Undercurrents

Library chief Sam Morrison is caught in a sticky lie over onanism in the stacks

When reports came out of Tallahassee three weeks ago characterizing Broward County libraries as havens for masturbators, Undercurrents was a smidge skeptical. For one thing State Rep. Allen Trovillion (R-Winter Park) was the source of the information. Trovillion is probably best known as the lawmaker who told a group of gay high-school students they'd burn in hell if they didn't change their ways. His recent long-distance accusation raised two questions: How does he know what's going on in Broward County? And can a person put any stock in the ejaculations of a pious pol who doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut?

Moreover Undercurrents frequents local libraries and has never witnessed a single act of onanism in the stacks, near the computers, or anywhere else for that matter. Where is all this selfish sex going on?

It turns out, however, that we should have believed Trovillion. There is a problem in the county library system, but only part of it has to do with autoeroticism. The larger issue is why director Sam Morrison is finessing the truth.

On April 19 the Sun-Sentinel quoted Trovillion as saying, "I could tell you stories about people masturbating in libraries in Broward County." But the article left readers wondering exactly what those stories might be. Sun-Sentinel readers still don't know.

Undercurrents called Trovillion's office to learn more. His secretary directed us to a report that listed three incidents of masturbation in Broward libraries.

At the time Morrison claimed no knowledge of a problem. "I certainly would have heard about it," he told Undercurrents two weeks ago. Either he was being evasive or he's way out of the loop for someone in charge, because the county has been sued twice over the issue.

Jodi Hoffman, a paralegal and mother of three teenagers, is the plaintiff in the first suit. Her husband, Paul, is the plaintiff's attorney in the second. The Hoffmans, you may recall, are a conservative legal team who gained notoriety for suing the Broward County School District in 1996 over its sex-ed program, which they felt stressed promiscuity over abstinence. They settled with the school district and forced teachers to add material on abstinence and the benefits of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage to the curriculum.

Hoffman filed her library suit in December 1999, when she became fed up seeing patrons surfing porn sites on library computers. "The library might as well supply these guys with baby oil and towels too," she says.

A few months later, she made a records request for all incident reports involving Internet porn at county libraries between April 1997 and March 2000. She got a stack of documents so big it cost her almost $1000 in copy and research fees. She highlighted the findings in her lawsuit: 14 incidents of masturbation documented by library and police reports, 23 complaints about patrons viewing porn, two incidents of men exposing themselves, and one instance of a man fondling a female patron.

Depending upon when you ask him, Morrison's recollection of how many times masturbators have been caught in the library changes from none (the implication of his quote to Undercurrents on the topic), to two (a number he gave a TV reporter in December 1999), to five (the number Undercurrents received when we called him last week).

Hoffman claims to have hundreds of incident reports, many more than she's used in support of her lawsuit. "I've got five times as many," she says.

As proof she produces an accordion folder full of photocopies and scatters them around a conference table in her law office. No one -- not even Hoffman -- has counted all the reports. She got sidetracked by other work and didn't get through them all. But she knows there are at least the 16 instances of masturbation and exposure in her summary, which are backed up by documents in the court file. She also has dozens of letters, memos, and meeting minutes from library staff, who are tired of being exposed to porn and tired of policing patrons and have complained to Morrison about both.

Then there's the second lawsuit, filed by Paul Hoffman in March on behalf of one Mary Doe,who is standing in for her 12-year-old daughter, identified only as Jane Doe. According to the complaint, the girl was visiting the Coconut Creek branch of the library in September 1999 and saw a man masturbating. She was so traumatized by the incident that she has since tried to commit suicide twice, according to the complaint.

In both cases the library claims sovereign immunity from prosecution, based on the legal concept that it can't be sued for following county policy. In other words there is no county requirement that the library filter Internet sites, therefore the library is doing nothing wrong. The county also claims that the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 expressly protects it from liability for Internet sites created by a third party.

Both suits are pending. Morrison wasn't aware of the Jane Doe case. "Maybe it was given to me; I don't know," he says. "All I do is pass these things on to the county attorney." He thought the other case had been dismissed.

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