JAILHO– USE SNITCH: 4th DCA Rules for PB Post Over Informant
Panel: Circuit judge had no basis to censor inmate call transcripts.
Quoting the nation’s Founding Fathers, decades of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the late Palm Beach Post courthouse reporter Susan Spencer-Wendel, a Florida appeals court on Thursday smacked down a Palm Beach County circuit judge’s decision that favored a prisoner’s dubious right to privacy over constitutional guarantees of a free press.
In a six-page ruling, accompanied by a heartfelt concurring opinion, the 4th District Court of Appeal said Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox had no legal basis in November to block The Palm Beach Post from publishing transcripts of recorded jailhouse phone conversations
of notorious snitch and career criminal Frederick Cobia.
Rejecting Cox’s decision that The Post violated Cobia’s right to privacy, the appeals court said the newspaper published the transcripts to shed light on an issue that is clearly of public interest — the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office use of Cobia as a witness in multiple murder cases.
“Where matters of public concern are involved, privacy interests give way to the First Amendment right to publish lawfully obtained, truthful information,” Judge Martha Warner wrote in the unanimous decision by the three-judge panel.
“Here,” she continued, “the matter is clearly one of public concern, as it involves a murder prosecution and the kind of evidence that the State seeks to use at trial.”
Further, she said, Cobia has no right to privacy. “Florida law is well-settled that a jail inmate has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his telephone conversations,” she wrote.
Even if inmates could assert a right to privacy, Cox’s decision was too much, too late, she added. Branding Cox’s decision “ineffectual,” she wrote: “By the time the court entered its order, the full transcripts of Cobia’s conversations had been available on The Post’s website and in the open court file for over a month.”
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