Hogan Law Firm Blocks Production of RNRF’s “COPS” Series
HERNANDO – As if there weren’t enough obstacles to overcome, as a journalist it doesn’t make it any easier to have the power brokers in your own community stand in the way of gathering facts and reporting the news. Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened over the course of the last few weeks, and you, the viewer, are paying the price for their interference.
On February 22nd we announced that RNRF would begin production of our new “COPS” style series, 1097 BPD. After gaining the approval of Brooksville Police Chief George Turner, we set the wheels in motion to begin shooting in early March and planned to broadcast our pilot episode by the end of this month. To our dismay, a local law firm stepped in and “persuaded” Chief Turner to reverse his decision and dissolve our agreement. That law firm is none other than RNRF’s arch nemeses, The Hogan Law Firm.
Why do I refer to them as a nemesis? Well, that is a long and complex story, but one that should be told, because their actions affect every citizen in Hernando County, not just RNRF.
For the sake accurate reporting, let’s review a series of emails and text messages between RNRF and the Brooksville Police Department (BPD). Images of those emails will be shown below in order that they are mentioned.
On February 6th I presented our show idea to Captain Rick Hankins and asked if he would share it with Chief Turner. Later that same day he responded with “It worked – Chief is good with the ride-along…” After putting the plan together, I contacted Chief Turner on February 17th to schedule a meeting for a review my proposal. Because our show would shine a positive light on his agency, Chief Turner was eager to get started and so were we. By Thursday the 18th, Chief Turner, Capt. Hankins, Lt. Alan Whitacre and I were hammering out the details of production. At the end of that meeting, Chief Turner directed Lt. Whitacre to be my point of contact for scheduling shoots and other logistics; meanwhile, Chief Turner said he would began working on liability waivers with the department’s legal advisors.
With the official “Green light” from Chief Turner and our first video shoot only a few weeks away, we began organizing equipment, solidifying advertising contracts and announcing the big news to our audience.
On March 2nd I notified Lt. Whitacre that we were ready for the first shoot; he replied, “Would you like to start Fri or Sat night?” But before we could say the words “Action” Chief Turner emailed me and said the deal was off. His explanation of the “bombshell” reversal was “Between CFA Accreditation, FCIC/NCIC issues, Computer Aided Dispatch issues and personnel issues I have decided it is just too much for us to take on at this time.” When I respectfully asked for his reconsideration, due to the monumental preparation we had undertaken, he replied “I authorized research into a PRESS ride along by you… Unfortunately staff has identified numerous issues that cannot be overcome…” One would think that Chief Turner, who was recently appointed by Governor Rick Scott to serve on the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, would immediately know what “issues” could arise at the onset of our discussion. That’s because it has nothing to do with Chief Turner but a lot to do with the Hogan Law Firm and an array of other anti-RNRF adversaries who are seated in powerful positions.
Because RNRF is a news source that provides “Real News” without pressure from politicians or large corporate sponsors, we are somewhat “feared” by local government officials. It’s not clear to us why, because we rarely cover political “drama” or publish “slam” pieces, unless we find corrupt activity or unjust legal practices.
Why do we believe the Hogan Law Firm is at the center of this controversy? On a hunch, we requested a public record search of all correspondence between the BPD, the Hogan Law Firm and the City Attorney, Cliff Taylor (Also of the Hogan Law Firm). We were shocked to find out that when Taylor caught wind of our proposed program, on February 25th he notified City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha and stated “We probably should talk;” Vacha replied “I am very familiar with this.”
Two weeks later, RNRF would receive the proverbial ax from Chief Turner at the presumed direction of the City Manager and City Attorney, in effect, the Hogan Law Firm.
The demise of what we hoped would be one of the county’s most popular programs, had tell-tale signs of an underhanded bureaucratic backstabbing. But this wasn’t the first time.
In 2011, while I still worked for RNRF’s former owner, I requested to be placed independently on the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Media Relations email list. Surprisingly, that request was denied. When I asked why and reminded them of my First Amendment Rights, I received several letters from the Hogan Law Firm stating “…there has been no violation of your constitutional rights…the Sheriff’s Office has processed your request consistent with its policies and procedures.”
It wasn’t until 2013 when I purchased the website that I was “grandfathered in” and subsequently placed on the list. Keep in mind that other local online journalists were approved upon their initial request, without a shred of resistance from the Hogan Law Firm. For those who do not understand the importance of this “list” it essentially notifies a recipient of media releases, press conferences and any other media related notification. This access is vital to a news agency in a highly competitive industry.
To exemplify how serious this issue is; in 2009, three online bloggers were denied NYPD press credentials, prompting the trio, backed by the ACLU, to file a lawsuit against the Mayor’s Office. Before the case could go to trial, the bloggers received their credentials, preventing a PR nightmare for the Mayor.
With the Hogan Law Firm receiving nearly $400,000 of tax payer money each year to handle legal matters between the County and City, aren’t there more important issues to be addressed than being the government’s media watchdog? Why are they so concerned with a Hernando County based Journalist who is just trying to run a small business like any other entrepreneur? Could it be that RNRF reaches over 100,000 people each month and we are the only news source that exposes judicial and political corruption? Maybe… Stay tuned for the second chapter of this continuing saga, where we uncover mafioso style extortion tactics, conducted at the direction of some VERY big names in the State.
Before I don my life-jacket and prepare to drown in the onslaught of hate mail that is sure to come, let me close with a few lines from the classic 70’s film All the President’s Men.
Ben Bradlee speaking to Woodward and Bernstein:
“You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a s**t. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get you’re a**es back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys f**k up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.” – Ben Bradlee, Washington Post.
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