Just as the First Amendment is needed to protect unpopular speech, public records law protects the right of people with unpopular opinions to obtain public documents.
Florida’s public-records law applies equally to all. It gives no discretion to public employees to judge how the person requesting the documents intends to use them.
That brings us to Camille Marino, founder of the animal-rights group Negotiation is Over. Marino’s actions have gone beyond unpopular to being unlawful.
She’s posted personal information of researchers online alongside statements threatening violence against those involved in animal research. Her actions involving a researcher in Michigan have earned her a six-month jail sentence.
At the University of Florida, university employees accuse her of harassing them and making threats that include saying she was going to burn down the house of one researcher.
It was reasonable for UF officials to worry about her requesting documents that include the location of labs where research on primates is conducted. But that doesn’t make it lawful for the university to redact that information from the records.
That’s not just the opinion of this newspaper, it’s the opinion of the First District Court of Appeal. This week, the court ordered unredacted records to be released to Marino.
UF overreached by claiming an exemption for the records that didn’t exist. As the appeals court noted, UF would need to seek an exemption for animal-research labs to be able to withhold that information. We’re not necessarily advocating any more exemptions to the public-records law, but that would at least allow for public debate on the issue.
We feel badly for anyone who is the target of threats and certainly condemn Marino’s tactics. But just because she might violate the law in opposing animal research, it doesn’t mean UF can violate the law in an attempt to make the campus safe.