Daytona Beach – The University of Central Florida (UCF) Board of Trustees is spending thousands of dollars to hire a group of lawyers, led by retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Charlie T. Wells, to take a public records fight to the Fifth District Court of Appeal (DCA).
John Becker, managing editor of LGBT website The Bilerico Project, made a Florida public records request for emails and documents related to a controversial study, which claims heterosexual parents provide more stable homes than same-sex parents. The study came to light after it was cited in a U.S. Supreme Court case on gay marriage in March 2013.
The records were created by UCF Sociology Professor James Wright, who used his work computer to edit the Social Science Research Journal (SSRJ), which published the New Family Structure Study. The study was conducted by University of Texas associate professor Mark Regenerus and was published in June 2012. It has since been widely criticized by experts for its questionable methods.
UCF refused Becker’s public records request, so Becker filed a lawsuit in April, and a back and forth battle began. UCF released some emails, then asked for them back. Depositions were taken and a circuit court judge in Orlando held a hearing. UCF filed motions to delay the release of the records after the judge continually ruled in favor of Becker. Elsevier, Inc., the private company that owns the scientific research journal, came forward and said it would be giving away trade secrets if UCF complied.
UCF filed an appeal with the Fifth DCA in Daytona Beach and both sides have been arguing in lengthy court documents over whether a hearing held by Circuit Judge Donald Grincewicz constituted an “evidentiary hearing,” as defined by the court.
A three-judge panel, comprised of Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge Richard B. Orfinger and Judge William D. Palmer from the Fifth DCA, will review the case at the end of January.
In addition to potentially debunking the gay parenting study, the case could set a precedent for the hundreds of UCF professors who use their publicly paid computers and offices on campus to work on freelance projects not associated with UCF.