Russia has already banned adoption of Russian children by Americans as chilly relations get even chillier. The text of the law called Dima Yakolev is quite harsh and includes "Measures against persons involved in abuse of fundamental human rights.“ One Russian political party has already proposed banning the United States from participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics at all, citing human rights and freedom of speech controversies. Florida’s controversial sealing of the court records of tennis star Martina Navratilova has given them some convincing arguments.
November 9, 2011 tennis star Martina Navratilova was granted a special order to seal court documents regarding her legal disputes with erstwhile partner Toni Layton. But these documents themselves speak volumes. For starters, the court clerk in Sarasota, Florida misspelled “Florida” in the document granting Navratilova’s request to have the documents sealed. Disclaimers published on the site raise doubts about the commitments that many politicians have made regarding transparency. The language is very dense, but basically says no one can be sure if the details in the order to seal the documents are accurate in the first place. The court clerk policy is that only power of attorney documents with a red seal are actually valid, but the court has records which do not meet this standard on file.
The November 9, 2011 document ordered sealing another document titled “Plaintiff’s Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement.” Since Navratilova was also identified as a “Counter-Claimant” the name of the document alone supplies important information -- that the tennis star apparently has no counter-claim to enforce. The website of the Florida State Attorney General includes another clue. There is a suffix at the end of the URL address for the biography of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi spelled “Open Document.” That also means there are closed documents that do not have this suffix.
Adding to international skepticism about compliance with journalists’ right in Florida are the de facto censorship services marketed by Sarasota law practices which have stifled debate about the Navratilova sealed records issues. Their tactics have also obstructed voter involvement in restoring normal Freedom of Information Act practices. In exchange for payment, these lawyers will file so called trust documents that give trustees effective veto power over the right of any beneficiary to file a Freedom of Information Act motion.
The so called trust documents do not obligate the trust to actually pay the beneficiary any money, but simply give the trustee legal rights to interfere with publication of news reports or filing of Freedom of Information Act requests. Despite the campaign pledge of President Obama to have the “most transparent administration in history” the U.S. Department of Justice has not yet done anything to correct this “pay for play” interference with the Freedom of Information Act or give journalists access to the Navratilova sealed records. No one knows whether Toni Layton herself is a beneficiary, because the case records are sealed and not available under the Freedom of Information Act.
President Obama is not facing a re-election contest, but Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi is. Florida has become well known for elections that are so close the national networks cannot even predict a winner on election night. Bondi is facing some additional questions from a little known journalists’ resource. It is called the “Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.” This organization researches paid interference with news reporting and publishes alerts about journalists’ rights for counter notification. Over time, it has built a convincing set of facts that show that Russian critics may well have a legitimate claim that the United States, especially Florida, are ignoring journalists’ rights and criticizing Russia for doing this as a “diversionary tactic.”