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

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

Q. Our paper received a probable cause affidavit from the county sheriff’s office heavily redacting information they claim is based on an exemption but what we believe should be open. What can we do to push back against this action which seems to be unfounded?

A. Arrest and crime reports are generally considered to be open to public inspection, although there are statutory exemptions for active criminal investigative and intelligence information, as cited in the affidavit. On the other hand, some info. can never fall within the definition of criminal investigative information and is subject to disclosure unless some other specific exemption applies.
For example, the “time, date, and location of the incident and of the arrest” and “nature of the crime” cannot be withheld from disclosure. I think you could follow up as per the following advice from Virginia Hamrick, legal counsel at the First Amendment Foundation:

I agree this is very frustrating. Certain information is not criminal investigative or criminal intelligence information. The report gives the time, date, and location of arrest but not of the incident. You could ask for the time, date, location, and nature of the reported crime, specifically excluded from the definition of active criminal investigative or intelligence information under Fla. Stat. § 119.011(3)(c).

The purpose of the exemption is to prevent premature release of information where such disclosure could impede an ongoing investigation or allow a suspect to avoid arrest or escape detention. Exemptions must be narrowly construed so they are limited to their stated purpose.
I have a difficult time seeing how all the information redacted would impede an investigation or allow the suspect to escape.

It is important to note that investigative records are only exempt – not confidential and exempt. A law enforcement agency is not prohibited from releasing information under this exemption.

Q. I’m not sure if you can help me, or possibly point me in the right direction, but was wondering if you had any specifications for how much it is to charge for tax roll publication. We rotate every 3 years between different newspapers in the county and this is our year. When I look back in old billing records it’s giving me one price, but was wondering if there is a website/instructions on how big type has to be, what to charge, etc.

A. Since this is not a competitive bid situation, you should charge the rate you typically charge for other legal ads. The language in the statute says that the legal ad rate can be up to your “regular established minimum commercial rate.” You must charge based on 6-point type, although you can use a larger font if you like. See 50.061(3), (6), F.S.

Q. Our printer had a small press issue and about 10-12 parcels of the more than 1,100 in our delinquent tax advertisements did not print correctly in the entire 3-week run. The printer has agreed to reprint the entire run for us. We went ahead and inserted them into the paper this week and they are scheduled to run on May 20 and 27. My question is will the printing error cause us to publish the corrected copy for an additional week or will correcting the problem for the remaining two runs be sufficient?

A. The statute (s. 197.401) says “the tax collector shall advertise a list of the names of delinquent personal property taxpayers and the amount of tax due by each” and further states “the tax collector shall advertise once each week for 3 weeks.” Based on this language, at least those limited notices that appear to delete some of the information related to names and amounts due should be re-noticed for the additional week—if you can in fact do it in that limited way.

Also, I know that the county has a timeline for publishing the notices. Will they be limited in their ability to run the notices an additional week to meet the timeline? I would check with your county commission contact to see how they want you to proceed in light of the erroneous run. They will have to deal with any fall-out if an issue is raised by the property owner.

Q. I am seeking advice. A newly elected county commissioner (GOP) wants to run an advertisement in the paper that is signed by every elected official in our community that asks people to stop with the hateful insults and work together. We live in a very divided place. Trump won with 70 percent of the vote and every elected official here is a Republican. We have a bunch of “#@*&!! Biden” signs hanging up in public places around town. She wants it stop.

But – the question: She wants to do this anonymously. She is a single woman who lives alone and has actual fear of reprisals. Do the state election laws cover this as a political advertisement? Must it be attributed to a political action group of something like that? She has actually gotten most of the elected officials to sign on. But I don’t want to get her in trouble. What do you think?

A. I don’t think this is a political advertisement or an electioneering communication, both of which require certain disclaimers. There is a “catch all” for miscellaneous policy ads “intended to influence public policy or the vote of a public official” which must designate the ad’s sponsor and include a “statement of sponsorship.” S. 106.1437  The “influence public policy” language is pretty vague. I think it’s a stretch to say that an ad containing a plea to fellow citizens to act civilly is one intended to influence “public policy.” Also, the ad doesn’t seek to change how a public official votes.

A clear example of an advertisement to influence public policy or the vote of a public official is in the Div. of Elections handbook:

To River Heights County Commissioners
Vote AGAINST increasing our property tax rate.
Sponsored by River Heights Homeowner Association

Maybe you could run the provision by the new commissioner and let her decide whether she should disclose her name as the “sponsor” (paying the bill).

Q. Our county just announced their new tourism marketing campaign “Enjoy the Best of Local Nature” launching on Earth Day and focused on wildlife featuring animated animals.

We have had a feature on our website and print edition since 2012 called “Enjoy the Best of Local Nature,” featuring photos of wildlife and cute slogans and rhymes to help educate visitors how to treat imperiled species like sea turtles and shorebirds on our nearby vacation resort island.

Is this a copyright violation? We do have the required notices in print and digital. The story is being written right now for tonight’s weekly edition publication deadline and we would change it significantly if this is a violation.

A. We asked Jim McGuire at the Thomas LoCicero law firm to weigh in. Jim says It is possible the paper has common law trademark rights in the phrase “Enjoy the Best of Local Nature.” He doesn’t have enough information to make that determination for certain, but the key questions would be (1) how regularly does the paper use this phrase, (2) in what contexts, (3) how much money does it spend promoting the phrase, and (4) is the phrase actually used to identify the paper or its services? (If it isn’t used in that fashion, then it isn’t functioning as a trademark.) If the paper has common law trademark rights in the phrase, it could sue the county for trademark infringement and seek to enjoin use of the phrase by the county. There likely would not be any recoverable damages, however, so the paper might have to pay for a lawsuit with the only remedy being that the county would stop using the phrase.

More likely, Jim thinks this isn’t really a copyright issue. The paper did not invent the phrase “Enjoy the Best of Local Nature,” and he’s guessing it has not registered the copyright, and doubts that the phrase would even be registerable.