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

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

Q. I have a legal question. We are having a problem getting reports or even basic details from our local county sheriff’s office and with an election upcoming it is getting worse. For example: there was a young mother and 2-month-old infant found dead in their home yesterday. They refuse to provide any information beyond they did indeed respond to a call and that is what they found. We requested the dispatch log and report and were told that is all that is being released at this time. That information we pulled off a post on their Facebook page. On a more frequent basis, they are providing our weekly reports a day late or even past deadline at times.

What would my next steps be? Should I hire an attorney to send a letter? I sat down with the Sheriff last year and we discussed getting information in a timely manner, but nothing has changed. As I stated earlier, due to the impending election I fear this problem will get worse as he tries to be the good guy to all the potential voters.

A. If you make a public records request to a public agency like a sheriff’s office and your request is denied, the office is required to provide you with the specific statutory authorization for the denial if you ask for that— that’s very important. I have a sample public records request if you need one.

And yes, if they continue to refuse to respond in part or full, you can hire an attorney to help. Our retained firm is Thomas LoCicero (Jim McGuire). They are in Tampa–I don’t think they have to be local although you may already have someone in mind and that is fine as well.

Finally, are they claiming that Marsy’s Law renders some of this information confidential? If so, they should be aware that a recent Fla. Supreme Court decision clarified that ML can’t be used to keep victim identities secret.

Hope this helps. Local gov. secrecy is becoming a greater problem not just here but around the country—see AP article https://apnews.com/article/local-government-secrecy-records-meetings-4812c60d19b584c59f6fe2a007c09393

Q. I believe there has been polling on the public’s reliance on newspapers to provide public notice. What is the most recent polling in Florida, and can you supply me with a copy? This would be great to use when talking with legislators about the importance of newspapers in the local community.

A. The latest independent polling of voters by Mason Dixon Polling and Research was conducted in December, 2023 and shows that 78% of Floridians say that state and local governments should be required to publish public notices in the newspaper on a regular basis and 61% of Floridians were unlikely to seek out public notices if they were posted on a government web site and not available in a printed or online newspaper. Here are the polling results

Q. Can you look at an article I am preparing to publish in next week’s paper? It deals with some elected officials in a small town in our area. The gist of the article relates to the accuracy of a resolution signed by a local official including that it was “falsified” and is a “false document.”

A. Overall the article looks fine but you may want to refer to the document as “inaccurately dated” or “misdated” as opposed to being broadly false or falsified since the other parts of the document appear to be accurate.

Q. A freelance photographer raised heck with us for publishing in print and online a couple of his photos of a home about which we wrote a story. We made the mistake of not giving him a photo credit. Are we violating copyright law if, say, we write a story about the sale of a home and download a photo from Zillow or Realtor.com or the Realtor’s website? One of our staffers makes the argument that these photos are ok to use and not credit because they fall under the “fair use doctrine.” What say you?

A. I don’t think this is fair use. There might be a question about whether the photographer licensed the rights to Zillow or Realtor.com and authorized them to permit third party use, but otherwise simply taking someone’s photo and using it is not fair use.