The Times Publishing Company, the publisher of the Tampa Bay Times, has filed a motion to intervene in the U.S. Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, seeking to obtain access to the search warrant used to search Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak’s home earlier this month.
FBI agents raided the home of Hurtak and her husband, Tim Burke, on May 8. Only Burke was named on the search warrant. The FBI declined to provide the Times with a copy of the warrant.
Now they’re seeking all search warrant records “without limitation,” including the warrant itself, the warrant application, any motion to seal search-warrant-related records, any order regarding such motion, any search warrant returns and all probable cause affidavits filed in support of obtaining the search warrant.
“To date, despite the immense public interest in the search, the public, including the Times, has been prevented from accessing any court records related to this search warrant, including the warrant itself,” the filing reads.
“However, once a warrant is executed, the warrant itself, at a minimum, is routinely available. Nonetheless, all records have been sealed relating to this search. In addition, the typical docket is not readily available.”
The suit notes that the matter “is of utmost public interest, involving a well-known journalist and a current government official.”
Burke is a former journalist who now runs a media business, Burke Communications.
The suit notes the Times “has devoted significant news gathering resources to providing the public with information about this search in a climate in which the uncertainty about the purpose and basis of the search is fueling speculations and conspiracy theories.”
Accessing the search warrant and related documents would allow the Times “to inform the public of these highly newsworthy events in a timely and comprehensive manner.”
The suit cites several reasons to grant Times Publishing’s motion to intervene and its access to search warrant documents. It writes it has standing to intervene because “the Eleventh Circuit has recognized the news media’s right to intervene in matters to challenge the denial of access to court records.”
It also writes that the court should grant access to records because the constitutional right to access public records “attaches to records that have been historically available to the public.”
“In addition, both the First Amendment and the common law protect the media and the general public’s right of access to judicial proceedings and records,” the suit continues.
The suit also alleges the “government bears the burden of overcoming public access rights.”
“It is the government’s burden to overcome this presumption of access,” it reads. “For warrant records to remain under seal a court must determine, in clearly articulated findings, that the government established a specific, compelling interest justifying an ongoing seal that is no broader than necessary to serve that interest.”
In this case, the suit claims “the public interest” in Hurtak’s actions “is particularly high and favors access.”
“Investigations regarding the conduct of public officials are of the utmost public interest,” the filing asserts. “Naturally, courts have recognized that interest while assessing public access rights, and that consideration weighs heavily in any balance between competing access rights and secrecy concerns.”
Hurtak is fresh off a bruising campaign defending her District 3 seat. She defeated former Sen. Janet Cruz despite a fundraising disadvantage, knocking off what arguably was a better politically connected candidate. Cruz’s daughter, Ana Cruz, is Mayor Jane Castor’s domestic partner. Hurtak, as an appointed Council member prior to her election last month, was a frequent Castor critic.
Burke previously worked for The Daily Beast, Gizmodo and Gawker.
The couple told the Times that computers, a phone and other equipment belonging to Burke were seized, and that the agents left the home a mess and damaged some property.
Dont Say FLA
May 23, 2023 at 12:09 pm
Rhonda wouldn’t try to use police to undo a fair election just because the left leaning candidate won, would they? Every time Rhonda says “You know,” it’s a confession. Yes Rhonda, we do know.
May 25, 2023 at 10:29 am
This whole thing stinks of a political hit job / intimidation campaign. As a high reach twitter journalist and a newly elected politician, both Burke and Hurtak obviously have some enemies and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are being “SWAT-ed” and / or “sent a message.” It very well may be that this whole thing ends with no charges being filed and just a shrug and “go back to your lives” from the FBI. But, the damage will have already been done. I am keeping an eye on story this with great interest.
May 26, 2023 at 10:57 am
Envious that Cruz lost(I’m glad she lost)I wish castor had lost also.