Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Navy SEALS sue AP over photos

Six members of a Navy special forces unit and two Navy wives sued the Associated Press yesterday, saying the news agency endangered the servicemen's lives and invaded their privacy by publishing photos showing the men interacting with Iraqi prisoners, AP reports. [via First Amendment Center.]

Mass. selectman alleges board violated open meeting law

A closed-door meeting last month of selectmen in Tewskbury, Mass., regarding a police labor issue has created a wedge within the Board of Selectmen, causing one member to file a complaint with the Middlesex District Attorney's office alleging that the board violated the state's open meeting law, the Boston Globe reported Dec. 19.

Reporter resigns over blog

St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Daniel P. Finney has resigned from the newspaper following the discovery of his blog, the Riverfront Times reports. Post management had suspended Finney Dec. 16 and seized his hard drive after learning of the blog through a report in the Riverfront Times. The blog, which Finney wrote under a pseudonym, contained unflattering remarks about Finney's employer and story subjects.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In Arizona, one-fourth of agencies flunk public records audit

In an audit of public records compliance in Arizona, roughly half the agencies delayed release of the requested records, and nearly one in four failed to turn them over within a week or never provided them, the Arizona Republic reports. News organizations sent journalists to 119 local government agencies across the state on Sept. 14-16 to audit compliance with the state's Public Records Law. Auditors were instructed to identify themselves by name but not to volunteer the names of their employers or why they wanted the documents. The aim was to discern how an ordinary citizen seeking public records would be treated by the agencies. Nearly three in four police agencies and school offices - 69 percent and 68 percent, respectively - passed the test, compared with an 86 percent compliance rate for city and county managers offices.

Proposed AP ethics policy would limit anonymous sources

Editor & Publisher reports on AP's proposed ethics policy, which it says is drawing concern from union leaders. The policy would put limits on the use of anonymous sources; define "on the record," "off the record" and "background"; and require approval of all freelance work.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Is TV talk evidence of reporter's malice?

A libel lawsuit in Massachusetts raises the question of whether statements a reporter makes on a TV talk show can provide evidence of malice in a libel suit against that reporter, the Washington Post reports. State Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy is suing the Boston Herald and four of its writers about a series of reports that questioned his treatment of crime victims. One alledged that Murphy had dismissed the trauma of a 14-year-old rape victim by saying, "Tell her to get over it."

The case, set for trial next month in Suffolk Superior Court, is significant, the Washington Post says, because it uses the rambunctious exchange on a talk show to try to prove the malicious intent of a newspaper reporter. The brief cites statements made by a Herald writer not just in the pages of the tabloid but also on Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor." The Post reports:
The case "reflects the perils of this new media culture" in which reporters go on the air to promote their stories, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. While editors scrutinize and sanitize reporters' words before they appear in print, no one performs that function in live TV interviews.

"When reporters who write stories, then go on the air to discuss" them, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "things tend to escalate. . . . If their appearances are going to be used to craft evidence of malice and reckless disregard for the truth in a print story, we're in very dangerous territory. I think this will have very serious implications for journalists."

Boston Phoenix article libeled prosecutor, jury says

A U.S. District Court jury in Boston last week found that a January 2003 Boston Phoenix story libeled a Maryland prosecutor, who was involved in a custody dispute that included charges of child abuse, and awarded him $950,000, the Boston Globe reports. The story -- which focused on the inadequacies of the family court system in dealing iwth claims of child abuse -- described allegations that the plaintiff, Marc Mandel, had sexually abused children from two marriages. Mandel denied the accusations and sued for libel. Peter Kadzis, editor of the Phoenix, said that the paper will appeal.

Hatfill subpoenas at least a dozen news organizations

At least a dozen news organizations are being targeted with subpoenas by the attorney representing former U.S. Army researcher Steven Hatfill, who is suing the federal government under the Privacy Act for trying to link him to the 2001 anthrax attacks, Editor & Publisher reports. Tom Connolly, Hatfill's lawyer in his lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials, had subpoenas served last week on The Associated Press, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, ABC News, and CBS' "60 Minutes." He did tell E&P who else would receive a subpoena, but expected at least 12 to 15 to be served in total. Several weeks ago, a libel lawsuit Hatfill had filed against The New York Times and columnist Nicholas Kristof was dismissed by a federal judge. [Another report: Los Angeles Times.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Mass. publishers file bill to toughen open meeting laws

In a bid to encourage public officials' compliance with the state's open meeting laws, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association has filed legislation that would toughen the penalties for violators and award court costs and attorneys' fees to individuals who bring enforcement actions.

Sponsored by Rep. Arthur Broadhurst (D-Methuen), the bill would impose civil fines of $1,000 on any government body that violates the law and $500 on each government official who violates the law. Officials who "knowingly and intentionally" violate the law would be guilty of a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for subsequent offenses.

If enacted, the bill would also make government entities liable for the attorneys' fees and court costs of individuals who sue to enforce the open meeting laws. Plaintiffs would be entitled to recover their costs and attorneys' fees even if the entity corrects its violation after the lawsuit is filed, if the plaintiff, before filing suit, had requested in writing that the meeting be opened and the entity had refused.

Existing Massachusetts law allows a fine of up to $1,000 against a local government entity that violates the open meeting law, but not against state government entities. It has no civil or criminal penalties for individual state or local officials who violate the law. The law allows three or more registered voters to file lawsuits to enforce its provisions, but it does not allow them to recover their costs or attorneys' fees.

In October, the MNPA concluded a 50-state survey of opening meeting law enforcement provisions, finding that Massachusetts was among the most lenient of any state in allowing government officials to violate the law without fear of consequences.

Among the findings of the MNPA's survey:
  • Civil penalties. Forty states authorize some sort of penalty – either civil or criminal or both – for violations of their open meeting laws. Of these, 23 expressly authorize civil penalties. Although Massachusetts law authorizes penalties against local – but not state – government bodies, many states go further, imposing civil penalties directly against the government officials who violate the law.
  • Criminal sanctions. Twenty-one states make it a misdemeanor criminal offense for a public official to violate the open meetings law. These states provide fines for a first offense of as much as $1,500. Some states also include imprisonment as a potential sanction, in some cases for up to one year. States often increase the penalties for repeat offenders.
  • Voiding. The majority of states give their courts discretion to declare void any action taken in violation of the law. Some states take away the discretion, requiring that actions taken in violation of the law be considered null and void as a matter of law.
  • Private right of action. While most laws provide for enforcement by the state attorney general or local district attorney, many also give private individuals the right to sue to enforce the law. In Massachusetts, the law requires at least three registered voters to file such a suit. Other states require only one plaintiff. While some require that the plaintiff be a citizen, a taxpayer or someone aggrieved by the violation, most allow any person to file. Many states further require that courts hear and decide these cases within strict timetables.
  • Attorneys' fees and costs. Without a provision for recovery of costs and attorneys' fees, private individuals are less likely to seek enforcement of the law, even if the law gives them the right. Forty states that provide a private right of action also allow the prevailing plaintiff to recover costs, and 37 authorize attorneys' fees. In most cases, these are to be paid by the government entity, but some states also require payment by officials who intentionally violate the law.
The bill has not yet been assigned a number. If you would like more information about the bill, please feel free to contact me.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reporter sentenced to six months' home confinement

Providence, R.I., television reporter Jim Taricani was sentenced today to six months' home confinement for refusing to tell a special prosecutor who gave him a secret FBI videotape from the Operation Plunder Dome investigation into corruption at Providence City Hall, the Providence Journal reports.

U.S. District Chief Judge Ernest C. Torres ordered the sentence to begin immediately. He also set several restrictions on Taricani while serving his sentence, including a ban on giving interviews or doing any reporting. Torres also said Taricani could petition for "early termination" of the sentence after four months. Martin Murphy, Taricani's lawyer, said he did not know if his client would appeal.

According to another report, Torres, in sentencing Taricani, called it a "myth" that journalists' sources would dry up if they could not be promised confidentiality.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press issued a press release saying it will join other news organizations in coming months to advocate for a federal shield law in the aftermath of today's sentencing.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Reporters try to avoid jail in leak case

Federal prosecutors today argued journalists have limited legal protection while a lawyer for two reporters who could go to jail for refusing to divulge their sources argued for a broader interpretation of the Constitution, the Associated Press reports. "There is a level of legal protection," lawyer Floyd Abrams told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Abrams represents Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller of The New York Times, who have been subpoenaed in the grand jury investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name.

Is the First Amendment shield enough?

This is the question debated today at the Legal Affairs Debate Club by Paul McMasters, First Amendment Ombudsman at the First Amendment Center, and Geoffrey R. Stone, Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.

Media law news round-up

  • In Atlanta, a federal judge has issued what AP calls a split decision in a dispute between the city and three major newspapers over fees the city-run airport charges for news racks. The case involves a 1996 city policy removing all news racks at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and requiring publishers to lease city-owned boxes.

  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA TODAY and The New York Times sued on First Amendment grounds. A federal judge issued an injunction blocking the policy, but an appeals court overturned a part of that decision and remanded the case to the lower court. In a ruling Dec. 2, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story ordered the three newspapers to pay the city nearly $350,000 in back rent and interest for news racks. However, he also ordered the city to pay the three newspapers $1.35 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses.

  • Near Denver, an Army appeals court stopped the investigative hearing into three soldiers charged with murdering an Iraqi general until the judges can determine whether The Denver Post's request to open the hearing is valid.

  • The newspaper last Friday filed a motion to stop the Article 32 hearing into the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Mowhoush at the Qaim detention facility last year. Steven Zansberg, an attorney for The Post, said the appellate court's halting of the proceedings - and previous military court cases - makes this an important ruling.

  • In Virginia, a libel lawsuit brought by Steven Hatfill against The New York Times and columnist Nicholas Kristof concerning the 2001 anthrax attacks was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton. The judge ruled that Kristof's columns, in which Hatfill was referred to as "a person of interest" in the investigation by Attorney General John Ashcroft, did not defame him, the Associated Press reported.

  • "It is evident that the Op-Ed pieces highlighting the perceived shortcomings of the FBI are not reasonably read as accusing Hatfill of actually being the anthrax mailer," Hilton wrote. "The principle that an accurate report of ongoing investigation or an allegation of wrongdoing does not carry the implication of guilt has long been recognized . . . and it is mandated by the First Amendment."

    Tuesday, December 07, 2004

    Jurkowitz: Is 1st Amendment under attack?

    With the trials of reporters Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times set to begin tomorrow and the sentencing of Providence TV reporter Jim Taricani Thursday, Boston Globe media writer Mark Jurkowitz asks, Is the First Amendment under attack?

    Monday, December 06, 2004

    Move on for shield law in Mass.

    Charles Kravetz, station manager and vice president of news at New England Cable News, and Jeffrey Newman, a Boston lawyer, are spearheading a movement to pass a reporter's shield law in Massachusetts, prompted by cases across the country of reporters being held in contempt and jailed for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. They are seeking to form a committee of journalists to help draft a reporter's shield law. Kravetz told me today that he plans to send out a letter tomorrow to all major news outlets in the state inviting their support.

    Media news from Denver

    Reading the Denver Post en route back to Boston, two interesting items:

    First: A decision by officials at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas to drop criminal charges against an airman accused of participating in a gang rape last year of another service member, Leah Kaelin, means that a subpoena issued by Sheppard officials, seeking reporter notes from unpublished conversations with Kaelin, has been dropped.

    Kaelin, who alleged she had been assaulted by Matthew Monroe and three other airmen at a hotel last year, decided "not to go forward with a criminal proceeding," according to a news release issued by Sheppard officials.

    Kaelin's story appeared in the Denver Post last March, detailing her account of being drugged by the airmen and how commanders later downplayed her allegations, kicked her out of the service and took eight months to process the DNA evidence.

    Second: Denver Post editor Gregory Moore, formerly managing editor of The Boston Globe, has been elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board.

    I'm back ...

    from Vail, where I was attending a meeting the last few days.

    Wednesday, December 01, 2004

    Red Sox CEO a media lawyer?

    Speaking today at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, Boston Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino noted that earlier in his career, when he was practicing as a lawyer, he represented the Washington Post on occasion and defended the paper in a libel case.

    Lucchino did not come to the meeting empty handed -- he brought the World Series trophy. And, posing in the photo above with Boston Herald Publisher Patrick Purcell (right), Lucchino announced he had converted lifelong Yankees fan Purcell to the Red Sox nation.

    Monday, November 29, 2004

    Journalists' group launches open-government site

    The new Web site of The Coalition of Journalists for Open Government is intended to serve as a resource for journalists seeking to keep current on open-government developments or to learn more about access issues at the federal level. CJOG is a year-old alliance of more than 30 journalism organizations concerned about growing government secrecy.

    Eagle Tribune calls for toughening open meeting laws in Mass.

    As the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association -- of which I am executive director -- prepares to file legislation this week that would toughen enforcement of open meeting laws in the state, William B. Ketter, editor-in-chief of Eagle-Tribune newspapers, publishes an editorial backing the bill. An excerpt:
    "Massachusetts, the state that gave birth to American democracy, should be embarrassed. The shot heard around the world at Lexington and Concord in 1775 has become a hollow shell of silence in the very place that fired it.

    "State lawmakers and Gov. Mitt Romney can change that in next year's legislative session. The publishers association has drafted bills to impose mandatory fines on officials who violate open-meeting and public- record laws and refuse to comply unless ordered to do so by a court.

    "We implore the Legislature and the governor to get behind this renewed effort to strengthen the state and local open-meeting and record laws. The people of Massachusetts have the most at stake."

    MBTA's rejection of ads violated free speech, court rules

    The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's rejection of ads promoting marijuana reform violated the First Amendment, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today. Rejection of the ads -- submitted by Change the Climate Inc. -- constituted viewpoint discrimination, the court said. "The bedrock principle of viewpoint neutrality demands that the state not suppress speech where the real rationale for the restriction is disagreement with the underlying ideology or perspective that the speech expresses," the court explained. In the same decision, the circuit court ruled that the MBTA did not violate the First Amendment in rejecting ads from a religious group.

    Friday, November 26, 2004

    Prosecutor drops harassment charge against reporter

    Citing a lack of evidence, Durham, N.C., District Attorney Jim Hardin has dismissed a harassment charge against a newspaper reporter who was trying to interview a woman for a story, the News & Observer reports. Hardin said in a news release that the charge against reporter Demorris Lee had "significant implications" regarding "the First Amendment issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press." He called for Durham's judicial leaders to begin requiring that police investigate allegations brought against the media before charges are filed. [via Romanesko]

    Press freedom under siege worldwide

    Journalists are being murdered and their publications attacked at an alarming rate, says the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers in its half-year review of press freedom worldwide.
    "Thirty-five journalists have been killed in the past six months and 63 so far this year, an increase from 53 for the whole of 2003. The war in Iraq, where seven journalists were killed in the second half of 2004 and 23 in the full year, was a major reason the death toll in 2004 surpassed that of 2003. But Iraq was not alone: eight journalists have been murdered in the Philippines in the past six months, making it even deadlier for journalists than Iraq."

    Wednesday, November 24, 2004

    Declassified docs detail Ford's FOIA veto battle

    President Gerald R. Ford wanted to sign the Freedom of Information Act strengthening amendments passed by Congress 30 years ago, but concern about leaks (shared by his chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Richard Cheney) and legal arguments that the bill was unconstitutional (marshaled by government lawyer Antonin Scalia, among others) persuaded Ford to veto the bill, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive to mark the 30th anniversary of the veto override. On Nov. 20, 1974, the House voted to override Ford's veto by a margin of 371 to 31; on Nov. 21, the Senate followed suit by a 65 to 27 vote, amending the FOIA to provide core protections including judicial review of executive secrecy claims.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2004

    Hawaii officials unaware of public's right to know

    Many government officials are unaware of Hawai'i's Sunshine Law, says a report in Ka Leo O Hawai'i, a publication of the University of Hawaii.

    Private community adopts FOI law

    Bella Vista, a private community in northern Arkansas, has adopted the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, the Hot Springs Village Voice reports.
    "According to Linda Caldwell, general manager and editor of the Weekly Vista in Bella Vista, the property owners were responsible for the adoption of the act. 'There was great pressure from the property owners,' Caldwell said. 'There have been some requests for information, specifically salary levels. In the past they POA gave salary ranges, but nothing specific.'"

    Illinois press group seeks to keep records open

    The Illinois Press Association will ask Gov. Blagojevich to block newly passed legislation that would allow people with certain non-violent drug and prostitution convictions to cleanse their records so they can more easily find jobs, the Chicago Sun Times reports. Backers of the legislation contend it would ease the transition into the workplace for thousands of ex-inmates with non- violent criminal records. But the press association says criminal convictions should remain accessible for anyone to see.

    Monday, November 22, 2004

    Of Nazis, Novaks and the First Amendment

    Sometimes First Amendment rights can be difficult to defend, says Martin Fishgold, president of the International Labor Communications Association. "It is difficult to defend the First Amendment rights in the Valerie Plame case of syndicated columnist Robert Novak and New York Times Reporter Judith Miller, both of whom have been used over and over again by the Bush Administration to sell unpopular policies, against all ethical journalistic practices," Fishgold writes.

    Nevertheless, he says, defending First Amendment rights must be an absolute. "If you open the door for interpretation, you open the door for abuse of the privilege. From my point of view, one must allow the Nazis and the Novaks to slip in under the coverage if one wants to defend First Amendment rights."

    Federal shield law unlikely, says LA Times columnist

    Reporters in the United States are under siege, says Los Angeles Times media columnist David Shaw. But while some are calling for Congress to enact a federal shield law, "a Republican-dominated Congress seems unlikely to do that," Shaw says, "especially at a time when public hostility toward the media makes it unlikely that the media will be able to rally much support for such legislation."

    Sunday, November 21, 2004

    Sen. Dodd introduces federal shield law

    Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) Friday introduced a federal shield law that would provide an "absolute protection" for reporters' confidential sources. The "Free Speech Protection Act of 2004" protects against compelled disclosure for sources, regardless of whether the source was promised confidentiality, Dodd said.

    An editorial in today's Springfield Republican endorsed the measure:
    "The notion of protecting the press is neither liberal nor conservative, neither Democratic nor Republican. Through a functioning free press, the public is provided a window onto the workings of the government - at all levels. To impede the work of the free press is to block the flow of information to the people."

    Friday, November 19, 2004

    Assault on freedom of the press

    That is what Lou Dobbs called it last night, as he discussed the contempt convictions of Rhode Island television reporter Jim Taricani and New York Times reporter Judith Miller last night with Miller, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams and U.S. News & World Report Editor Mort Zuckerman.

    Sen. Dodd expected to introduce federal shield law

    Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) is expected to introduce a bill in Congress soon calling for a federal shield law, Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp reports. Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia have shield laws, which protect reporters from revealing confidential sources.
    "I'm told that something is going to be introduced by Sen. Dodd this week," said George Freeman, an attorney for The New York Times, who has been overseeing that paper's response to several subpoenas, including those seeking phone records and source information from reporter Judith Miller. "I understand [Dodd's bill] is quite good from a substantive point of view -- absolute protection for confidential sources."

    Thursday, November 18, 2004

    Reporter guilty of contempt for refusing to reveal source

    In Providence, R.I., today, U.S. District Chief Judge Ernest C. Torres found investigative reporter Jim Taricani in criminal contempt for refusing to reveal the source of an undercover videotape that aired on his television station, the Providence Journal reports. The judge scheduled sentencing for Dec. 9. Taricani faces up to six months in prison.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2004

    Former vonBulow prosecutor pursues reporter's source

    On the eve of TV reporter Jim Taricani's contempt trial for refusing to say who gave him a copy of a secret FBI videotape, the Providence Journal profiles Marc Desisto, the special prosecutor assigned to identify the source of the leaked tape.

    ProJo wins legal fees in public records suit

    A Rhode Island Superior Court judge ordered the Town of North Kingstown to repay The Providence Journal the cost of attorney fees the newspaper spent on a lawsuit to obtain public information withheld by the town Police Department, the newspaper reports. But the judge denied the newspaper's request that the town pay a $1,000 fine, saying there was no evidence presented that town officials willfully violated the state's Access to Public Records Act.

    NBC News president calls for federal shield law

    Writing in the Wall Street Journal, NBC News President Neal Shapiro calls on Congress to enact a federal reporter shield law.
    Unfortunately, there is no federal statute that supports the rights of journalists to protect confidential sources. The law provides confidentiality for psychotherapists, lawyers and doctors. It is high time journalists were added to the list. If sources can't be assured of confidentiality, they will be reluctant to come forward to the press. And if they don't confide in the press, wrongdoing could remain undisclosed. The majority of states have reporter shield laws on the books. We need the same on the federal level.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2004

    New Jersey plan to seal data runs afoul of health groups

    A plan to shield New Jersey government records from the eyes of terrorists is drawing objections from environmental and public health advocates, who say it also would keep workers and residents in the dark about potential exposure to hazardous materials, the Star-Ledger reports. The proposed regulations, designed to clarify anti-terror limits on the state's Open Public Records Act, prohibit agencies from releasing any plans that detail a building's inner workings.

    They also make secret all records of airports, mass transit facilities, bridges, tunnels, public utilities, emergency-response facilities, arenas, stadiums, state-owned buildings and storage sites for hazardous materials, the report says. Also confidential would be records showing where explosives or pharmaceuticals are stored, how nuclear power plants operate, how emergency-response teams are deployed, or that disclose the outbreak of contagious diseases among animals.

    To gain access to any of these records, the report says, a member of the public would need permission from the attorney general's Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and the head of a Cabinet-level state agency. The agency head would be free to release a record only if there were a "bona fide need for public access."

    Monday, November 15, 2004

    Gonzales' record on press freedoms and right to know

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today released Gonzales, Press Freedoms and the Public's Right to Know, its evaluation of the likely impact of Attorney General Nominee Alberto Gonzales on press freedoms and the public's right to know. RCFP researched Gonzales' performance as a judge on the Texas Supreme Court from January 1999 to December 2000 and as White House counsel since January 2001. It concluded that Gonzales' role as White House counsel reveals a penchant for strictly regulating access to government and executive-branch information, while his term on the Texas high court indicates a recognition of the First Amendment interests in newsgathering and reporting.

    Friday, November 12, 2004

    California voters add Sunshine to state constitution

    California voters added a sunshine amendment to the state constitution Nov. 2, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports. "Eighty-three percent of California voters endorsed Proposition 59, adding a right-to-know provision to the state constitution. California joins Florida, Louisiana, Montana, and New Hampshire in having freedom of information provisions in their constitutions," the report said.

    Columnist: Our not-so-free press

    We read of China and Zimbabwe throwing journalists in jail, but similar abuses are unfolding in the United States, writes New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof.
    "The first reporter likely to go to jail is Jim Taricani, a television reporter for the NBC station in Providence, R.I. Mr. Taricani obtained and broadcast, completely legally, a videotape of a city official as he accepted an envelope full of cash.

    "U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres found Mr. Taricani in contempt for refusing to identify the person he got the videotape from, and the judge fined him $1,000 a day. That hasn't broken Mr. Taricani, so Judge Torres has set a hearing for Nov. 18 to decide whether to squeeze him further by throwing him in jail."

    Norwood officials violate open meeting law, DA rules

    Officials in Norwood, Mass., who are working to bring a YMCA to town were found to have violated the state open meeting law when they met with Y representatives behind closed doors, the Daily News Transcript reports. The Norfolk County district attorney's office ruled that the team of town officials conducting negotiations on the Y broke the law by holding the session with the YMCA to consider deals related to a long-term lease of town-owned property.

    What makes newspapers good?

    Former New York Times managing editor Gerald Boyd says it well:
    "Good newspapers are unwavering in their commitment to their community, whether that 'community' is a national audience, a big city or a small town. They serve as a kind of glue that provides various factions with the same information so that they can unite or divide based on their views.

    "They are linchpins for change, not for their own personal gain or to buck the status quo. Instead, they understand their mission: to use all of their collective talent to make the community a better place. "

    Tuesday, November 02, 2004

    SJC hears arguments today in Cape paper's suit against sheriff

    The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments today on whether the Barnstable County Sheriff's Office on Cape Cod is required under public records law to release the identities of more than 200 reserve deputy sheriffs appointed by Sheriff James Cummings since 1999, the Cape Cod Times reports.

    The reserve deputies, as members of the nonprofit, charitable Barnstable County Deputy Sheriff's Association, have a right to privacy, the sheriff argues. They have no law enforcement training or power, the sheriff contends, performing fund-raising and charitable work on behalf of the sheriff for senior citizen and youth groups.

    The Cape Cod Times filed the lawsuit last year when Cummings declined to release the names. It maintains the sheriff also has the ability to call the reserve deputies to active duty. It says the public has a right to know who was appointed by the sheriff and allowed to carry badges as reserve deputies.

    According to the report in the Cape Cod Times, The Boston Herald recently filed a similar lawsuit seeking the names of reserve deputies in Middlesex County.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2004

    E-mail between officials may break meeting laws

    South Dakota's attorney general warns public officials that communicating by e-mail may violate the open meeting law, according to the Rapid City Journal. "My advice to the members of the board about e-mail communication is the same as the communication at lunch," said Attorney General Larry Long. "Don't talk shop over e-mail, or over lunch, or during a basketball game."

    Monday, October 25, 2004

    Reporting facts from court proceedings privileged

    An accurate report of facts from a court proceeding on a matter of public importance may not be the basis of a libel judgement, the Supreme Court of North Dakota ruled last week, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A state statute provides a privilege for fairly reporting of such facts, the court ruled, dismissing a libel claim brought by Libertarian Party candidate for North Dakota governor, Roland C. Riemers, against the Grand Forks Herald. While Riemers was running for U.S. Senate in 2002, the Herald published a story that cited court findings in Riemers' 2001 divorce that he had beaten his wife and lied about his finances.

    Report: Indiana officials routinely violate records law

    Public officials in Indiana routinely violate the state's public records law, according to this report produced by eight Indiana newspapers: "Government officials routinely broke or skirted Indiana's open records law during a statewide test by eight newspapers," the report said. It went on:
    Journalists presenting themselves as citizens visited government offices in all 92 counties to see how readily officials turned over documents that are supposed to be available to anyone.

    While some journalists easily obtained the records, others were intimidated, questioned repeatedly, put off for days, or wrongly told they needed a court order or subpoena. One county worker said it would take 'an act of God' for him to turn over the public document.

    The denial of records demonstrates the uphill fight citizens face in obtaining even the most basic government information paid for with their tax dollars.

    New rules take effect on access to Maryland court records

    New rules governing public access to Maryland court records took effect Oct. 1, The Montgomery County Sentinel reports. The Access to Court Records Rules, contained in Title 16 chapter 1000 of the Maryland Rules of Procedure, makes internal administrative records subject to the Maryland Public Information Act, although administrative records connected with judicial work in progress such as drafts of decisions and opinions or memoranda are not accessible. Administrative records pertaining to jury selection are closed until the jury has been sworn in. Case records are presumed open to the public except if closed by an existing statute or rule, or by a court order.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Macro and micro views on the First Amendment

    The First Amendment Center has two articles that together offer perspective on the broad and narrow protections afforded by the First Amendment. One, Wartime Riskiest for Free Speech, Scholar Says, is an interview with University of Chicago Law School Professor Geoffrey R. Stone, author of the soon-to-be-released book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime. "The United States government has never attempted directly to suppress criticism of public policies or public officials except in time of war," Stone says. The other, Unlikely Hero Emerges in Struggle for Courtroom Access, tells the story of Scott Huminski, a critic of the Vermont courts who recently won a ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the First Amendment prevents Vermont court officials from barring him from their proceedings.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2004

    Court upholds jail sentence for open-meeting violation

    A former Florida Senate president's conviction and 60-day jail sentence for violating the state's Sunshine Law as a county commissioner has been upheld by a three-judge panel of Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal, according to this report. W.D. Childers, convicted by a jury in 2002 after he discussed public business in private with a fellow Escambia County commissioner, has already served 38 days of his sentence.

    Thursday, October 07, 2004

    For Chicago newspaper, the end of an era

    Odd. I was in Chicago this week and felt the impulse to run into my hotel room, grab my camera, run back out into the street and snap this photo of the Chicago Sun-Times building, having no idea I was memorializing the end of an era in newspaper history.

    Publishers lose lawsuit over Back Bay newsracks

    Three newspaper publishers lost their federal court challenge to a local ordinance prohibiting the use of newsracks in Boston's Back Bay. U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock ruled Aug. 27 that the ordinance does not violate the publishers' First Amendment rights because the ordinance allows "reasonable alternative means of distribution."

    "While the guideline forces plaintiffs to use distribution means in the district which they find economically unappealing or that they would otherwise not use," Woodlock said, "this does not change the fact that alternatives to newsracks in the district are available to plaintiffs."

    The three newspapers – Editorial Humor, Boston's Weekly Dig and The Improper Bostonian – filed the lawsuit in 2001 after Boston's Back Bay Architectural Commission adopted a guideline prohibiting "street furniture" from the Back Bay Architectural District.

    The newspapers contended that the commission violated their First Amendment rights by imposing a flat ban on all newsracks, rather than tailoring the ban more narrowly in a way that would still preserve the aesthetics of the neighborhood. They also argued that the ordinance violated their free speech rights by not providing an economically feasible alternative means of distribution within the Back Bay.

    Relying on a 1996 decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a challenge to a similar ban on newsracks in Boston's Beacon Hill, Woodlock ruled against the publishers on all counts. The legal standard, Woodlock said, is that the ordinance would be acceptable if it was "narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest" and would "allow for reasonable alternative channels of communication."

    The publishers argued that the commission could have narrowed the ordinance and still achieved its aesthetic goals through a regulation that provided for approval of newsracks on a case-by-case basis. But Woodlock found that the commission acted appropriately in considering the alternatives and adopting "what it perceived to be the most effective solution to the perceived problem with newsracks."

    Woodlock likewise rejected the publishers' arguments that the ordinance left them with no reasonable alternatives for distributing their newspapers because other options – street vendors, store placement, mail and home delivery – were prohibitively expensive. He said that the publishers offered no evidence to prove this argument. "Plaintiffs have failed to adduce any meaningful evidence of the cost of using street vendors in the district, much less show how such cost compares to the cost of installing and maintaining newsracks there."

    The decision is HOP Publications v. City of Boston, U.S. District Court civil action number 01-11536-DPW.

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    Regional school committee violated open meeting law

    When the Groton Dunstable Regional School Committee went into executive session to choose names for its new middle schools, it violated the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, the Boston Globe reports in an article by correspondent Susan Ware. Concerned that debate about naming a school after environmental activist Marion Stoddart might prove embarrassing to Stoddart, the School Committee decided to discuss the matter in a closed session. But the Open Meeting Law, Ware writes:
    "clearly defines topics that can be discussed in executive sessions, such as official misconduct, contract negotiations, and land purchases. The naming of public buildings does not fall within the guidelines. When the committee checked with District Attorney Martha Coakley's office, it was informed of the error, according to School Committee chairman Alan Vervaeke."
    Vervaeke, the Globe reported, said the district attorney's office told him there would be no penalties for the error.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2004

    U.S. concedes error in forcing erasure of Scalia's speech

    From the Associated Press, via
    "The government has conceded that the U.S. Marshals Service violated federal law when a marshal ordered reporters with The Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American to erase their recordings of a speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

    "The Justice Department also said the reporters and their employers are each entitled to $1,000 in damages and reasonable attorney fees, which had been sought by the media organizations."

    Friday, September 03, 2004

    Confidentiality is 'essential,' news media tell judge

    From AP, via

    "WASHINGTON — Journalists need protection from having to reveal confidential sources if they are to keep the public informed, news organizations argued in a newly unsealed court filing.

    "U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan agreed to the release of the papers, filed last week in the case of reporters from The New York Times and The Washington Post, who have been called to testify before a grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of a covert CIA officer.

    "Hogan has already rejected claims that the First Amendment protects journalists and other organizations from having to testify as part of the investigation into who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame."

    Tuesday, August 31, 2004

    School committee skirts open meeting law

    The Fitchburg, Mass., Sentinel & Enterprise reports on the Fitchburg School Committee's skirting of the open meetings law:
    "Executive session minutes released by the Fitchburg School Committee Monday are 'vague' and violate the spirit of open meeting laws, according to two experts in First Amendment law.

    "School Committee members voted to approve and release executive session minutes from meetings starting in January through July at Monday night's meeting, after the Sentinel & Enterprise requested the records.

    "But the documents released provide only one or two sentence summaries of the general nature of the meetings, rather than a full account of what was said."

    Lucy Dalglish: New attacks on the First Amendment

    Lucy Dalglish, a lawyer, journalist and executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on journalists' tough summer:
    "First Amendment principles that generally had been considered settled since the days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers are under attack. It has been at least 30 years since we have seen such a dramatic weakening of fundamental protections for gathering and publishing of news."