Media groups ask N.M. high court to reconsider gag order

Friday, September 22, 2000

The Associated Press, the Albuquerque Journal, The Albuquerque Tribune, KRQE-TV and KOAT-TV have asked the state Supreme Court in Santa Fe to reconsider the media blackout on court proceedings for a severely overweight 3-year-old girl who was taken from her parents. The Supreme Court two weeks ago rejected an appeal of Children's Court Judge Tommy Jewell's decision to bar the media from a custody hearing for Anamarie Martinez-Regino. In asking the justices to reconsider their ruling, the news organizations' motion, filed Sept. 18, said Jewell's order violates state law, legal precedent and the state and federal constitutions. A state social worker said in an affidavit that the girl “will surely die” unless she follows a special diet, exercises more and uses a breathing machine when she sleeps. Her parents, Adela Martinez and Miguel Regino, have defended their care of their only child. State law says the media “shall be allowed” to attend custody hearings if they refrain from identifying the child or family members. The news organizations say the names were already public, divulged by the family. Associated Press

New Hampshire: Candidate in racy costume did not break law, judge says

A judge has ruled that a Massachusetts man who promoted his presidential campaign in January by walking down the main street in Manchester in a penis costume did not break the law. Joshua Dostis, of New Salem, Mass., had asked a Manchester District Court judge to dismiss lewd conduct charges. Dostis is a professional clown. Dostis, who used the costume to draw attention to his candidacy, said his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression should trump the lewdness charge. In a ruling released this week, a judge said the costume was a crude caricature of the male genitalia that was worn as a parody of the political system, not to gain any form of sexual gratification. Associated Press

Georgia: News organizations seek Firestone court documents

The Washington Post Co., CBS Broadcasting, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune Co. have asked a federal judge in Brunswick to unseal documents from a 1998 lawsuit filed by the parents of a 19-year-old Florida man killed in an accident involving Firestone tires. The news organizations maintain that it is in the public interest to have the evidence published. Michael and Kim Van Etten of Jupiter, Fla., filed the $21-million product liability claim against Firestone/Bridgestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. after their son, Daniel, died March 7, 1997, when a friend's Ford Explorer rolled over after one of its Firestone tires shredded. The parties agreed to a settlement in August 1999. The terms were sealed along with evidence in the case. Firestone said that only 15 of the 300 filings in the case were under seal and that those documents contain confidential technical information, trade secrets, research and development information. The tiremaker contends their disclosure would aid competitors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now investigating scores of deaths and injuries over the past decade involving Firestone tires. Associated Press

Oklahoma: Judge rejects newspaper's records request

Creek County Judge Russell Miller rejected Sept. 19 a Tulsa World request for disclosure of any juvenile records on Robert Wayne Rotramel, 19, who is accused of murdering a girl and raping her friend. Miller said that to rule otherwise would be an “absolute abuse of my discretion.” The World had requested any juvenile court records and law enforcement records that exist on Rotramel, under a 1996 law that allows the release of juvenile records under certain circumstances. Craig Corgan, Rotramel's attorney, filed the motion to dismiss the newspaper's motion, saying the “parties in a criminal case…are the state of Oklahoma and no one else.” The World responded that the defendant “overlooks the press and the public's rights to observe and have access to criminal trials, hearings and records that are presumptively open to the public under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” According to named sources, both the Tulsa World and KOTV Channel 6 in Tulsa have reported that Rotramel was a sexual offender as a juvenile. KOTV has filed a petition seeking the disclosure of Rotramel's juvenile records. The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, a public television station, later joined KOTV in the petition, which will be heard Oct. 6 before Associate District Judge April Sellers White. An Oct. 16 preliminary hearing is set for Rotramel. Associated Press

District of Columbia: Media groups back journalist accused of swapping child porn

The nation's top journalists groups have rallied around a former National Public Radio broadcaster's effort to petition the Supreme Court to rehear his child pornography case. Larry Matthews of Silver Spring, Md., has never disputed that he traded about 160 pornographic pictures over the Internet, but he said that it was part of his research as a free-lance journalist. Matthews also said he didn't know it was illegal to send and receive child pornography. After a federal judge refused to allow the former broadcaster to argue a First Amendment defense, Matthews pleaded guilty in July 1998. Last April, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the lower court's decision. The panel said the distribution of child pornography is a particularly egregious crime and that the law makes no exception for journalists. But the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, National Public Radio Inc. and the Radio-Television News Directors Association say the courts should at least allow Matthews to present the First Amendment as a defense. In a “friend-of-the-court” brief, the groups wrote that “in a situation like that in the case before the Court, where the journalist's work concerned a matter of great public importance — the exploitation of children in the production of child pornography — and where lawmakers are making the laws even more strict in order to fight such exploitation, it becomes imperative that those who tackle these issues in the name of the public interest be allowed to fully and fairly defend themselves at trial.” The groups stressed that the First Amendment doesn't necessarily give journalists a license to violate the law, but a defense at trial. Freedom Forum Online staff

New Jersey: Breast cancer sculptures restored in town

Four plaster sculptures of women who had breast cancer were returned for display in a main street store window on Sept. 20 after Metuchen, N.J., officials ruled obscenity complaints invalid. The sculpture subjects had mastectomies so they feature only one breast. In place of the missing breast, the sculptures are decorated with roses, nails and other objects. The artwork was created in memorial to a local woman who died from the disease. After a woman complained that the sculptures were obscene because her young son saw them in the store window, police officials ordered the display to be taken down. Store owner Nancy Graf contended the display was not obscene and described the redisplay as a victory for creative freedom, First Amendment rights and breast cancer awareness. The artwork is by Bill Giacalone, part of a 42-piece series called “Lila's Breast.” It will be on display through October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Reuters

Utah: Charities sue school district for right to solicit donations

Two charities have sued the Davis School District, alleging they are not allowed to solicit contributions from district employees while United Way of Davis County is allowed to. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, claims the district's policy violates the organizations' free-speech rights and the right of due process. “We only sued … because we have the right to be there if another federation is there. They need to give their employees a choice,” said Lynne Brandley, executive director of Community Shares/Utah, which brought the suit along with Community Health Charities of Utah. Brandley said it was a conflict of interest that the school district's solicitation campaign director, Betty Spencer, is on the United Way of Davis County's board of directors. “We are in the business of educating children. We don't discourage our employees from donating to the charity of their choice,” said school district superintendent Darrell K. White. Community Shares/Utah filed a similar suit against Bountiful that was settled out of court last week. As part of the settlement, the group can now solicit payroll deductions. Associated Press

District of Columbia: Nearly 500 apply in 2nd round of low-power radio filings

The Federal Communications Commission recently reported that nonprofit groups and government agencies filed nearly 500 applications for low-power radio stations in the second phase of filing for the new broadcast classification. Although pleased with the response, commissioners said they haven't made plans to grant new licenses soon. The FCC carved out spaces on the broadcast spectrum for low-power radio stations last January, in the hope that the new class of stations would allow a greater diversity of voices and viewpoints to be transmitted over the nation's airwaves. The first filing window, from May 30 through June 8, resulted in more than 750 applications from 10 states. The next round garnered 473 applications from Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Virginia and Wyoming. The commission plans to announce the third filing window next month for eligible organizations from American Samoa, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The final two rounds are scheduled to begin in February 2001 and May 2001. But FCC spokesman David Fiske said that while agency engineers have found room on the dial, the commissioners haven't gone beyond the application process. Freedom Forum Online staff

Pennsylvania: ACLU backs residents in fight against drugstore

The American Civil Liberties Union is supporting a group of Pittsburgh residents as they face what the legal group describes as a $7 million SLAPP lawsuit from a leading pharmacy chain. SLAPP suits, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, are lawsuits that critics say are designed to retaliate against individuals for the exercise of their First Amendment rights. The ACLU, in briefs filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh last week, accuses CVS Pharmacy and Gustine Properties of filing their lawsuit to intimidate residents and groups who opposed the construction of a drug store in their neighborhood. Gustine and CVS filed a federal suit against 17 defendants in July seeking at least $7 million in damages over the companies' failed efforts to get approval for a 10,000-square-foot pharmacy on Pittsburgh's East Eighth Avenue. The lawsuit said groups including the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, the Homestead Area Economic Revitalization Corp and the Steel Valley Enterprise Zone Corp. conspired against the developer and the drug company to block the project. Officials with both companies didn't return calls this week. Freedom Forum Online staff

California: Simpson lawyer again in court over TV movie

After failing to stop a TV movie about O.J. Simpson's criminal trial, his lawyer returned to court Sept. 20 seeking damages for what he said was a conspiracy to defraud Simpson out of privileged information. An attorney for Lawrence Schiller, whose book American Tragedy is the basis of the movie, suggested outside court that Simpson is trying an end run around the earlier ruling. Simpson seeks millions in damages from Schiller and Robert Kardashian, the lawyer who provided inside information on the defense team for Schiller's book. The two-part miniseries, scheduled for broadcast Nov. 12 and Nov. 15, focuses on the tensions and strategies of the legal “dream team” that won Simpson's acquittal in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Superior Court Judge Fumiko H. Wasserman asked lawyers to file further briefs on the issue and scheduled a hearing for Oct. 24. Associated Press

Washington: Judge asks state high court to review libel suit dismissal

A Spokane County judge has asked the state Supreme Court to review the dismissal of her libel suit against The Spokesman-Review over a story alleging she read a paperback book during trial. A state appellate panel last month ruled that a trial court was correct in dismissing her claims for libel and invasion of privacy against the newspaper and a former reporter, William Miller. In 1993, Miller wrote a story in which attorneys and witnesses in District Judge Donna Wilson's courtroom said they saw her reading a paperback book during a trial. The newspaper also published a critical editorial and editorial cartoons that stemmed from the book-reading allegations, as well as columns about the incident. An Asotin County Superior Court judge dismissed Wilson's lawsuit before it went to trial. Judge John Lyden ruled that Wilson was a public figure and had not shown that the newspaper acted with malice, which in a libel case means publishing a story known to be false or recklessly disregarding whether it is false. In her request for a review, Wilson contends that the appeals court overlooked or disregarded some of the evidence she submitted to prove the original story was fabricated and malicious. Associated Press

Florida: Dallas TV anchor settles suit over ethics book

KXAS-TV (Dallas) television anchor Mike Snyder dropped his lawsuit against two media ethics authors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Poynter Institute and its president James Naughton, after they admitted he was incorrectly portrayed in an ethics textbook. Snyder's suit had accused the authors and the distributors of Doing Ethics in Journalism of damaging his reputation in a reference to a 1994 political rally for George W. Bush. The authors, SPJ and the Poynter Institute will stop selling the book and will make various public statements expressing regret about the reference in the book. SPJ will also pay Snyder's legal fees, amounting about $18,000. St. Petersburg Times

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