Appeals Court Dismisses UCF Case On Flawed LGBT Study

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Orlando – Bad news for an LGBT online journalist who is trying to investigate how a flawed, anti-gay study got published.

A panel of judges April 28 dismissed an appeal filed by the UCF Board of Trustees in November, challenging the decision of an Orlando judge who ordered the school to give the journalist documents and emails related to the study.

The emails in question came from the UCF computer of Professor James Wright, who edits The Social Science Journal. The Journal had published the now-debunked “New Family Structure Study,” authored by Texas Professor Mark Regnerus. The study claims children of gay parents are less likely to thrive than children of straight parents.

The study almost immediately sent up red flags when respected researchers across the country determined the Regnerus study failed to control for error. While the straight parents in the study were in committed, long-term relationships, the gay parents failed to feature couples in comparable relationships.

With the help of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), John Becker, who writes for The Bilerico Project, filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orlando, which claimed the emails and documents were public record under Florida law.

Circuit Judge Donald Grincewicz repeatedly agreed with Becker and ordered UCF to turn over the documents. Though some paperwork was given to Becker, UCF officials continually stalled and finally appealed the decision last fall to the Fifth District Court of Appeal (DCA).

UCF claimed the documents and emails were private property owned by Elsevier Inc., the company that publishes The Journal. Becker argued that because Wright used public resources — like office space and computers at UCF — to work on the study’s peer review process, the information is subject to public review.

In late 2013, Judge Grincewicz, who reviewed the emails and documents, excused himself from the case with no reason given. Circuit Judge John Kest was assigned to replace him and determine whether to hold a hearing on the issue.

In March 2014, the Fifth DCA said it could not determine whether a final order had been issued in the case. Kest decided to have a hearing April 9 to 11 to listen to arguments from UCF and Becker, though he did not review the emails and documents in question.

Kest decided to use the “Schwab” test, named after a previous Florida Supreme Court case, to determine whether the emails and documents requested by Becker fell under the legal definition of public or private.

Case law states that whether documents are private or public cannot be determined simply by the fact that they are located on a publicly owned computer.

In his 19-page final order April 28, Kest wrote that The Journal was compiled, copy edited and produced in Chennai, India and the Netherlands; UCF did not pay for the publication of The Journal; Wright’s work was mostly done in cyberspace; his contract for the work was with Elsevier and not a function of UCF; and UCF did not play any role in the creation of The Journal.

Kest determined that The Social Science Journal “was not publically created” and the emails and other documents related to the study were not public record. Elsevier successfully argued that the records Becker wants are “trade secrets.”

Wright began editing The Social Science Journal, which was founded in 1974 at Johns Hopkins University, while a professor at the University of Massachusetts and later took it with him to Tulane University and finally UCF. At each of those schools, he used a school address for the journal.

Elisevier Inc. did not renew Wright’s contract to serve as editor for The Social Science Journal. Once the new editor is selected, The Journal will no longer be housed at UCF.

While the Fifth DCA April 28 dismissed the UCF appeal and Becker’s motions in relation to that appeal, the court did not close the door on future filings in this case. Becker wrote on his blog that he intends to appeal Kest’s decision, though he had not filed the paperwork late April 28.

From our media partner Watermark


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