Director of Public Affairs University Relations
University of Florida
101 Tigert Hall
Dear Ms. Sikes:
On October 22, 2010, in accordance with open records statutes in this state (Fla. Stat. Secs. 119.01 to 119.15) that regulate specific activites at the University of Florida, I requested public records concerning 33 primates held captive in 2009. Despite many assurances last month from you, Ms. Sikes, that your colleagues were diligently working to compile the documentation, on December 18, 2010, I was handed an envelope in the university police station containing a refund check and an unsigned letter notifying me that UF had chosen not to comply with the open records laws that are specifically designed to protect public interests. Rather, the anonymous statement on UF letterhead stated that your university opted to invoke a “veterinary-patient” privilege (“Section 474.2165, Fla. Stat”) that was written to afford citizens and their veterinarians rights of privacy. Given the gravity of my concerns surrounding dubious ethics and the abuse (if not fraud) of public funds at UF — questions for which the public anxiously awaits a response — I am unsurprised by the legal contortions being employed to evade public scrutiny. I am inferring that the university intends to argue that the “veterinarian-patient” technicality absolves it of its legal responsibilities. However, you may not simply dispatch and dismiss the public to whom you are accountable. The 5-page package I received, including a refund check and a letter documenting the University of Florida’s refusal to comply with Florida state disclosure laws, may be viewed HERE.
Once again, Ms. Sikes, your resistance, or perhaps inability, to engage in honest dialogue leaves me unclear about a number of issues. I hope that you will welcome this opportunity to explain to me and the greater community why UF vehemently resists transparency and public scrutiny. After all, in 2009 alone, over $338 million in our tax money filled UF’s coffers and lined all of your pockets while most of us struggled to survive the recession. With all due respect, you have deceived the public for far too long and I am committed to making sure that this community remains transfixed on UF until we examine every animal experiment on which every single penny of public money is expended. Your inability to engage the public with any semblance of sincerity has not gone unnoticed.
However, I respectfully request that you address each of my concerns with candor and depth:
1- I am a little confused about our communications throughout December 2010, in which you assured Lisa Grossman and me on several occasions that the records requested were being gathered. Please note that, while I received a phone call on December 17 advising me that my “documents” were ready, the invoice from which my refund check was drawn is dated December 1. Were you unaware that UF had decided to withhold this information? Were you blatantly lying to us? Or do you find informed members of your community a nuisance to be dismissed?
It troubles me to know first-hand that, beyond treating the public with deceit and disrespect, you exhibit a seeming disdain for those whose taxes make you rich.
2- As stated above, the letter I received (unsigned and anonymous) cites a veterinary-patient privilege. If I am understanding you correctly, you contend that this statute allegedly relieves UF of its fiduciary obligations to the public under open records laws.
- Are the attendant veterinarians in your laboratories employees of the university?
- If UF and its veterinarians are “records owners” under Section 474.2165, Fla. Stat, who exactly are the “clients”?
- Or are the vets the “owners” and UF is the “client”?
- Where does the taxpayer, who it could easily be argued is a 60% owner of the primates — fit into this tailor-made paradigm?
- Does this “veterinarian-animal” privilege survive death as the standard “doctor-client” privilege generally expires with the patient?
I have documented proof of at least seven monkeys that were killed last year. Late last summer, a monkey named Louis was executed by UF rather than allow him to be retired to a sanctuary. I understand that his body was so badly broken that it would have caused public relations issues had the public seen what UF “researchers” had done to him. And taxpayers are currently funding Dr. Salemi with $700,000 to infect 24 monkeys with simian AIDS. I understand that he never stated that his experiments had any relevance for humans and that he is simply curious about how simian AIDS progresses in nonhuman primates. He has published papers explaining how he killed six monkeys last year during various stages in their torture after he had infected them.
- So when exactly does this “veterinary-animal” privilege expire?
- If the privilege extends beyond the death of the animal, it follows that UF could never be compelled to release any public records going forward.
- Or, if the “privilege” expires upon the death of the animal, according to the defense you raised, should you not have released veterinary records for at least the 7 monkeys that UF employees murdered last year?
- I would appreciate your thoughts (or your counsel’s) concerning the university’s decision to invoke this technicality. If this is the arrangement, one might easily conclude that you are deliberately trying to avoid public scrutiny while using hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for said “research.”
3- Everyone needs to understand that, by releasing veterinary records in the past, the university has acknowledged and ratified that veterinary records are indeed public domain. Upon request, UF has routinely furnished veterinary records — the precise public information that I requested and for which I paid. I would like an explanation as to how you determine which segments of the community are eligible of having their statutory rights recognized by UF while others, such as myself, are summarily dismissed from consideration. For the record, I would like to present a sample veterinary record that UF furnished to a colleague in response to an identical request for public information: please click HERE.
Ms. Sikes, do you understand that a fundamental principle upon which our entire system of American jurisprudence rests is that one law applies to all? The law does not allow us to apply one standard for a tall man and another for short woman. It seems equally corrupt for UF to apply one set of legal guidelines to Person A and another to Person B based on your personal feelings. You may not arbitrarily apply a statute-of-the-week in identical circumstances. You and the University of Florida are not the arbiters of statutory mandates.
You have not only attempted to deny me my rights under Florida’s “sunshine laws,” but you deliberately violated my civil rights as an America and denied the public of information that morally and legally belongs in the public domain. The law makes no exceptions about furnishing public records only to members of the public of whom you approve. Please explain this blatant refusal to uphold your legal obligations.
Should you fail to offer satisfactory and comprehensive responses to each and every issue addressed, I am fully prepared to pursue this in the courts, the media, and within the arena of public opinion.