From the Legal Hotline (877-NEWS-LAW)

Public records, marriage legal notices and more in today’s Legal Hotline recap.

Q. I had a classified rep tell me that she has not received seasonal farm workers employment ads since November of last year. The lady told our rep that they are not required to run in newspapers moving forward. It’s a significant source of revenue, especially for rural newspapers–do you know anything about this?

A.The U.S. Labor Department rejected the newspaper industry’s argument on keeping H 2A worker public notices in newspapers. Instead, it gave the business to itself, putting the notices in its own federal job registry. NMA and NNA both provided detailed comments on this proposal. As did many newspapers. It is just hard to overcome the mindset/lack of sense at federal agencies once these proposals get legs. Note that the final rule did give local offices discretion to accept the ads in compliance if they see fit so there is some small glimmer for those with relationships in the Ag offices.

Q. I would like a copy of the state’s current advertising election laws. I’m not aware of any changes, but want to make sure. We are receiving inquires on advertising now….A VERY GOOD THING!

A. Here is the link to the candidate’s handbook—the election ad rules are summarized in Chapters 12 and 13:

The actual law is found here.

Q. We received the attached request to remove a photo from our website. I already had communicated with the law firm before and had told her our company policy is not to remove any content unless it was for safety or security reasons (custody disputes, things of that nature). Looking for some advice on how to proceed.

A. Newspapers are fairly uniform in resisting deletion of online material absent a very good legal or policy reason.  This is in keeping with the public’s trust in the paper’s claim as a transparent chronicler of events. Legally, there are no grounds to force it to delete information absent very limited exceptions.  Further, in the internet age, once the article has been posted, the proverbial genie has escaped the bottle and the information will likely already have become a digital fixture, permanently embedded and searchable in a variety of other forms such as blogs, court records, etc. (although some services do claim to lower its visibility).

For all these reasons, editors generally don’t remove online materials. So, for example, deletion probably will not be allowed merely because a source changes his or her mind about an original quote, or a person’s personal circumstances change from that depicted in the original story, or a company’s unfavorable product review fails to mention other favorable reviews.

Newspapers that have done so are quite cryptic, simply stating the editors consider it by consensus with a presumption to keep the material unless a life is threatened.

Regarding this particular case, the lawyer’s demand asks that the photo removed for “personal/privacy reasons.”  If the paper wants to engage, it could ask what those reasons are.  If the subject has a real safety or security issue, the paper could take that into account.  However, engaging with the law firm may only encourage them to keep pushing.

Here is a white paper with more details on the general legal and journalistic guidelines for when you should (if ever) take down a story or other information posted on your website.

Q. Good morning, I hope this founds you doing well. I recently transferred from one paper to my current one. and you were always a great resource, so I am hopeful you might be able to answer a question regarding public records, per se. Our county sheriff does a weekly radio show called, “Ask the Sheriff.” Allegedly, he urged the listeners to cancel their subscription to the paper, calling it “fake news.” I am going to seek a copy of the show, but does that fall under the guidelines of “open records” since the radio station is a private entity?

Apparently, this is not a new behavior on the sheriff’s part. Last year I heard that he sent out memos to the heads of various Republican Clubs telling them they and their members should cancel their subscriptions.

A. I don’t think the radio station’s recordings of past shows are public records since, as you note, they are a private entity. That said, I know that some radio stations have selected archives that can be downloaded or linked to on their website. Or, you can ask for a copy and see what their policies are.

Q. Here’s a new one! We published a dissolution of marriage legal notice for a local law firm. We sent them the checking copy and an invoice. The law firm emailed back and said that since the court had declared this client indigent, the legal advertising was supposed to have been published for free. Just wondering if you have ever heard of such a thing.

I emailed back to the law firm, explaining that we can’t publish legal ads for free, especially involuntarily, since we were not notified in advance of this expectation. I suggested that the required notice should be part of the package that (I assume) the court compensates the law firm for in an indigent case.

After I emailed the law firm, they did agree to go ahead and pay, but said they were doing the case pro bono, so we responded that we would do pro bono, as well, but only for this one and not for the future.

A. I agree the law firm should pay you for the ad and if they do not, you won’t run it or it’s already run, won’t run them in the future. On the other hand, you can agree to run this one pro bono if you want. I would mention that some of the county clerks of courts have set up a “court docket fund” to pay newspapers for the cost of publication of the “fact of the filing of any civil case, suit, or action.” 50.0711, F.S. Unfortunately, assuming there is such a fund int the county, and you have or might benefit from it, it apparently would still not be available here because the law says publishers receiving money from the fund must waive amounts chargeable for certain publications by “indigent” persons.