Times Pub. Co., Inc. v. City of St. Petersburg, WTSP-T

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Citation558 So.2d 487
Docket NumberC,WTSP-T,Nos. 88-02240,88-02241,s. 88-02240
Parties15 Fla. L. Weekly D724 TIMES PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., a Florida corporation, Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General for the State of Florida, and Tampa Television, Inc., a Florida corporation, Appellants, v. CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG, a Florida municipal corporation, Robert Ulrich, Mayor, Robert Obering, City Manager, Rick Dodge, Assistant City Manager, Michael Davis, City Attorney, Russ Cline, Manager of Florida Suncoast Dome, Chisox Corporation, a Delaware corporation, and Chicago White Sox, Ltd., an Illinois limited partnership, Appellees. CHISOX CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, and Chicago White Sox, Ltd., an Illinois limited partnership, Appellants, v. TIMES PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., a Florida corporation, Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General for the State of Florida, and Tampa Television, Inc., a Florida corporation, Great American Television & Radio Company, Inc., an Ohio corporation, d/b/aity of St. Petersburg, a Florida municipal corporation, Robert Ulrich, Mayor, Robert Obering, City Manager, Rick Dodge, Assistant City Manager, Michael Davis, City Attorney, Russ Cline, Manager of Florida Suncoast Dome, Appellees.
Decision Date16 March 1990

George K. Rahdert and Patricia Fields Anderson of Rahdert & Anderson, St. Petersburg, for Times Publishing Co., Inc.

Mitchell D. Franks, Deputy Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, for Robert A. Butterworth.

Edward D. Foreman and Thomas E. Reynolds, St. Petersburg, for City of St. Petersburg.

Richard H. Malchon, Jr., and Debra K. Smietanski of Robbins, Gaynor & Bronstein, P.A., St. Petersburg, for Chisox Corp. and Chicago White Sox, Ltd.

SCHEB, Acting Chief Judge.

The original proceedings from which this appeal is taken were initiated by the Times Publishing Company, publishers of the St. Petersburg Times (Times) and Tampa Television, Inc. The suit below focused on the applicability of the Public Records Act, Chapter 119, Florida Statutes (1987), to records of negotiations in 1987 and 1988 between the City of St. Petersburg (City) and the Chisox Corporation and Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (referred to collectively as the White Sox). The trial court held that while the City did not violate the Act, the White Sox did, and accordingly, the White Sox were ordered to provide copies of certain documents to the Times. Additionally, the final judgment reserved jurisdiction for the trial court to assess attorney's fees and costs against the White Sox. This appeal by the Times, Tampa Television, Inc., and the White Sox ensued. 1

Principal Contentions of Appellants

In number 88-02240 the Times principally argues: (1) that the trial court erred in failing to hold that certain handwritten notes made by city officials regarding negotiations and draft leases were public records and (2) that absolving the City of responsibility for its failure to make these records available was contrary to the Public Records Act. In number 88-02241 the White Sox contend: (1) that the court's early termination of the trial violated its rights of due process of law and (2) that any records retained were not public records and, therefore, the trial court erred in retaining jurisdiction to assess fees and costs incident to the litigation against the White Sox.

We agree, in part, with the Times; we reject the contentions of the White Sox.

The Facts

The City and the White Sox negotiated for the White Sox to use the Florida Suncoast Dome located in St. Petersburg. As a condition of the negotiations, the White Sox requested and were assured by the City that all transactions would be strictly confidential. Negotiations commenced in November 1987, but ceased shortly thereafter. In April 1988 negotiations resumed in a more serious vein and the City and the White Sox held a series of bargaining sessions in Chicago, Illinois and St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Public Records Act, chapter 119, Florida Statutes, was specifically discussed at a meeting by the City and the White Sox on April 13, 1988. The day before the meeting, City Attorney Michael Davis disseminated to the mayor, city managers, and manager of Florida Suncoast Dome a six-page memorandum of law. The memorandum included advice relating to handwritten notes of City employees and the consequences of other documents, e.g., draft leases being in the City's possession and custody.

In accordance with the memorandum and in an effort to keep terms of any potential lease confidential, the City, by agreement with the White Sox, did not take possession of proposed agreements. Rather, all documents relative to the continuing negotiations were retained by the White Sox. As a result, the City relied on handwritten notes and the right of its officials to inspect documents at the White Sox' office in Chicago or at the office of its counsel in St. Petersburg.

In an effort to convince the White Sox of the advantages of moving its baseball team to St. Petersburg and to resume negotiations in that direction, City officials met with the White Sox in Chicago on April 27, 1988. It was there that the White Sox presented the City's negotiating team with a rough draft of a lease. It was also there that City Attorney Davis assisted Chicago counsel for the White Sox in drafting a letter to the City which stated:

This letter is provided to you in conjunction with a proposed draft Stadium Lease Agreement dated April 27, 1988 between Chicago White Sox, Ltd. and the City of St. Petersburg. While you are authorized to examine this document in our office, this document is not to leave our possession. You are not authorized to receive, possess, or copy this document. This document is not to come into your possession or custody and is not transmitted to you.

The procedure outlined was followed in Chicago.

In early May, David L. Robbins, an attorney with an office in St. Petersburg, was retained by the White Sox and received several drafts of the proposed agreements. Although he played no role in their creation, his purpose was to retain custody of the documents while making them available for review by City officials when needed. When one document was superseded by another, Robbins would return the earlier document to the White Sox. City officials could only review the leases at Robbins' office, and the documents could not be photocopied.

On May 13, two staff writers of the Times, citing the Public Records Act, requested from the City all records which "related to the city's dealings with the Chicago White Sox," including but "not limited to, all correspondence, any proposed leases on the Florida Suncoast Dome by a major league baseball team and any calculations related to proposed leases." City officials responded that (1) the City refused to produce notes prepared by each city official that were for personal use and "which [were] not shown to or disseminated to other individuals for review or comment," and (2) documents in the custody of the White Sox and its agents were not received by the City, and thus were not public records and would not be produced. In fact, the City refused to acknowledge the existence of any documents in the possession of the White Sox that might be germane to the reporters' request.

On May 19, a similar request for documents was made of the White Sox. The White Sox responded that it had not acted on behalf of the City and that any records in its possession were not public records. Interestingly, that same day a negotiating session involving these documents took place at Robbins' office between City and White Sox officials.

The Times filed suit against the City and the White Sox on May 23. Pursuant to a June 6 directive from Davis, the City made certain documents available, including the legal memorandum and the letter to the City. When Assistant City Manager Richard Dodge was deposed on June 15, other documents were produced. 2 However, the City retained the handwritten notes generated during the agreement reviews and negotiation sessions.

The Times' second amended complaint sought a writ of mandamus, injunction, and declaratory judgment and included in its pleading a motion for an in camera review of the documents concerning the negotiations between the City and the White Sox and the proposed lease agreements. On June 6, the trial court issued a second amended alternative writ of mandamus which directed the City and the White Sox to show cause by what legal authority they should not be required to produce records of their negotiations and pertinent documents. The City filed an answer which generally denied the Times' allegations. The White Sox' response, while making certain specific denials, did not deny the material allegations of the Times' complaint.

After hearings on certain procedural matters, the case went to trial on the Times' second amended complaint on June 22. In support of the City's position that the notes taken by city officials were designed merely for purposes of personal recollection, City Attorney Davis testified that he carried his five-inch stack of notes wherever he went to remember what was in the various draft leases. Another city official testified that portions of the documents were copied verbatim and old notes were used to review new documents. At the end of that day's proceedings, the Times had not completed its presentation, and the judge continued the hearing. When the proceedings resumed on July 1, the Times' representatives appeared but neither the White Sox nor its counsel were present. From the judge's comments in the record, we learn that in the interim an announcement was made on June 30 that the Illinois Legislature had granted certain concessions to the White Sox that made it undesirable for the White Sox to further pursue use of the City's facilities. Although the Times had not concluded its case, the court had conducted an in camera review of the notes and after acknowledging the changed...

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