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Note how courts don't side with openness

Keep court recordings available to public | May 25, editorial

Courts don't side with openness

Your editorial indicated that the 2nd District Court of Appeal cited a technical point to defend the 6th Judicial Circuit's resistance to producing the audio recordings of court hearings. The people's access to public records, in this case the audio recordings of court hearings, is a crucial issue in a time when judges seek further control over court records.

While the Florida statutes that govern public records would encompass an audio recording as a public record, it is interesting that the courts have defined court records in the rules of judicial procedure to be more restrictive and therefore less accessible to the public. The court prefers to instead produce a transcribed and edited version of court proceedings. The courts view court records as belonging to the "courts" and not to the "people."

As clerk of the court and custodian of court records, I strongly support open access to these records, not exempted by statute, in both traditional and new digital formats. Currently, court hearing recordings in all formats are both recorded and maintained by the courts themselves. Case files, on the other hand, are maintained by the clerks' offices. As things are now, the public and the media will continue to have easily accessible case files through the clerk's office.

But the public should be aware that the courts are pushing to take over the clerks' duties. The courts have managed to have legislation, SB 1718 and 2108, passed to review the court-related duties of the clerks, which began as a well-orchestrated effort by the judiciary and the Florida Bar to completely take over the responsibilities that clerks have held for more than 150 years in this state.

As shown by the courts' resistance to providing audio recordings to the media and thereby the public, if the courts succeed in gaining further power over the maintenance of case files, you can bet the public will be faced with resistance in trying to access those records, too.

Ken Burke, clerk of the Circuit Court, Pinellas County

Our actions paint an unseemly portrait

We're arguing over when torturing prisoners is the right thing to do while adding the right to take loaded guns into some of the most serene places on Earth.

We're debating if we have the moral responsibility to provide access to affordable health care while experiencing the highest rate of serious illness in the Western world.

We're cutting budgets and pulling funds back from the most needy of our young while we're debating the need to reduce automobile pollution.

We spend more on the military than the next 40 countries combined but we're scraping together cash by selling our parking meters, toll roads and bridges to private business.

We argue over right-to-life issues while we tolerate the highest infant and young-child death rate of any Anglo-Saxon country.

We want to make it easier to develop land and build more buildings while we limit water use and struggle with a glut of unsold property.

We won't charge sales tax on stadium skyboxes but we start collecting fees from people who fish from the shore.

Maybe the question isn't "Who are we?" but rather "What have we become?"

Kyle Quattlebaum, Clearwater

Working against bullying

Youth today are bombarded with a variety of negative and violent messages about how they should look and act. Significant research indicates that middle school youth experience a general decline in self-esteem and an increase in aggression and violence. The Walker Middle School tragedy is a loud cry for antibullying programs, as a preventive tool and teacher resource.

Schools can prevent bullying by providing a safe space, which means that teachers are not only trained to recognize signs of bullying but also to communicate with youth in a nonjudgmental way, opening doors to trust and communication. The Walker incident articles refer to the fact that the boy did not feel safe enough to tell an adult about what was happening. Safe space also means openly providing bullying prevention programming/education to all students so that there is schoolwide awareness, and not just case-by-case interventions.

As a board member of the Ophelia Project and Boys Initiative of Tampa Bay (OPBI), I see the importance of our new program, RISE: Revealing Inner Strengths through Empowerment, offered to sixth- grade students, on the fall wheel schedule, at five public middle schools in Hillsborough County. All sixth-graders at those schools are receiving gender-specific programs that focus on Bullying/Violence Prevention, Self-Esteem Enhancement, Positive Peer Relationships, and Leadership Development.

As a former Hillsborough County School Board member, I believe it is vital that such powerful programs addressing self-esteem and bullying continue in our schools at this critical developmental age.

Prevention programs cannot continue to be placed on the back burner. More prevention means less intervention.

Carolyn Bricklemyer, Ophelia Project/ Boys Initiative Inc., Tampa

Predators on the Pier | May 28, story

Sensationalizing slaughter

I hope you were referring to the teenage boys as the predators in your story. It is disturbing to see the poor shark and all the other dead ones that you feature in the paper.

I for one am tired of having to open the paper to see slain animals. If you would stop sensationalizing these horrible slaughters maybe people would be more inclined to let them go. I hope the boys are really happy with the shark jaws on their wall.

Monica Potter, Treasure Island

Predators on the Pier | May 28, story

Disgusting catch, coverage

One hopes that the ugly pride that Joshua Lipert and Robert Korkoske apparently take in hooking, landing and killing the female bull shark off the Pier in St. Petersburg will rapidly change to deep shame and guilt as they realize that a sizable portion of the population considers their actions cruel, disgusting and utterly contemptible.

Equally disgusting was the decision made by the editors of the St. Petersburg Times to print on the front page the horrifying picture of the dead shark in the back of a pickup truck. What is wrong with you people? Why do you repeatedly glorify the killing of some of the last great predators on the planet by printing pictures and stories of these shark kills?

And of course, pictures of these shark kills, especially one off a primary tourist stop in St. Petersburg, are not exactly tourist-friendly — unless you want to attract a bunch of other shark killers down here. Good job!

Tyler Carder, Largo

Note how courts don't side with openness 05/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:16pm]
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