A judge allowed UCF to continue with its unprecedented secret election hearings, but did not yet decide whether UCF’s closure is legal — and whether the results of the secret hearings will stand.

Knight News filed an emergency motion to the Orange County Circuit Court to make Sen. Jacob Milich’s campaign violation hearings open to the public. 

After listening to attorneys from both sides via teleconference, Chief Judge Frederick Lauten denied the emergency motion, temporarily allowing Sen. Jacob Milich’s election hearings to remain secret, at least for now.

The Judge explained the difficulty of getting an “emergency” motion approved, and after his ruling, presented an outline for Knight News to follow to have UCF’s unprecedented closure of the hearings possibly overturned during Knight News’s full trial on the merits.

However, perhaps the most notable thing said today did not come from Judge Lauten, but instead from UCF’s GrayRobinson defense attorney Rick Mitchell. Mitchell appeared to give Judge Lauten extremely questionable information, that perhaps had a major impact on the ruling of the hearing.

“Judge Doherty in a prior case ruled that these election violation affidavits are FERPA protected education records, that she ruled at a hearing at which these violation affidavits were discussed … was properly closed pursuant to Florida Statutes and FERPA,” Mitchell told Chief Judge Lauten.

doherty election violation
Judge Doherty’s order says nothing about closing election hearings — it only states UCF is allowed to apply the FERPA record exemption.
However, Mitchell told the 5th District Court of Appeal — on the same exact day — that SGA hearings were not at issue in the previous Knight News case.

Knight News “also makes statements regarding ‘student government proceedings’ being conducted in the sunshine. General ‘student government proceedings’ were neither an issue on appeal nor an issue raised in the pleadings and tried below,” Mitchell wrote in his response to Knight News’s motion for rehearing and certification to the Florida Supreme Court.

Knights News asked Mitchell about his remarks during the hearing in an email following the proceeding, asking him to explain whether he misspoke. Knight News also asked if in fact Judge Doherty did rule the election commission to be closed, why they were set to be open until Milich raised the issue of FERPA.

“We want to give you a chance to address why you told Chief Judge Lauten that Judge Doherty ruled SG proceedings were closed by FERPA when you told the 5th DCA SG proceedings were not at issue,” Knight News Digital News Director Derek Lowe wrote in an email to Mitchell.

Mitchell refused to comment.

Knight News checked Judge Doherty’s ruling regarding the closure of hearings and confirmed it came long after the election record issue was decided — and that it applied to matters regarding the university’s administrative conduct board for fraternity hazing. This is a totally separate board where the university has the final say — unlike the election commission of Student Government.

“Knight News sincerely appreciates how Chief Judge Lauten recognized this was an emergency and cleared time on his busy schedule to let the UCF public be heard, even though the bar for emergency temporary relief is so high,” according to a Knight News statement. “We respect and understand his ruling and now know what steps the court needs us to take to stop UCF secrecy at our full trial.”