First Amendment champion and “fierce advocate for all Floridians,” Barbara Petersen is retiring

First Amendment of the US Constitution text. Getty Images

A passionate fighter for the public’s right to know and holding government accountable, attorney Barbara Petersen has served 25 years as president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee.

She’s been a presence in the state Capitol and well-known in legal circles outside of Florida.

Now, Petersen has announced that she’ll retire at the end of the year, though she plans to stay involved in the foundation in her retirement.

Petersen’s replacement will be announced some time in the fall, according to a foundation news release.

She’ll be tough to replace, says Lucy Morgan, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and former Tallahassee bureau chief for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times.

“Barbara is an irreplaceable asset to Floridians. She has fought hard to keep doors and public records open to reporters and Florida citizens seeking help. She will be missed by all,” Morgan said in a statement.

Petersen “has written dozens of friend of the court briefs supporting citizens and the media, including two cases before the United States Supreme Court,” and “provided open government training to thousands of government officials, public employees, citizen organizations, and reporters across Florida,” the news release said.

Petersen said this about her long career:

“Twenty-five years ago, when the visionary Miami Herald managing editor Pete Weitzel asked me to run the First Amendment Foundation, I knew then I would be able to spend my legal career pursuing a passion that I find essential to the health and sustainability of democracy in Florida.

The FAF is the only organization in Florida that focuses its energy and resources on protecting the public’s right to oversee its government and hold it accountable to the electorate. 

Of course, that effort requires the vigilance of hundreds of people across the state — reporters, editors, citizens, public officials and government employees — who make sure our system of governance remains open and accessible to its people.

It’s been an honor to serve as the president of the First Amendment Foundation over the years, and a privilege to work with so many people devoted to government in the sunshine, there for all to see and participate in, a standard we all must be willing to fight for in the future, as so many have fought so steadfastly for in the past.

I thank everyone who shares this ideal for their support of the Foundation as it continues to work on behalf of all Floridians.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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