Privacy exemption does not allow city to withhold names
FLORIDA–In late October, a Circuit Court judge ordered the City of Gainesville to release the name of a victim of aggravated battery to The Gainesville Sun, despite the city’s argument that a recently amended state law prohibited the law enforcement agency from making that information public.
Under Florida’s open records law, documents generated by law enforcement agencies are generally subject to viewing and copying by the public, although an exemption was enacted in 1995 by legislators concerned about victims’ privacy. The amendment stated that victims of aggravated battery, sexual battery, harassment, aggravated stalking, aggravated child abuse or domestic violence may request to have personal information such as home address and telephone number omitted from the records released. However, the amendment did not provide for the withholding of the victim’s identity.
After repeated public records requests by the Sun to obtain the name of an aggravated battery victim from the Gainesville Police Department, the city filed suit in Circuit Court in Gainesville for declaratory judgment seeking clarification from the court as to its obligations under public records statutes. The Sun counterclaimed, asking the court to order the city to release the name.
Circuit Court Judge Chester Chance ordered the city to turn over the name. However, Chance cautioned the Sun that “access to information is a carefully guarded right … it should be exercised in a responsible manner.”
Curt Pierson, managing editor of the Sun, said the paper had no intention of publishing the victim’s name, but wanted to put an end to information access problems they had been experiencing with local law enforcement agencies.
Gainesville City Attorney Marion Radson has recommended to the City Commission that it not appeal. Radson told the city that if it wanted to keep names confidential in the future, it should draft an amendment to the public records law to allow such withholding and submit it to its local legislative delegation for sponsorship during the next legislative session. (The City of Gainesville v. Gainesville Sun Publishing Company; Media Attorney: Joel Toomey, Jacksonville)