By Lynn Walsh
SPJ Florida has signed on as a friend of the court in support of a retired firefighter in Tampa who was kept out of a 2012 pension board meeting.
The Board of Trustees of the City Pension Fund for Firefighters and Police Officers in the City of Tampa kept Dennis Ribaya out of the monthly pension board meeting with a “no trespass order.” According to the court filing, the Pension Board falsely accused him of “disrupting” a June meeting for saying the word “shit.”
In our support of Ribaya and the state Sunshine and Open Meetings laws, we signed on to the amicus brief because “the Florida Sunshine laws require meetings, like this pension board meeting, to be open to the public. This right is given to all members of the public and needs to be protected. As a leading journalism organization in the State of Florida, we believe any sort of infringement on this right is dangerous.”
A trial court motioned to dismiss the case, saying the Pension Board’s meeting, did not violate the Open Meetings law by excluding Ribaya.
According to attorney David Snyder, this case is significant because “the trial court’s ruling means that any public agency can exclude, without reason (not even a phony reason) any individual—activists, lobbyists, journalists—from its meetings with a trespass warning and not violate the Sunshine Law or have to worry about the validity of official acts taken during the exclusion.”
The case against Pension Fund for Firefighters and Police Officers in the City of Tampa is now being overseen by the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Hillsborough County.
SPJ Florida was joined in its support with the First Amendment Foundation, Florida Press Association, Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, Florida Scholastic Press Association and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.