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Transcript of closed litigation meeting will remain sealed

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information         Jul 11, 2002    

Transcript of closed litigation meeting will remain sealed

  • A Florida judge held that a city may withhold the transcript of a closed city meeting involving pending litigation until the conflict is resolved.

An appellate judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., ruled that a city could withhold the transcripts of a closed city meeting in which city officials discussed litigation matters with its attorney until the court case in question is resolved.

Local activist John Bruckner and the state First Amendment Foundation sued the city of Dania Beach in federal court on Jan. 6, 2000, to challenge the constitutionality of a city ordinance which gave the city manager discretion as to who may address the city commissioners. The law also requires that anyone who wishes to address the commissioners must first give reasons in writing why they wish to do so.

The commissioners met March 13 with city attorneys behind closed doors to discuss settlement negotiations and legal strategies relating to the federal lawsuit. During that meeting, the commissioners and attorneys decided to offer to amend the ordinance. The city’s attorney notified Bruckner on March 24 of that offer, but Bruckner rejected it. Four days later, the commissioners formally voted to make the offer and repealed the earlier resolution, giving residents an opportunity to be heard without first having to get permission from the city manager.

Bruckner made a public records request on April 17 for transcripts of the March 13 meeting, and the city denied his request. Bruckner sued the city on June 12 in state court, arguing that the closed meeting violated the state’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law and that the city improperly denied him access to the transcript of the closed meeting.

Bruckner argued that the city’s March 13 meeting did not fall within the litigation exemption to the sunshine laws. Bruckner also argued that the transcript of the meeting would show that the city illegally took formal action at that closed meeting and as a result, went beyond merely discussing litigation matters.

After a state trial court held that the closed city meeting fell within the state’s open meetings exemptions, Bruckner appealed. The appellate court affirmed the decision.

Judge William L. Roby held that the city met the requirements of the exemption to allow for a closed meeting to discuss litigation matters. The court found that the discussions centered on settlement negotiations and other actions that were directly related to the city’s litigation strategies. The court held that the city had rightfully weighed the options it had, considered the expenses each option would entail and discussed which actions it should take regarding the lawsuit. The court held that the commission made no formal decision at the closed meeting but merely discussed the options it had.

(Bruckner v. City of Dania Beach; Media Counsel: Appellants: Jonathan D. Kaney III, Cobb Cole & Bell, Daytona Beach) MM


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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