|NMU||FLORIDA||Freedom of Information||Oct 3, 2002|
Judge releases details of Noelle Bush drug hearing
- An Orange County judge released a redacted transcript of a closed hearing held last week to determine whether drug-treatment employees must comply with police in Noelle Bush’s criminal investigation.
A judge Sept. 30 released the transcript from the hearing about whether drug treatment employees must cooperate with police in the criminal investigation of Noelle Bush, the daughter of Gov. Jeb Bush. The move followed a request by the The Orlando Sentinel for the transcripts.
Staff workers at the Center for Drug-Free Living allegedly found and confiscated a 0.2-gram crack rock from Bush’s shoe Sept. 9; however, they refused to sign sworn police statements describing what they found.
When the workers refused to cooperate with police, the Orange-Osceola State Attorney subpoenaed the four employees, asking the court to force them to testify.
At the request of the treatment center, Orange County Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. held a closed hearing on the matter and ruled that confidentiality rights of drug patients carry higher priority than law enforcement’s right to investigate those patients. The ruling means that the four treatment center employees will not have to testify in the matter.
In an attempt to access the information debated at the closed hearing, the Sentinel filed a motion Sept. 25 requesting the court’s transcripts.
Sentinel editor Tim Franklin said he wanted the court “to simply open up the process.”
Perry released the transcript Sept. 30. Because Perry ruled in favor of patient privilege, certain parts of the transcript were redacted.
But the transcript redaction was minimal, said Sentinel attorney David Bralow. “Merely Noelle Bush’s name was blocked.”
The paper’s main interest in the transcripts was to open the debate, Franklin explained. “This is an important legal principle regarding drug patient privilege in criminal investigations. The public should be allowed to hear arguments for both sides.”
According to Franklin, the Sentinel also is interested in the details of the investigation to determine whether Noelle Bush is receiving special treatment.
One of the staff workers for the Center for Drug-Free Living was allegedly forced to tear up an official report he wrote regarding Bush’s possessions of drugs, Bralow said.
“We want to get a handle on whether the Center for Drug-Free Living pressured the staff member to tear up the statement, or if they got pressure from other corners,” said Franklin.
Bralow said the newspaper will continue in its efforts to open up the process in further court hearings concerning Noelle Bush.
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press