Attorneys at Thomas & LoCicero achieve a significant victory which upholds the Public Records Act.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected efforts by Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with multiple counts of murder in connection with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, to keep secret the names of expert witnesses who may visit him in jail. The Court’s opinion is available here.
Thomas & LoCicero lawyers Dana J. McElroy, James J. McGuire, and Daniela B. Abratt represented the South Florida Sun Sentinel which, along with the State of Florida, argued that names entered on jail visitation logs are public records open to inspection.
Cruz filed a petition for certiorari review with the Fourth District Court of appeal, contending that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law when it refused to issue a protective order that would redact from jail visitation logs the names of potential expert witnesses who would sign in to visit and meet with him. Cruz raised three principal arguments against disclosure of the visitation logs: (1) that the expert’s names on the logs did not constitute public records, (2) that the disclosure of the names would reveal Cruz’s attorney-client privileged communications and attorney work product, and (3) that such disclosure would violate his constitutional right to a fair trial.
On behalf of the Sun Sentinel, Thomas & LoCicero challenged each of these three arguments, asserting that Cruz’s request to shield the logs was, in reality, “a transparent attempt to create a new exemption to the Public Records Act,” which courts are not permitted to create. Moreover, as Thomas & LoCicero explained, “[i]f access to public records could be so easily thwarted, the statutory and constitutional rights of the public would be rendered illusory” and prior Florida Supreme Court precedent “would be meaningless.”
After engaging in a detailed analysis of the issues, the Fourth DCA rejected all of Cruz’s arguments. In summary, the Court explained that it would deny Cruz’s petition because the “[Florida] constitution and the Public Records Act do not authorize redacting the names of the experts visiting [Cruz] in jail.” Commenting on the decision, Thomas & LoCicero attorney Dana McElroy, who regularly represents the Sun Sentinel, said: “We are pleased with the Court's decision, which reaffirms Florida’s strong commitment to open public records, even in high-profile criminal cases.”
With offices in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Thomas & LoCicero is a Florida law firm that is widely known, respected and committed to free speech and a free press. The firm represents the industry’s leading electronic and traditional publishers, as well as individual journalists, bloggers and influencers of social media on issues ranging from news gathering to invasion of privacy, from defamation to pre-publication review. At the heart of the firm’s mission is to champion free speech and defend journalism every day.