexual harassment on a college campus.

A. I am glad to give it an initial review as part of member services. For a full vetting by a retained libel defense lawyer looking at the full background/notes/documents, I highly recommend Jim McGuire in Tampa with the Thomas LoCicero firm. I have worked with Jim for many years, and he is an excellent lawyer and a great vetting source. Also, even though he is in Tampa, I think it will still be cost effective with all the virtual technology. If you decide to contact him, just let me know and I can shoot him a quick email to let him know you will be calling or emailing. Here is his contact info.– jmcguire@tlolawfirm.com | tlolawfirm.com; ph: 813.984.3060 | direct: 813.984.3062.