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

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

Q. I periodically receive requests to remove images from our website, sometimes due to an arrest and other times because the individual wants to scrub the internet of their likeness.
What is the policy of the Florida Press Association on this, and does it really do any good if the image has been on the internet for a while?

A. Here is a memo that discusses some of the issues around take-down of images or news reports including the issues your raise. It’s probably more info. than you need/want but there have been quite a few questions in the past on the subject.

Q. We have a citizen who is hot on believing that the proper “oath supporting the Constitution” was not sworn to by local “soft on crime” school board and other government officials. He wants to publish a letter that details what he believes including the names and addresses of the officials. He wants to publish the letter as a legal ad or in the legal section. I do not think it qualifies as a legal ad and secondly can we get into any issue publishing this in any form?

A. The letter in question is not a legal ad under Chapter 50. It also contains statements that are not presented as an opinion and purport to be stating facts. The part of this letter that gives me the most pause is the mention of the name and address of the local official. The official might actually become aware of this and could possibly sue. It might be slightly safer to publish as a letter-to-the-editor, especially if that section states that the opinions expressed are those of the writer and not of the newspaper.

Q. I have a law firm in California that wishes to publish a notice of civil action for a lawsuit there against a boater who may sail out of our location on the Florida Gulf Coast. I am not confident about the number of publications that must be scheduled. I know in divorces it is four. Any guidance as to number of times that it should be scheduled?

A. In Florida, most “notices of action” against a person requires publication once during each week for 4 consecutive weeks. s. 49.10 (1)(a), F. S. I don’t see any special state law provision regarding actions against vessel owners, so I would advise following the generally required frequency. Keep in mind that if this is an admiralty or maritime claim in federal court, additional requirements may apply including publishing the appropriate notice “once in an approved newspaper in the county where the vessel or property was located at the time of arrest, attachment, or seizure.”

Q. Hello, for a change, I have one for you rather than relaying something for someone else in the building. We had a meeting the other night in which city council members mentioned they had individually met with the chairman of our community redevelopment agency (CRA) to discuss a proposed waterfront project. The CRA members are appointed by council, and of course, the CRA acts as an advisory agency. The council has the ultimate decision to approve or reject the CRA’s projects and budgets. There is some question about whether the CRA meetings have been public. Also, is there a violation of Sunshine Law where the city council members meet individually with the CRA, or is that just in my mind?

A. Regarding the first question, an advisory board such as a CRA may be subject to the SL, even though its recommendations are not binding upon the city council that created it. The main question will be whether the CRA has been delegated “decision-making authority” (as opposed to mere “information-gathering or fact-finding authority”). If delegated with decision-making authority, its meetings should be open.

There are several cases and AG opinions that discuss the question of such delegation. They seem to focus on whether the advisory committee is acting as the “alter ego” of the council in making tentative decisions or the committee’s advice or report is being “perfunctorily accepted.”

Does that seem to be the case here? If so, I think there is an argument the CRA meetings should be open.

Regarding your second question about whether the city council members can meet individually with the CRA, the answer is, it depends. The SL does not apply to a meeting between individuals who are members of different boards unless one or more of the individuals has been delegated the authority to act on behalf of his or her board. So, I would think that your individual city council members could meet with the CRA, so long as there is no delegation.

Q. Maybe you’ve had a dearth of interesting questions from newspapers lately. We’re here to help! Pasted below are two versions of an ad relating to products for the “scientific treatment” of COVID-19. The first is proposed text of a full-page ad a local nonprofit (we did check that; they are a legit nonprofit) wants to run in our paper, and the second is our edited version that I believe is the portion of that text we can actually publish. Your thoughts?

A. I think your changes are excellent, especially those deleting the language regarding the company’s human “trials” and any claim that their “new product” is an effective COVID-19 treatment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters to firms for selling fraudulent products with claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure COVID-19, and are actively monitoring for any firms marketing products with such claims. So, advertising those claims would be problematic.

As for the solicitation language that remains, you have done some checking and that is good. I would just mention Florida’s Solicitation of Contributions Act requires anyone who solicits donations from people in the state of Florida to register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and renew annually. I don’t see any reference to this in their website so you might ask them for any info. on that point.