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Stick to paper for official memos, DCF official told

Concerns about possible public records violations have led a Department of Children and Families administrator to stop requiring tape-recorded memos from her deputies.

Deputy Secretary Cathleen J. Newbanks had asked her eight department heads to send in their weekly reports on audio tape instead of in conventional written form. But when a newspaper requested copies of the reports, the agency had trouble locating them.

It took days to find some of the tapes in Newbanks' car and luggage. Officials said some memos may have been erased or taped over.

State law requires all correspondence to be retained for at least three years, said Patricia Gleason of the Florida Attorney General's Office. She added that public records are not meant to be kept in officials' homes or cars.

Newbanks joined the DCF in November. She said she told deputies they could tape over their recordings to save taxpayer money.

"This has nothing to do with anything, other than trying to be efficient and effective," she said.

"She has now been advised of Florida's public records law, and the error will not recur," said Sam Kramer, chief of staff for DCF Secretary Jerry Regier.

Supreme Court lets award

in tobacco suit stand

WASHINGTON _ R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday that challenged a judgment awarded to the widow of a Sarasota teacher who died of cancer.

The Supreme Court did not comment in turning down Reynolds' request to hear the case.

The nation's second-largest cigarettemaker had paid the $195,000 judgment while the appeal was pending. Lawyers said it was the first time the company paid damages in an individual product liability lawsuit.

Floyd J. Kenyon Sr. died of cancer in 2002, 60 years after he started smoking as a teenager. Before his death, he and his family sued, claiming that RJR made a defective and dangerous product.

Police say hospitalized

abused girl nearly died

PORT CHARLOTTE _ A 5-year-old girl was recovering Monday at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg after being found with a broken arm, cuts, open sores and near death with septic shock, police said.

There also was evidence she had been choked with a cord, said deputies who arrested her father and stepmother.

Mary Elizabeth Vanfleet, a kindergarten student, was barely conscious when taken from her home late Friday, Charlotte County sheriff's deputies said. They said she was in septic shock, a condition that occurs when infection lowers blood pressure and decreases blood flow.

The stepmother, Marsha Ann Vanfleet, 25, was charged with aggravated child abuse, a first-degree felony, and neglect. She was in jail Monday with bail set at $15,000.

Justin Vanfleet, 24, the girl's father, was charged with child neglect. He was being held without bail Monday at the county jail because he was on probation from an unrelated case.

Two other two children were taken from the home by state child welfare officials.

Insider stole confiscated drugs, Volusia sheriff says

DeLAND _ Someone in the Volusia County Sheriff's Office has stolen nearly $500,000 worth of drugs being held as evidence, Sheriff Ben Johnson said Monday.

Johnson said a former employee, whom he would not identify, is suspected of stealing at least 370 pounds of marijuana and 1.89 pounds of cocaine over two years.

Investigators fear the missing drugs, with an estimated value of $456,000, could jeopardize ongoing criminal cases. It's also feared they have gone back to the street.

The Sheriff's Office said an arrest is imminent.

_ Wire reports

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