Michigan judge drops obscenity charges for exhibit

Friday, June 30, 2000

State District Judge Leo Bowman on June 28 dropped a misdemeanor citation that Pontiac police had issued to Jef Bourgeau for his gallery exhibit titled “Fear No Art.” Police had claimed Bourgeau violated an obscenity law by presenting the exhibit, which included photographs of Renaissance nudes and contemporary works by artist Robert Mapplethorpe. One image included a racial epithet, and another depicted Jesus in a bathtub wearing a condom. Pontiac Deputy City Attorney Mark Hotz said in a statement read in court that the case was dismissed because Bourgeau installed curtains to block the view of the exhibit from the street and papered over the front walls to block a view from the hallway. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Mark Kriger, who represented Bourgeau, said the city realized it could not win the case. “They saw the First Amendment protects artists. It's critically important that artists can express themselves without fear of prosecution,” he said. The exhibit of photographs was on display in March. Associated Press

Connecticut: Judge rejects sheriffs' bid for restraining order on new law

A federal judge on June 27 rejected a temporary restraining order seeking to block provisions of a new Connecticut law that prohibits county sheriffs from soliciting contributions from deputies, their immediate families or business associates. The law also takes away sheriff's power to hire and fire. It puts the future of the sheriff system in the hands of voters during a November referendum. The state's eight high sheriffs argued in a lawsuit filed June 26 that the law, passed last month by the General Assembly, violates their constitutional right to freedom of expression. Associated Press

Wisconsin: Federal court to examine student-group funding process

A federal district judge will decide whether the University of Wisconsin's referendum process for funding student groups violates the First Amendment. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago was ordered to decide the issue by the U.S. Supreme Court in March when it upheld the University of Wisconsin's student-fee system in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth. The Supreme Court said the referendum system might be unconstitutional because it appeared to allow defunding of a campus group based on a majority vote of the student body. The federal appeals court on June 23 ordered the U.S. District Court in Madison to gather information and decide whether the referendum system is legal. Associated Press

California: Judge says Patty Hearst Shaw violated gag order

Superior Court Judge James Ideman in Los Angeles denounced Patty Hearst Shaw's defiance of a gag order on June 28. As a result of Hearst Shaw's violation, Ideman said, he might have to abandon his effort to restrict statements by all parties in the case of former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson. Ideman said he would issue a written ruling within a few days. Hearst Shaw spoke about Olson in a recent interview with Talk magazine. She told the magazine she was violating the gag order because she was “fed up” and that the case would put her on trial, bring up bad memories and invade her privacy. Idleman said he could not punish Hearst Shaw or prevent further statements because she lived out of state, out of his authority. Olson's attorneys also had sought sanctions against District Attorney Gil Garcetti for commenting on the case during a radio interview. Ideman said he was inclined to accept Garcetti's statement that he forgot about the gag order, but said he would issue a written order on that issue as well. Associated Press

Nebraska: Appeals court upholds convictions of abortion protesters

Two protesters arrested outside the home of a Lincoln doctor who performs abortions are not entitled to a new trial, the Nebraska Court of Appeals said June 27. Sharon McKee and Melissa Abbink were arrested in 1998 while picketing near the home of Dr. Winston Crabb. They were prosecuted under a 1997 ordinance that prohibits picketing on “the street which abuts on property” or in front of the homes of next-door neighbors to the targeted home, up to 50 feet away. Gary Young, the attorney for the women, said the decision would be appealed to the state Supreme Court. Associated Press

Massachusetts: High court rules teacher discipline record is not public

Massachusetts' highest court drew a veil over the personnel records of public school teachers on June 22, ruling that reports of disciplinary actions against teachers don't have to be disclosed under the state's open-records law. The Supreme Judicial Court overruled the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which had found the records public, saying teachers held positions of “special public trust” and violations of that trust were “not a personal affair.” The SJC noted the state law that provides access to public records includes 12 categories of records that don't have to be disclosed, including “any personnel and medical files or information.” Associated Press

New Jersey: Schools, governments flouting public-records law, report says

Municipal governments and school boards in southern New Jersey are routinely flouting New Jersey's public-records law by failing to release minutes of private meetings or keeping such poor notes that it is impossible to explain the need for secrecy in the first place, a June 18 newspaper report says. The Press of Atlantic City reported that 10 school boards or local governments were unwilling or unable to produce minutes of their closed-session meetings, while another 33 provided minutes with so little detail that it was impossible to know what was being discussed. State law permits schools and local governments to discuss certain topics in secrecy, such as litigation and personnel matters. But it also requires them to keep minutes of those discussions and release them to the public once the need for secrecy no longer exists. Associated Press

Indiana: Orange County to post Ten Commandments as law takes effect

Orange County officials plan to post the Ten Commandments at the county courthouse in Paoli, making them the first to take advantage of a new state law. The law allows government units to display the commandments in public buildings if they also display other historically significant documents. Officials plan to post the commandments at one minute past midnight tomorrow, when the new law goes into effect. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union said it probably would file a lawsuit against the county if somebody registered a complaint. The ICLU already has sued the state over plans to place a monument inscribed with the commandments on the Statehouse lawn. Associated Press

Colorado: County commission approves picketing ordinance

Arapahoe County Commissioners in Littleton, Colo., approved an ordinance June 27 that would limit activities of weekly anti-abortion picketers who have targeted one Englewood doctor who performs abortions at a Denver clinic. The ordinance, effective immediately, was designed to discourage any type of picketing in residential areas. Demonstrators now are required to picket without stopping in front of a residence over a route that proceeds along the entire length of a block, or 660 feet. Violations are punishable by a fine of $500 for a first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third and any subsequent offense. Associated Press

Wisconsin: High court scraps nude-video law

A state law barring people from making unauthorized nude reproductions of others is unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled on June 28, overturning a man's conviction for videotaping his ex-girlfriend without her knowledge while she undressed. While calling Scott L. Stevenson's conduct “abhorrent” and ruling it has no protection under the First Amendment, the court found that the statute under which he was prosecuted “improperly prohibits all visual expression of nudity without explicit consent, including political satire and newsworthy images” and other protected forms of expression. Jim Haney, a spokesman for Attorney General James Doyle, said his office would work with the Legislature to make the statute constitutional. Associated Press

Kentucky: Baptist children's home to sever ties to state

A Baptist agency serving abused and neglected children will sever ties with Kentucky over the home's policy not to employ homosexuals. The decision by the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children means the state must find new homes for almost 300 children who are wards of the state. The state had offered the agency a new $12 million state contract that would have required it to take financial responsibility for discrimination lawsuits resulting from its policy. The contract also said the state could stop referring children there at any time. The Baptist Homes executive committee originally voted to accept the deal but rethought its decision on June 28, after a state official told a local newspaper that she expected the state would stop referring children to the agency. Baptist Homes fired a lesbian social worker in 1998. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union is still pending. Associated Press

New Jersey: Assembly approves public-records measure

The state Assembly yesterday passed a bill that would require all levels of government in the state to make records available to the public. The Senate bill, however, is stuck in the judiciary committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 1309, would expand a 1963 law to create a presumption that all government documents are to be regarded as public records unless a specific law or executive order from the governor says otherwise. It would also bring a $1,000 fine for public officials or employees who refuse to comply, and would limit legal expenses for the public by allowing them to take their complaints to municipal court. Associated Press

(Editor's note: The state Senate on Dec. 18 pulled from its agenda legislation to improve the state public-records law, saying some senators wanted time to review concerns raised by law enforcement and questions on the public's right to privacy. The bill had been introduced Dec. 14, after the Senate version of Assembly Bill 1309 stalled in committee.)

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