UCF successfully delays release of documents on controversial LGBT parenting study

By : Susan Clary
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Orlando – The University of Central Florida (UCF) Board of Trustees has successfully delayed having to turn over documents and emails related to a controversial study on LGBT parenting.

A panel of judges from the Fifth District Court of Appeals (DCA) in Daytona Beach granted a emergency temporary motion Nov. 18 to the board based on the argument that a hearing should be held to determine whether the records fall under Florida’s public records law.

The initial lawsuit, filed by LGBT blogger John Becker in the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Orlando in April, is related to the New Family Structure Study published in the Social Science Research Journal (SSRJ).

The study, which says straight parents provide more stable homes than gay parents, has been widely-criticized by experts for its questionable methods. According to the HRC, when the study looked at heterosexual families, they only used parents that were in stable, long-term relationships but when looking at gay families, researchers did not use the same standards.

UCF Sociology Professor James Wright is the editor of SSRJ. The study, conducted by University of Texas associate professor Mark Regenerus, was published in the June 2012 issue.

Documents filed with the Fifth DCA reveal that initially UCF tried to comply with the request, releasing a flash drive with copies of 15,000 emails to Becker. It was later deemed 357 emails were non-public records or contained information exempt from public records law. The two parties came to a mutual agreement on those emails.

In early November, Circuit Judge Donald Grincewicz ruled that “the symbiotic relationship between Wright-as-SSRJ editor and Wright-as-UCF professor” led him to the conclusion that all the emails were public record.

UCF argued that because Wright has a separate contract with Elsevier, Inc., the private company that owns the scientific research journal, he was acting as a private citizen in his role as editor and not as an employee of the university.

Elsevier, Inc. filed an emergency motion on Nov. 14 with the Orlando court to protect the documents as “trade secret information” and “confidential and exempt from public records laws.”

Though Wright is a tenured professor at UCF, the school is not a party to the contract he has with Elsevier to edit the journal. The relationship has previously been deemed by UCF not to be a conflict of interest with his work at the university.

Circuit Judge Grincewicz removed himself from the case and it was reassigned Nov. 19 to Circuit Judge John Kest. Judge Kest is currently in trial and has not reviewed the case, his judicial assistant said Nov.20, but it is unlikely he would move forward while the Fifth DCA decision is pending.

The UCF Board has asked the Fifth DCA to force Judge Kest to hold a hearing on whether the documents requested by Becker are public record. The board argues that UCF and its faculty have an agreement that allows for “outside activities” such as consulting work, as long as there isn’t a conflict of interest.

In court documents, Elsevier has said its peer review process is confidential and that information shared with Wright, as editor of the journal is “significant, valuable and sensitive.” Releasing it, would give competitors “insight into the working of the journal” and an unfair competitive advantage.

UCF argues it would be in violation of the law and could face criminal charges for disclosing Elsevier’s trade secrets if it released any additional information. It said the Orlando court violated its right to due process by making a decision on the records without a hearing.

On Nov. 19, the Fifth DCA ordered Becker to respond to UCF’s petition within 20 days and answer why it should not order Judge Kest to hold a hearing. After Becker’s response is filed, the UCF Board will have another ten days to respond.

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