Florence Snyder - 6/9 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

Florence Snyder: Is your mug shot in FACES virtual lineup?

Now that Attorney General and former Tampa Bay-area prosecutor Pam Bondi is among President-elect Donald Trump’s Legal Influencers, this is an excellent time to talk about FACES.

That’s the Department of Acronyms name for the Face Analysis Comparison Examination System, a statewide “facial recognition database” created over a decade ago by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Let’s hope our state’s top lawyer has heard of it. Most people working in Florida’s criminal justice system hadn’t until Sunday’s front page story in The Florida Times-Union by enterprise reporter Benjamin Conarck.

It’s a riveting account of an accused crack cocaine addict and dealer by the name of Willie Allen Lynch. Representing himself, Lynch discovered he and 33 million other folks are shaked and baked into a database that looks a lot like the ones on those police procedurals aimed at old people who still watch network television.

FACES golly-wow technology warp-speeds its way through millions of pictures of law-abiding people with drivers licenses along with less savory characters with mug shots —and spits out someone to arrest.

It’s a neat trick when viewed on a Jumbotron at Hawaii 5-0 headquarters.

In real life, the technology comes with questions that deserve a closer look.

“One of every two Americans is in a facial recognition database, according to a report released last month by Georgetown University. Florida’s face-matching system is the country’s largest and most active,” Conarck reports.

“Using the technology, police can insert people with no criminal histories into virtual lineups without their knowledge and identify faces on social media or in protest crowds. The software has expanded swiftly to police departments around the country, and has been left virtually unregulated.”

That won’t trouble those who think that people who have done nothing wrong have nothing about which to worry. But judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers have obligations to the Constitution which require that cards be laid on the table when a citizen’s life and liberty is at stake.

FACES software “is not designed to say ‘no’,” Conarck writes. “Instead, it returns multiple potential matches. That means police and prosecutors could be learning of alternate suspects from searching the database without notifying defense attorneys, who would be legally entitled to that information.”

This entitlement is grounded in a U.S. Supreme Court decision dating back to 1963, when judges were still writing opinions in longhand.

With the best of intentions, it’s close to impossible for law to keep up with technology. We’re just going to have to pick up the pace, and FACES is as good a place as any to start.

Not surprisingly, police and prosecutors hid behind spokesmen offering vague platitudes as Conarck went about his reporting. Bondi could take a big step in a more transparent direction by giving him some FACES time.

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Florida Bulldog, tenacious watcher of the watchmen, celebrates its seventh anniversary

Uber-real estate developer and all-’round power broker Armando Codina once threatened to punch the aggressive and highly decorated investigative reporter Dan Christensen in the face. Today, Codina is among a growing number of donors to Florida Bulldog, the investigative reporting website Christensen founded in 2009, when he became one of the casualties of one of the Miami Herald’s newsroom purges.

Movers and shakers like Codina may not always like the impertinent questions posed by reporters like Christensen, but they understand that democracy cannot survive without a free and independent pack of watchdogs who aren’t afraid to pee on the Gucci loafers of the powerful.

Bulldog celebrates its seventh anniversary Tuesday at YOLO, a popular watering hole on Las Olas Boulevard. There’s a lot to celebrate, at least for people who aren’t reading about themselves on Bulldog’s increasingly well-trafficked website.

Crime reporter turned crime novelist Michael Connelly was the earliest and most generous Bulldog supporter on an honor roll that now includes, along with Codina, William Scherer, a founding partner of the powerhouse law firm Conrad & Scherer; Wometco Enterprises Chairman Arthur Hertz; Ed Williamson, chairman and CEO of Williamson Automotive; Miami Herald alum Dexter Filkins, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent and staff writer for The New Yorker; and former Sen. and Mrs. Bob Graham.

Bulldog was the first, and for years, the only news outlet willing to lend credence and column inches to Graham’s concerns about the role of the government of Saudi Arabia in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Media lawyer Tom Julin, a partner at the Gunster law firm, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of time to Freedom of Information Act litigation on behalf of Bulldog as it digs for truth in the face of federal stonewalling and sandbagging.

The Bulldog party begins at 6 p.m. and goes on until 9, or until people in #TheProcess run out of stories to leak to reporters in the room, whichever is later. The event is free, and so is the first drink. YOLO is located at 333 East Las Olas Blvd.

Disclosure: Florence Beth Snyder is a member of Florida Bulldog’s Board of Directors.

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Florence Snyder: On Veterans Day, a Valentine to UF’s bug-busters

The bad news is that a variety of bed bug not seen in Florida in 60 years is back. The good news is that the University of Florida is on the case.

Like its cousin the “common bedbug,” the tropical bed bug under investigation by UF researchers will drain your blood and your bank account. The difference is, the tropical bed bug can do it faster.

Doctoral candidate Brittany Campbell and her colleagues at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have taken to the peer-reviewed journals and any news organizations which will listen to spread the scary news about the return of a nasty brand of bedbug that could “….. develop more quickly, possibly cause an infestation problem sooner, and also could spread more rapidly.”

Like Zika, the story starts small. Patient Zero is a family in Merritt Island whose home was overrun in 2015. UF’s entomologists can’t pinpoint the bedbugs’ point of entry, but the list of suspects includes nearby Port Canaveral. Ports are great engines of globalization, and, since ancient times, a great way to spread all manner of pestilence.

The creepy crawlies are formidable opponents, but we rarely think of them until they are, literally, sucking our blood. Previous generations have fought back with high-powered pesticides.  It seemed like a good idea, until the cancers and birth defects began to show up.

This Veterans Day weekend, UF researchers are in their labs, looking for safer weapons of war against bedbugs, mosquitoes, and fellow-traveling forms of vermin. Let’s thank them for their service.

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Postcard from the center, which didn’t hold

It’s Morning After in America, and the recriminations are well underway.

Even with a crappy crystal ball like Larry Sabato‘s, you can predict the Democrats will assemble an Autopsy Committee like the one the Republicans did in 2012. Old habits die hard.

Bleary-eyed pundits, pollsters, pols, and political reporters are crying into their beers and Bloody Marys on Twitter and on national television. They’re plenty worried about their credibility, and their fat paychecks, not necessarily in that order.

The cluelessness is entirely bipartisan, and has been for decades.

Floridians old enough to share the Clintons‘ fondness for Fleetwood Mac recall a time when state workers got regular raises. It was 5 percent, or 10 percent or 2 percent, of your current salary, whatever that salary was.

The Little People were not fooled by the fake fairness of the People in Power. A 2 percent raise for a telephone operator was enough to buy the kids some new clothes to wear on a family night at the movies. For the man three rungs up on the org chart, it was enough to buy the kids some new clothes to wear on a family vacation in Europe.

The state payroll pay disparities that put down roots in Fleetwood Mac’s heyday pale in comparison to the pay disparities of today. It’s even worse in the private sector, where most of the jobs!jobs!jobs! are equal parts mind-numbing and soul-destroying.

Something had to give. When there is no center, the center cannot hold.

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On Election Day, let’s talk baseball …

Grumpy and possibly jealous old men — some with newspaper columns — disapproved of Saturday’s comedy debut of Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, and Tallahassee homeboy David Ross.

Fresh off their World Series win, the trio swung by Saturday Night Live to sing “Go Cubs Go” with superfan and trained professional comedian Bill Murray, and to bump and grind with Benedict Cumberbatch in a tasteless-by-design sketch starring cast member Aidy Bryant, a gifted practitioner of physical comedy who makes anyone who shares her stage look terrific.

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal dissed the whole thing as an “error,” leaving those who thought it adorable and hilarious scratching their heads and seeking second opinions.

One was provided by Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who is highly qualified to weigh in on all sorts of sports. Gossett-Seidman was a trailblazing, groundbreaking, pioneering member of the generation that proved women can report and write sports with the best of the boys.

As a sportswriter for The Palm Beach Post, she was the first woman to cover the Miami Dolphins from inside the locker room. Her resume includes extended tours of duty as personal assistant to actor and football guy Burt Reynolds, and, later, tennis star and philanthropist Chris Evert.

We put the question to Gossett-Seidman, who concluded that the trio had “earned the right to act silly and marginally seedy on SNL.” In support of her viewpoint, and working from memory, Gossett-Seidman offered up short bios highlighting ties to Florida and random acts of pure class.

Even if you know nothing and care less about baseball, it makes for feel-good reading on a day when many of us could use it:

“Anthony Rizzo grew up in Parkland, attended Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Barely 18 years old, he fainted in a locker room and found out he had cancer. He was newly signed with the Boston Red Sox, and they stuck by him and he had support from pitcher Jon Lester, who successfully fought off the disease. Both players ended up being traded eight years later to the Cubs where they share a special bond.

“The ‘old guy’ David Ross is the father of three who was traded around to at least five different teams while battling for a starting spot as catcher, dragging his family all over. He was likely better than most catchers on those teams but did not get the breaks. As a kid, he attended FSU’s elementary school and played college ball at Auburn and Florida. At 39, he is the oldest player to hit a World Series home run.

“Dexter Fowler apparently is the nicest guy in baseball. He called the team meeting with all players, no coaches, during the rainout in the final Series game. He delivered a mesmerizing, supportive message that teammates say inspired and propelled the team to pull together and win. A very religious guy in the sense that he tries to do the right thing always, Fowler is from a small Georgia town. He originally signed to play baseball for the University of Miami but needed the money so turned pro.

“So, if these fellows wish to dance around a late-night stage in short shorts or anything else, they have earned it.”

 

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In remembrance: Janet Reno

Newspapers were rolling in dough in the late 20th century. Reporters had expense accounts and plenty of public officials were happy to let them pick up the check.

Not Janet Reno. She paid her own way, spoke for herself, and did not require those around her to bow, scrape, or screen calls to her home phone, which was in the book and accessible to the folks who paid her salary.

The former Dade County state attorney and United States attorney general under Bill Clinton needed no help to “craft the message.” She did not lard the public payroll with puppet masters to put words in her mouth about the “Hot Topics” of the day.

Harry Truman had done all the “message development” Reno would ever need.

Time after time after time, Reno faced hostile citizens, taxpayers, Congressional committees, and reporters. Her talking point never varied. “The buck stops here. With me.”

Reno was the state attorney in 1980, when riots broke out in Miami after her office failed to convict four white police officers accused of beating an unarmed black man to death. A dozen people died, and hundreds more were injured before the National Guard could restore order. Reno walked through the wreckage —alone, unarmed and unguarded — to take accountability with angry, distraught survivors.

Reno came from a storied Miami family that knew the difference between real friends and transactional friends. She was a star in a generation of lawyers that knew you can’t win if you’re afraid to lose. All of that would serve her well in jobs where making life-and-death decisions was just a normal day at the office.

Reno had hoped to continue in public life as her party’s standard bearer against Jeb Bush in the 2002 governor’s race. But the denizens of the Democrats backed the more malleable Bill McBride, leaving history to wonder if Bush could have crushed Reno as easily as he demolished McBride.

The memory of Reno standing in front of a bank of microphones, answering hostile questions truthfully until her interrogators gave up in exhaustion, is a source of pride to Florida, and an enduring example of what real accountability looks like.

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Censorship and ‘censorship’

AT&T, the communications conglomerate which owns Direct TV, was hauled into the court of public opinion Friday, charged with censorship for pulling the plug on Fox News.

Irate customers of the satellite television subscriber service took to the internet to voice their suspicions, tar and feathers at the ready.

They did not for one New York Rigged-System Minute believe that “technical difficulties” caused Fox News in high definition to go dark. Among the cyberspace social commentators was an individual who self-identifies as “Cuckooroller.”

He — or is it she? — summarized the case against AT&T succinctly: “Another globalist corporation controlling the media content to help Hillary Clinton get elected.”

Some of Cuckooroller’s fellow censorship conspiracy theorists gave their real names and spoke on the record to local reporters employed by the #DishonestMedia. If Fox was off the air, there must be, as Donald Trump would say, “something going on.”

Except there wasn’t.

While censorship conspiracy theorists gathered at the corner of Oliver Stone Street and Why Don’t We Teach Civics Anymore? Boulevard, cooler heads were surfing the standard definition (SD) end of the Direct TV spectrum, where Fox News was working just fine.

The folks at Fox, to their credit, tried to calm things down, reporting that BBC World News, CNN, Comedy Central, Fusion (which makes its home in a retrofitted Florida warehouse), the Golf Channel, NBC Sports, and something called Ovation had also been booted off the high-def line by whatever gremlins had inflicted technical difficulties on Fox News.

Fusion followers and Anglophile admirers of the BBC had real reasons to riot: those channels were fully shut down by Direct TV’s technical difficulties, and couldn’t even be accessed on the low-tech standard definition spectrum.

AT&T issued the usual “apologies for the inconvenience” but really, the dust-up at Direct TV is a useful reminder of how many of our fellow Americans know little and think less about what real censorship is.

Consider, for example, Turkey, which used to be a democracy and a nice place to visit. In recent weeks, more than 160 of its news organizations have been closed for “spreading anti-government propaganda.” Some of the laid-off journalists are risking their lives to fight back with a fact-based, social media-based newscast.

Censorship is a big story in Turkey, and all over the world. But you wouldn’t know it from the folks on Fox, nor the leftist lightweights at MSNBC, and the food-fight freaks at the Childish News Network.

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In memory of Steve Carta, reporter’s lawyer

steve-cartaLibrary patrons in North Tallahassee are competing this week for parking spaces with throngs of early voters. Signs in the makeshift precinct warn partisans and press people where, exactly, the “solicitation boundary” lies.

For Florida First Amendment junkies, the signs are a melancholy hat tip to attorney Steve Carta, who died of cancer in September.

The longtime lawyer for the Ft. Myers News-Press is remembered for a long list of groundbreaking media victories, including that time in the ’80s when Carta smacked down an unholy state effort to prohibit photographers and reporters from covering the comings and goings at the polls.

Carta was a reporter’s lawyer. They loved him for his willingness to fight with everybody about everything that stood between News-Press readers and the news. He worked untold unbillable hours to keep his press cases on budgets that didn’t get editors in trouble with their publishers.

If there were no precedent for what the newsies wanted to do, Carta would create one.

Lee Melsek was the first reporter who ever thought to ask Lee County officials for a look at employee personnel files. Officials told him to pound sand. Carta pounded back. His work in News-Press v. Wisher carved into stone a right the press and public now take for granted.

Melsek retired in 2004, but fired up his keyboard to remember Carta in a Sept. 9 News-Press op-ed:

“When we investigated the shenanigans at Lee Memorial Hospital and its longtime president in 1979, Steve again was with us, literally. When hospital security guards pinned me and reporter Barbara Johnson against a wall as we came to ask for public records, Steve rushed to the hospital and made it clear to administrators the paper would not tolerate that kind of bullying of its reporters. In case after case, hearing after hearing, Steve Carta defended this community’s right to know what its government was up to and opened so many dark corners to the daylight the law requires. He was working for this paper, but in so many ways he was also the community’s lawyer. He worked hard to see that government lawyers didn’t succeed in their specious arguments to keep the public’s business private. Gradually, as they lost case after case, these local governments began to understand that the old ways of secrecy and operating in dark rooms was no longer going to work.

“Steve was as important to that mission as any editor or publisher or reporter who ever worked here. He was the sharpshooter armed with the law and a very special ability to aim well.”

Barbara Johnson Liston is still a reporter, writing for Reuters and otherwise keeping alive the values that animated Carta’s life and work.

“I have such great memories of going to court with him or going over story drafts on what seemed like a daily basis. It was an exciting time for both of us,” Liston recalled. “Steve is frozen in my mind as young, aggressive, and brilliant. Getting sued or accused of nefarious things is part of the job for investigative reporters. But Steve helped make sure all of our reporting was rock solid. No one ever got past his motions to dismiss.”

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Above the Fold: Free, but worth its weight in gold

Most free stuff is worth what you’re paying for it.

An exception is Above the Fold, a compilation of the front pages of Florida’s newspapers, produced by Cate Communications and delivered to your inbox daily by 8 a.m.

In time it takes to drink a mug of coffee, you can take in a drone’s-eye view of what’s important to citizens and taxpayers outside #TheProcess.

The aerial maps provided to Above the Fold readers are revealing.

Recent example: Times-Union readers were horrified to learn a domestic violence arrest warrant for frequent felon Darryl Whipple gathered dust for 47 days, and might still be sitting on someone’s desk in Jacksonville had Whipple not walked into a Golden Corral restaurant carrying a can of lighter fluid and a match, which he used to set his estranged girlfriend on fire.

Meanwhile, down in Orlando, Sentinel readers were waking up to a story about a spike in arrests of witnesses to crimes at the behest of prosecutors whose balancing of priorities was open to debate.

Taken separately, these stories are interesting.

Side-by-side, they’re a wake-up call for people who work in and care about the criminal justice system.

For folks who love to connect dots and look at big pictures, Above the Fold is pure, addictive fun. For managers in Florida’s understaffed print and broadcast newsrooms, it’s a vital resource.

But it began life modestly as a labor-saving device for Kevin Cate, who needed to track “above the fold” news coverage of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign and wanted to spare his interns the boring task of doing it by hand.

The tech-savvy Cate could pull Florida’s front pages out of the ether, but he pays well over $2,500 per year for actual subscriptions.

He understands the collective judgment of local editors is valuable, and he’s justifiably proud of the large volume of traffic he drives to newspapers’ websites.

“We’re trying to provide context,” Cate said. “Just because something gets aggregated somewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s actually important.”

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No good deed — honest cop writes own red light camera ticket, gets reprimand

Everyone enters “the helping professions” with high ideals.

Forty years later, some emerge as cynics who think it’s OK to “help” themselves if no one’s looking.

Not Tim Glover. After decades in Polk County law enforcement, he has his ideals, and a well-earned front page shoutout from the Lakeland Ledger headlined “Officer writes red light ticket to himself.”

Following 30 years with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Glover took a retirement job at the Haines City Police Department, reviewing tapes and writing $158 tickets to drivers caught-on-camera playing chicken with oncoming traffic.

Piggybacking on to the vehicle in front of you is so common, even a traffic cop might not realize he’s cruising through the intersection of Downright Rude and Downright Dangerous.

Glover’s moment of truth came when he was reviewing video from an intersection near the Cuban sandwich joint where he’d taken his Sept. 8 lunch.

“There was a large box truck in front of me,” Glover told Ledger reporter Suzie Schottelkotte, “and I just drove on through behind the truck. It was just me in a hurry to get back to doing what I was supposed to be doing. I fell into that rut of follow-the-leader instead of looking at the light. I made a left with the truck …”

Glover could have cut himself a break by hitting the delete key on the video evidence, but, said his police chief, that is not “the type of person he is … The honesty he shows in his job — it’s always been there.”

In addition to the three-figure fine, Glover’s honesty cost him a written reprimand “for not exercising good judgment when using a department vehicle on duty.”

Writing for The Permanent Record, his sergeant said, “You are a good officer and I hope this letter will be received in the spirit of its intentions, as a learning tool.”

Glover appears to have learned everything there is to know back in grade school. “There wasn’t any doubt when I saw [the tape],” he told The Ledger. “I had to take responsibility for it.”

___

Photo courtesy of The Ledger.

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