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Miami Herald Media Co. v. In re State

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

April 26, 2017

Miami Herald Media Company and WPLG, Inc., Petitioners,
v.
In Re: State of Florida
v.
Kaheem Arbelo, et al., Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         A Case of Original Jurisdiction - Petition for review Lower Tribunal No. 15-16544A; B; C; D; & E.

          Holland & Knight LLP, and Sanford L. Bohrer and Scott D. Ponce; Mitrani Rynor, et al., and Karen Williams Kammer, P.A., for petitioners.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Jonathan Tanoos, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent State of Florida; Scott W. Sakin (Fort Lauderdale), for respondent Desiray Strickland; Eugene Zenobi, Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Third Region, and Philip L. Reizenstein, Assistant Regional Counsel, for respondent Kaheem Arbelo; Lane Abraham, for respondent Joseph Cabrera; Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and John Eddy Morrison, Assistant Public Defender, for respondent Jonathan Lucas.

          Before LAGOA, SALTER and LOGUE, JJ.

          SALTER, J.

         Two media intervenors, Miami Herald Media Co. and WPLG, Inc., petition for expedited review of four trial court orders denying access to certain records and to one forthcoming pretrial hearing in a high-profile murder case. We deny the petition on the merits, finding that the trial judge's orders were entered only after she carefully considered the record and applicable law. The trial court granted many of the requests for records made by the media intervenors, but it is not our role or right to re-weigh the trial court's assessment of the facts underlying her conclusion that restrictions on access to other pretrial discovery and to an Arthur hearing[1] are necessary in this case to prevent substantial prejudice to the defendants.

         I. Standard of Review

         This case is governed by Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.100(d). Our standard of review is the standard we apply regarding original petitions for certiorari. Florida Freedom Newspapers, Inc. v. McCrary, 520 So.2d 32, 33 (Fla. 1988) (affirming district court order, which reviewed the media petition under the certiorari standard of review); Lake v. State, 193 So.3d 932, 933 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) (denying a petition for review of a pretrial order refusing to close court proceedings because the court did not depart from the essential requirements of law); Times Publ'g Co. v. State, 903 So.2d 322, 327 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005) (trial court order denying public access to discovery materials relating to a criminal prosecution reviewed for a departure from the essential requirements of law).

         With respect to the trial court's findings of fact in ruling on the petitioners' motions for media access, we will defer to the findings if supported by competent, substantial evidence. The specific findings that closure is essential to preserve the defendants' rights, and that no reasonable alternatives exist, must be articulated in a written ruling or in "the transcripts of discussions held on the relevant closure issues." Morris Publ'g Grp., LLC v. State, 136 So.2d, 770, 775 n. 4 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014).

         II. Analysis

         A. Balancing Rights Today: Social Media vs. Press and Television

         The media intervenors' motions in the trial court required a balancing of the defendants' due process right to a fair trial in Miami-Dade County, where the charged offenses allegedly were committed, Art. I, § 16(a), Fla. Const. (1968), and the rights of the public and media to access records under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes (2016), and to observe in-court proceedings under Richmond Newpapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980); Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368 (1979).[2]

         These competing rights were addressed by the Supreme Court of Florida in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Lewis, 426 So.2d 1 (Fla. 1982). Lewis adopted a "three-pronged test" in assessing such cases, and it carefully differentiated between pretrial proceedings in criminal cases and the actual trials of such cases. Importantly, the present case involves demands for information revealing the substance of a confession (exempt from disclosure under section 119.071(2)(e), Florida Statutes (2016), as specifically found by the trial court) and for other pretrial discovery materials. See Lewis, 426 So.2d at 5. The orders below and the petition here do not require us to address the higher constitutional rights of access to the courtroom and case-related records applicable to a trial.

         The "three-pronged test" established in Lewis and applicable to a "closure of a pretrial hearing" ...


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