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

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

Q. I am a reporter for our newspaper in Central Florida. I was informed of a town council meeting that took place last night where five of the six members were present. The members unanimously appointed a council member to the vacant council seat left after a council member recently stepped down. While the council did have quorum, no special meeting was advertised in our newspaper nor was it posted on the town’s website. However, the town clerk said it was posted outside the town hall on the bulletin board, which satisfied their city charter. And the town attorney said he felt the meeting was properly advertised. The town clerk told me about 18 residents attended the meeting and there were three residents who applied for the vacant seat. The town does not have an active Facebook page for it to be posted there, either. Would you be able to tell me if the special-called meeting was properly noticed?

A. The council must provide “reasonable notice” of its meetings. The Sunshine Law does not define the term “reasonable notice” so it will depend upon the facts of the situation. It should give notice in such a manner as to enable the media and the general public to attend the meeting. A newspaper advertisement would probably be helpful in notifying the public but it is not required unless the local charter calls for that.

The Attorney General’s Office has issued “guidance” in this area and suggests the town/board prominently display the notice in city hall and on the town’s website, and for special meetings notice, provide no less than 24 and preferably at least 72 hours reasonable notice.

I don’t see a Sunshine Law violation here but it seems the notice could have been better perhaps using (if not used) press releases, faxes, e-mails, and/or phone calls to local news media.

Virginia Hamrick at FAF adds that this being a fact-sensitive question, the answer will depend on the purpose of the notice, the nature of the event about which notice is given, and the nature of the rights to be affected.

Q. Can you give me an idea what the legal size for several eminent domain proceeding legal notices that are composed of lengthy circuit court notices of hearing/action?

A. In regard to size, Chapter 50 only talks about what can be “charged.” Specifically, it says the legal ads must be “charged and paid for on the basis of 6-point type on 6-point body, unless otherwise specified by statute.” Also, I don’t see any size requirements for notices published in Chapter 73 eminent domain proceedings. So, I think you will have the flexibility to run the ads in a smaller size for such lengthy ads but your charge would be based on 6 point type.

That said, I would definitely ask the law firm representing the county this question, as well. They (and the county) will be responsible for making sure the ads comply with the statutory requirements.

Q. We are looking to work remotely at home and I handle the legals and produce the notarized affidavits that go out with them. What I would like to know is if the owner/editor can use an electronic signature on the affidavit, as long as my signature and stamp is the original. Any help you can provide on this matter would be helpful.

A. The owner can use an electronic signature since Florida law (668.50 Uniform Electronic Transaction Act) says “a record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because the record or signature is in electronic form” and that “if a provision of law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies such provision.”

Not sure if this applies to you but you might be able to notarize virtually. In particular, Florida allows documents to be notarized online when the notary and the signatory are in different physical locations and are connected through audio-video communication technology. § 117.201.

Q. I’m publishing a new magazine about body painting. There is a female model who is body painted but topless. I would like the magazine to be eligible for newsstands. I wanted to find out if my pictures count as nudity and learn more about the law before I proceed with printing. The goal is to sell the magazine wholesale to other merchants to sell on their newsstands and not set up our own.

I don’t think my publication will have any problems with including our body painting in it; however, I would like to know more about this in case I should put 18 and older warning on the magazine and get my model releases reviewed and etc. I just couldn’t afford the other attorneys I found online and am very appreciative of you offering to connect me with a more reasonable source.

A. Your city, like many municipalities, has an ordinance covering “news racks” used to display or sell “newspapers or other written periodicals.”

Whoever might set up racks for your magazine or place them in existing racks will want to look at the city’s code, which requires an application (for new racks) and lays out other requirements.

Regarding your publication, basically the city must treat all publications equally regardless of their size, content, circulation, etc. Vendors cannot include obscenity in their vending activity, but I don’t see your magazine falling in that category.

I do have some general forms that pertain to independent contractors, such as photographers, if you need that, although frankly you can probably find similar resources online.

If you have detailed legal questions and need individual legal advice, I can refer you to our retained firm that has helped publications in your area and is reasonable in terms of cost.

Q .My news team is debating about using someone’s Facebook picture for news stories. They’ve done it in the past, but one of the editors thinks it’s inappropriate to take it from a private company. Do you know of any issues with that?

A. Generally speaking, photos on an individual’s Facebook page that are posted with a “Public” setting can be used by others. See Facebook policy: When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture). In that case, the paper could use the photo in a limited way.

Even though the person’s photos are apparently posted to a private company’s Facebook page, I think it would, again, turn on what setting is being used (is the photo on page with a “public” setting?) than on whether the user is an individual or a company. If the setting is public, the photos should be useable.