Officials confiscate, later return student paper naming sexual assault victim

FLORIDA — University officials returned thousands of newspapers that were seized by campuspolice Thursday after student journalists named a sexual assault victim in an article.

The article,published in Thursday’s edition of TheBeacon, the student newspaper of Florida International University,reported on opening arguments in the trial of Frederick E. Currie, a formerpublic safety officer at the university who was found guilty of sexuallyassaulting an 18-year-old girl.

Cristina Mendoza, general counsel forthe university, justified her order to confiscate the newspapers based on aFlorida statute prohibiting the publishing of information that identified avictim of sexual assault.

But Tom Julin, a Miami media law attorneyrepresenting The Beacon, informedMendoza and university officials that the state statute against naming victimsof sexual assault was held unconstitutional by the state supreme court in 1994.

The statute was slightly amended by the Florida legislature in 1995,and the constitutionality of the amended law has never been challenged. Julinmaintains the law is still unconstitutional.

The newspapers that wereseized were returned to the Beacon offices Friday night. Harry Coleman, editor in chief of The Beacon, said the returnednewspapers would not be re-distributed, ”mostly because it was too lateand not worth it,” he said.

With the confiscation of thenewspapers and their later return, ”the First Amendment was bruised, buteventually upheld,” said Mark Riordan, director of media relations for theuniversity.

Ronald Berkman, the university’s acting provost, said “if we erred, we erred on the side of the victim.”

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty. We could have waited awhile” before taking the papers, he said. “We have a general counsel that is experienced. Her read was that it was a violation of shield law. She acted on that basis, and it turns out that she was incorrect.”

Coleman said the paper’s staff first discoveredthe missing newspapers when they arrived at the office Friday morning. He saidthe staff had received no notice from school administrators that the paperswould be seized.

”I was very frustrated,” he said. ”We’re talking about money, time, effort, sweat — everythingthat’s put in there.”

The inclusion of the name of thesexual assault victim was not completely intentional, Coleman said. Beacon reporter Andrew Leins heard thevictim’s name in open court and included it in hisarticle.

”We didn’t think about it,” Coleman said.”We thought,