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Seminole Tribe wants the court to seal records obtained by reporter -- so it can redact profit data

CasinoThe Seminole Tribe of Florida is seeking an emergency hearing in federal court Friday to force Politico, the online news site, to seal a copy of a deposition given by Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen until it can redact the annual gaming revenue that was released by the state as part of a public records request.

The tribe sued the State of Florida last October for allegedly breaching its gambling compact and for failing to negotiate in good faith. Allen was deposed as part of the lawsuit last month and, the tribe argues, the state agreed not to release the transcripts of any depositions without prior review from the tribe.

"We had an understanding on all the depositions that before anything was released," said Barry Richard, attorney for the tribe, in an interview with the Herald/Times. "We would have a chance to go through it and redact any trade secret information. The state released it to Politico by accident."  Download Tribe protective order request

Politico responded late Thursday in a motion to intervene, saying that the he protective order sought by the tribe was an "unconstitutional prior restraint on the news media prohibiting dissemination of information that was lawfully obtained through a public records request."  Download Politico motion

"The deposition transcript was released to POLITICO in response to a lawful public records request. And the information in it that Seminole Tribe has informed POLITICO that seeks to keep secret – generally, the Tribe’s annual revenues and annual gaming revenues – is plainly a matter of legitimate public interest,'' read the motion filed by Mark R. Caramanica of the Thomas & LoCiciero law firm in Tampa.

Richard said the redactions would be minimal. "The only thing we want to take out of it is just a few lines of trade secret information that could be sought by our competitors regarding profit information,'' he said. "It's a big hassle over nothing."

The protective order filed May 11 in the Northern District Court of Florida asks the court to seal the document delivered by DBPR to a Politico Florida reporter "until the Tribe has had a reasonable opportunity to review and mark confidential and/or trade secret information." It also asks Judge Robert Hinkle to set an emergency hearing to conduct the review but, according to Hinkle's office, a hearing had not been granted by late afternoon on Thursday.

Politico "vigorously opposes the motion,'' said Ashley Kissinger, Politico's attorney, who signed the motion to intervene. The news site reported Thursday that it received an unredacted copy of the deposition on Tuesday. It has not posted a transcript. 

Barbara Petersen, attorney and president for the First Amendment Foundation, said that she sees no legal grounds to seal the deposition obtained by Politico.

"Politico has a copy of it. It's out there. What benefit does anyone have to seal it?,'' she asked. "If it's been entered into court records, and a copy of the deposition has been released pursuant to a public records request, I see no grounds for sealing it."

Under state law, DBPR cannot deny access to the entire deposition because it is by its nature a public record, Petersen said.

"If a private party takes a deposition, the deposition becomes a disclosure only if it's entered into a court record,'' she said. "But if government takes the deposition its a public records under Chapter 119."

Petersen added there is no exemption in this case for a trade secret.

"The Seminole Tribe has no authority to assert a trade secrets exemption,'' she said. "It's a public record in the hands of DBPR."