Student newspaper loses battle for access to autopsy photos

FLORIDA — A student newspaper lost its fightfor access to the autopsy photos of race-car driver Dale Earnhardton Wednesday when a state judge issued an order to keep the photossealed.

The order followed Circuit Judge Joseph Will’s decision upholdinga state law passed in March that prevents the release of autopsyphotos without a judge’s permission.

The Independent Florida Alligator, the University ofFlorida’s student newspaper, and a Florida-based Web-site operatorsued for access to the Earnhardt autopsy photos under a stateopen-records law that existed until the new state law was passedin March.

Tom Julin, the Alligator’s attorney, said he sees bothgood and bad in this week’s ruling.

"The good part is the judge rejected the Earnhardt s’ claim that they have a constitutional right to stop a medicalexaminer from complying with Florida’s public-records laws,"Julin said. The judge refused to grant a permanent injunctionbarring release of the photos forever.

Julin said he plans to appeal the decision, adding that heis optimistic that the Alligator will prevail.

"We really have very strong arguments that the new exemptionscannot stand," Julin said.

Jason Brown, editor of the Alligator, said thestaff is disappointed by the judge’s decision but is ready tomove forward with an appeal.

"Judge Will’s decision was a bit disappointing,"Brown said. "But with the decision, now we’re just goingto move on to the next phase of what we have to do in terms oftrying to gain access to the photos."