The public knows so much about Florida defendant Casey Anthony, suspected of killing her daughter Caylee, because of Florida’s strong open records laws, says the Orlando Sentinel. We know whom she has slept with, and we’ve read the racy instant messages she shared with an ex-deputy; we know that Anthony’s father lost money in an e-mail scam. “Without that muscle, without being able to exercise that muscle, none of this stuff would be available,” said Charles Davis of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri. The Sentintel covered the issue partly because this is Sunshine Week, aimed at increasing public awareness of the importance of open government.
“Florida’s open-records laws are some of the best in the nation when it comes to access to information,” said Clay Calvert, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies First Amendment issues. “The Anthony story itself has sensationalistic appeal that makes it popular for our voyeuristic tendencies in a reality-TV world. Nonetheless, the open-records laws of Florida have helped to fuel that fire. Had this taken place in another state, we might not see quite as much interest, although there would certainly still be coverage by the likes of [Nancy] Grace and her ilk.” The public agencies involved with some aspect of the Anthony case – the State Attorney’s Office, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, and even the county jail – have been inundated with constant requests from reporters.