Ruling in UCF records lawsuit due today

Activist argues UCF professor's gay marriage study emails are public records


ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando judge must rule today on whether the University of Central Florida needs to release a professor's emails regarding his role in editing a controversial study cited by opponents of gay marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court.

LGBT activist John Becker said he filed a public records lawsuit against UCF last year to get access to UCF Professor James Wright's emails to "discover the truth" over alleged conflicts of interests in the review process. Since Becker's lawsuit was filed, the New Family Structures Study has come under fire in other courtrooms.

The study – which found children of same-sex couples were more likely to be unemployed and get arrested – has been "widely and severely criticized by other scholars," according to a ruling by Federal District Court Judge Bernard Friedman of Detroit.

Judge Friedman blasted the study, authored by University of Texas Professor Mark Regnerus, as biased in a March ruling striking down Michigan's ban on gay marriage.

Pointing out how the study was funded by opponents of gay marriage who were confident it would support "the traditional understanding of marriage," Friedman wrote, "The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged."

During closing arguments made in the public records lawsuit last week, Becker's attorneys argued that UCF also gave financial support to the study by housing the Social Science Research journal.

"The taxpayers and public are entitled to know what happened with funds that were spent on that journal," said Andrea Mogensen, Becker's attorney, during closing arguments.

"UCF provides office space, furniture, telephone, postage, Internet access, and computers for the Journal," Mogensen added, in a Monday court filing. She also pointed out UCF provides "graduate students who assist Wright in managing the Journal" and compensates them with a tuition waiver.

"A tuition waiver is statutorily required to be for activities that support and enhance the mission of the university," Mogensen wrote in the court filing.

UCF argues that the requested journal emails are not public records and that the journal is owned and published by the private, for-profit company, Elsevier, Inc. UCF insists Dr. Wright's paid relationship with Elsevier falls outside his university-assigned duties so the records of that work do not belong to the public.

"Furthermore, UCF plays no role in the SSR Journal's operations, topics, article selections, peer review process, copy-editing, compiling, production, publication, advertising, subscription pricing, sales or webpage, which is maintained and controlled by Elsevier via servers located in Dayton, Ohio," UCF attorney Rick Mitchell wrote in his Monday court filing.

Mitchell downplayed the office space UCF allowed Wright to use while working on the journal by displaying a photo in court showing how it was small and cramped, and said it would be "better referred to as a closet."

"The use of public resources for the benefit of a private entity is not a new or novel concept in Florida, and in any event, the question of whether or not this is a wise or proper use of state resources is not before the Court in this case," Mitchell added, in his Monday court filing.

During closing arguments, Mitchell likened Becker's arguments that the journal emails are public records to someone standing on white beach and picking up a few kernels of black sand, holding them up and declaring, "This is a black beach."

Mogensen countered by suggesting UCF resorted to talking about black grains of sands on a beach rather than producing the records for Ninth Circuit Judge John Marshall Kest to review behind closed doors to decide for himself whether the requested emails are indeed public records.

Mogensen said she supposed UCF declined to produce the record to Judge Kest for a secret inspection because when UCF did so for the previous judge assigned to the case it resulted in him issuing a ruling "overwhelmingly against them."

UCF appealed that ruling, arguing it was premature for Ninth Circuit Court Judge Donald Grincewicz to decide the whole case before a full trial. The 5th District Court of Appeal set the April 17 deadline for the new judge to sort that issue out and rule.

Local 6 will work to post a copy of Judge Kest's order once it's release. Check back for updates.