When former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo was accused of throwing a cardboard tea container at his wife, he demanded the evidence against him so he could mount a defense. The Miami Herald notes that when he realized reporters would have access to those public records, including photos of his wife’s bruised face, he withdrew his request.
Still, a judge ordered the city to give the media the records a month after the alleged 2001 incident. Charges were dropped against Carollo, but the issue was argued in the Florida Supreme Court yesterday.
Attorney Karen Williams Kammer, arguing for WPLG-ABC 10, said the case is about protecting the public access information from government. “We can’t allow public officials — and here it was the mayor of the city of Miami — to control how or when or even if the members of the public can see the public records of the state,” she told the Herald.
The law exempts records from public view if they’re part of a criminal investigation. But if a defendant requests the records as part of discovery, they become public. The state has 15 days to give them to the defendant, but the law is silent on when records must be turned over to the media. Kammer said that means instantly.
Justice Barbara Pariente said, “It just doesn’t make any sense that a defendant would not get materials for 15 days but the media would get it immediately.”
The court has scaled back the public records law to prevent the media from seeing private e-mails of public officials composed on taxpayer-bought computers, and has prohibited the posting of certain court documents until a court-appointed committee creates a statewide policy for putting the files online.