Roundup: Anti-abortion activists challenge Massachusetts buffer-zone law

Friday, November 10, 2000

Three anti-abortion activists have asked a federal judge to block a
new law that would restrict their ability to preach to women entering abortion
clinics. The state law, set to take effect today, creates a “buffer zone”
extending 18 feet from a clinic’s doors. Within the zone, protesters may not
come within six feet of anyone entering the clinic. The law was passed in July
as a compromise, following an earlier bill that created a
25-foot zone. Lawyers for the three “sidewalk counselors” told U.S. District
Judge Edward Harrington on Nov. 8 that the law would prevent them from passing
out leaflets and whispering advice. The state maintains the law is “content
neutral” — meaning it isn’t aimed at restricting people of a particular
view — and that is necessary to keep the areas around abortion clinics
safe. The law is similar to one in Colorado that created a 100-foot buffer
zone. That law was upheld by the
U.S. Supreme Court in June. The state says the Massachusetts law applies to a
smaller space and would certainly be upheld. But attorneys for the plaintiffs
argue that there are important differences in the laws. The Massachusetts
version, they say, is illegally “content-based” because it exempts clinic
employees and agents, who are allowed to escort patients into the clinics. The
plaintiffs’ attorneys also say the law would do little to prevent violence
because it only applies to people who talk with or pass out pamphlets to
patients, and doesn’t apply to people entering the clinics themselves.
Harrington, who took the case under advisement, indicated he wasn’t inclined to
throw out the law. Associated Press

Florida: Voyeur Dorm must leave residential neighborhood, federal
judge rules

A federal judge has ruled that a home-based voyeuristic Internet
company that beams the daily activities of a group of women into cyberspace
must move from a residential neighborhood. At Voyeur Dorm L.C., women billed as
college students are shown undressing, showering, eating and sleeping, while
computer users watch live video for a $34 monthly fee. Nevertheless, despite
the order to move, the Web site was still broadcasting the women’s activities
and accepting new memberships on Nov.7. The city of Tampa ruled in September
1999 that Voyeur Dorm was an adult business that violated zoning laws and tried
to shut it down. After exhausting administrative appeals,
attorneys for the Web site sued to
thwart the city’s attempts to equate it to a strip joint. The suit claimed the
city’s ruling was unconstitutional because it restricted the plaintiffs’ rights
to privacy and free speech. U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew on Nov. 6
granted the city’s motion for summary judgment in the Web site’s lawsuit. Tampa
City Attorney James Palermo says Voyeur Dorm won’t be shut down immediately and
that he expects an appeal. Lawyers for Voyeur Dorm previously admitted it is an
adult entertainment business. However, they also argued that Voyeur Dorm is
never visited by paying members of the public, and doesn’t have any impact on
the surrounding neighborhood, making the zoning laws invalid, they said.
Bucklew countered by asserting that the city code doesn’t address the public
paying money on the premises, and wouldn’t construe the code’s language to
favor the Web site, saying the zoning law is intended to “protect and improve
the quality of residential neighborhoods.” Associated Press

Alabama: Federal tax lawyers move to block lawsuit

Justice Department attorneys say a legal challenge to a new law
requiring some nonprofit political groups to disclose their finances to the
Internal Revenue Service should be thrown out. The
suit, filed Aug. 21 by Republican
activists in federal court in Mobile, contends the new law is unconstitutional
and would have a “chilling effect” on free speech. But lawyers from the Justice
Department’s tax division said the suit against the IRS fails to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted. They also say the court lacks jurisdiction
because the government is protected by law against such suits. By Oct. 11, the
suit had grown to include the California-based Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association’s political action committee and the Libertarian Party, in addition
to the initial plaintiffs who included the National Federation of Republican
Assemblies and Paul Haughton of Tuscaloosa, NFRA’s executive vice president.
The law, which went into effect July 1, requires all organizations given
tax-exempt status under Section 527 of federal tax code to disclose their
officers, address and other identifying information, along with donor names,
size of donations and expenditures. Supporters said it would help end secret
funds that finance campaign-style TV ads and radio spots on all sides of the
political spectrum. Critics said it would limit a healthy discussion of issues.
The Mobile suit apparently is the first court challenge of the new law. Those
filing the suit had hoped for an order blocking enforcement of the law prior to
the Nov. 7 general election. However, no hearing date has been set. Associated

California: National Park Service agrees to remove cross from
federal land

The National Park Service announced Oct. 31 that it had agreed under
the threat of a lawsuit to remove an 8-foot iron cross used for Easter
gatherings and as a World War I memorial in the Mojave National Preserve. The
American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California had threatened to sue if
the park service didn’t voluntarily take down the cross. Michael Small, ACLU
chief counsel, said the cross violated the separation of church and state.
Preserve superintendent Mary Martin, who initially resisted removing the cross,
said the cross would be removed within the next few weeks, although a specific
date had not been set. The ACLU, without giving a name, said the complaint was
brought on behalf of a former park service employee who claimed to be Catholic.
The wooden cross and a plaque were erected on the site in 1934 by members of
the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter to honor soldiers who died during
World War I. Those memorials have since been destroyed or stolen, but neighbors
have continued to replace the cross, said resident Rob Blair. Residents at the
California State Veterans Home in Barstow sought a meeting with the National
Park Service to discuss options other than removing the symbol. But in a
response dated October 20, the service said it was forced to agree to remove
the cross, adding that the park service will work with local groups on ways to
allow continued use of the site for public gatherings. Associated Press

Washington: Officials accused of ousting man from committee for
outspoken views

An American Indian who compares the commemoration of the Lewis and
Clark expedition to “celebrating Hitler’s birthday” claims he was kicked off a
steering committee for the bicentennial. Jim Craven, a Clark College economics
professor and Blackfeet Indian, says he was censored for his views on the
event. However, organizers of the Clark County commemoration say he was asked
only to tone down his delivery, which the committee co-chairman described as
harassment. The dispute reflects a larger tension surrounding the national
bicentennial of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s journey from Wood River,
Ill., to the mouth of the Columbia River, expected to span 2003 to 2005. Many
American Indians consider the historic journey not as a heroic achievement, but
a precursor to the loss of life and land to the white man. Some tribes plan to
boycott or demonstrate the commemoration, while others will participate in
reconciliation-themed events. Craven said he had received written permission
from the chief of the Blackfeet nation to represent the tribe on the committee.
About a month ago, Craven met with Vancouver Mayor Royce E. Pollard,
co-chairman of the committee overseeing the commemoration. What happened in
that meeting is a matter of dispute, but according to Craven, the mayor
“uninvited” him from the planning group, saying that his talk of “genocide” at
an August committee meeting — the first and only one Craven attended
— was “too intense.” Pollard disagreed, saying he was concerned about
Craven’s demeanor at the steering committee meeting, not the message. Pollard
said he gave Craven a choice: either soften his approach or leave the
committee. Craven was the one who chose to leave, he said. Associated Press

Florida: Man fined for collecting signatures at shopping

A court clerk candidate has been fined $250 and ordered to do 100
hours of community service for trespassing at a shopping mall to collect
signatures for a petition to get on the ballot. Kevin Wood was convicted Nov.
8, a day after losing in the election, on the trespassing charge, a
second-degree misdemeanor that could have gotten him a maximum sentence of 60
days in jail and a $500 fine. Wood, who contends he was exercising his
free-speech rights, has appealed the conviction. The 46-year-old Republican was
arrested Feb. 5 after he refused to leave Panama City Mall, telling security
and city police he had a constitutional right to collect signatures there.
County Judge Elijah Smiley told Wood he should have asked for permission before
collecting the signatures. The mall manager testified he would have barred the
signature collection under any circumstance, but Wood then could have sued and
argued the constitutional issue in court, Smiley said. Wood testified he had
gone to the mall after finding a California Supreme Court decision supporting
free-speech rights in privately owned public places such as malls, but police
refused to listen when he tried to tell them about the case. (The state high
court ruled in 1979 in Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping
that the state Constitution protects free expression,
including leafleting and signature gathering, in a large private shopping mall,
the modern equivalent of a town square. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court
affirmed the California high court’s decision.) Assistant State Attorney Bruce
Bartlett, of Clearwater, told the jurors it was a simple case of trespassing.
“You’ll have to decide your verdict based solely on the evidence, not on all
this other he-had-a-constitutional-right mumbo jumbo,” Bartlett said.
Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Police who posed as protesters must turn over notes,
judge orders

State police must turn over notes, memos and other investigation
information regarding state troopers who posed as protesters during the
Republican National Convention, a
judge has ruled. State police have a week to turn the information over to the
defense lawyers for about 75 protesters arrested at a Philadelphia warehouse,
Municipal Judge James M. DeLeon said on Nov. 8. The activists’ attorneys say
the undercover officers may have overstepped bounds of privacy or legality by
participating or encouraging demonstrators who have since been charged with
misdemeanor conspiracy to obstruct highways. Four state troopers pretending to
be union carpenters spent a week undercover in the warehouse where activists
were making giant puppets for use in street protests, city prosecutors have
said in court. The troopers were gathering evidence used to raid the warehouse
Aug. 1 and arrest everyone inside. Defense attorney Bradley S. Bridge said in
court that his clients had provided him with information suggesting that the
troopers either broke the law themselves or encouraged others to do so. State
police attorney Joanna Reynolds said some of the information revealed by the
judge’s order might reveal infiltration methods or names of informants, but she
said police would comply. Associated Press

Alabama: ‘Ten Commandments’ judge wins chief justice race

Republican Roy Moore,
known around the country as the “Ten
Commandments Judge,” defeated Democrat Sharon Yates for chief justice Nov.
7 to become Alabama’s highest-ranking judicial official. He will lead a court
where the GOP holds an 8-1 majority without any minority members after the two
black Democratic incumbents, Ralph Cook and John England, lost. Moore has
promised to take his handmade Ten Commandments plaque from his courtroom in
Etowah County to the state Supreme Court building in Montgomery. Moore, who
gained a nationwide following by waging a court fight against the American
Civil Liberties Union to keep the plaque displayed in his courtroom, lead Yates
with 94% of the vote counted, 845,660 votes to 706,920 votes, or 54% to 46%.
Some voters feared a Moore victory would signal a move to bring Alabama’s court
system too close to the church. But a majority of voters sided with Moore, who
campaigned mainly in churches and Republican gatherings and avoided
face-to-face meetings with Yates, who retained her seat on the Alabama Court of
Civil Appeals. As chief justice, Moore will be the only one of nine justices
who considers every case before the high court. He also will serve as
administrative head of the state’s court system, functioning at various times
as a lobbyist, a CEO and a promoter. Associated Press

Kentucky: City’s refusal to divulge settlement amount violates
law, ruling says

Officials in Shepherdsville violated the Open Records Act in refusing
to say how much was paid to settle a civil rights suit against the city, the
attorney general’s office says. The case involved the 1998 arrest of the Rev.
Abraham Lincoln Washington, a black minister from Chicago who had stopped for
gas in Shepherdsville. Washington claimed in federal court that Shepherdsville
police arrested him because he was black, not because he had done anything
wrong. After being acquitted of charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest
and domestic assault, Washington sued the police and other city officials for
$5 million. The suit was settled in August. When asked by
The (Louisville)
Courier-Journal, city officials
turned over documents revealing the settlement but denied access to the
agreement itself, saying the settlement was exempt from disclosure because it
was paid by the city’s insurance carrier, not with tax money. They also said
the paperwork was in the carrier’s possession, not in city records. However,
the newspaper contended that insurance premiums are paid with tax dollars, and
the carrier holds the settlement agreement on the city’s behalf. Assistant
Attorney General Amye L. Bensenhaver agreed in an opinion issued last week and
made public Nov. 6. In a second case, the attorney general rejected the
Department of Corrections’ theory that its database of prison inmates is not a
public record and that it contains “personal, identifying information” that is
exempt, like birth dates. The database lists such things as age, sex and gender
of inmates, type of crime and severity of sentence. In her opinion, Bensenhaver
said the database allows one “to look behind the institutional walls at the
individuals who comprise the inmate population,” and helps the public judge how
the agency does its job. As for birth dates, Bensenhaver wrote that an inmate
has “a reduced expectation of privacy” that is outweighed by the public’s
interest in disclosure. The Daily
of Bowling Green had asked for the ruling after the
department rejected the newspaper’s request for database information.
Associated Press

Wisconsin: Judge gags attorneys in case against ex-Green Bay

Attorneys in the sexual assault case against former Green Bay Packer
Mark Chmura were ordered Nov. 8 not to talk to the media about the case.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mark Gempeler imposed the gag order after
District Attorney Paul Bucher filed a motion asking that Chmura “not engage in
any interviews with any publication whatsoever concerning this case or
concerning the defendant’s professional career which was impacted according to
the defendant by the filing of charges in this case.” Bucher referred to a
recent interview Chmura gave to Sports
. His move came only days after Gerald Boyle,
Chmura’s attorney, asked a judge to find Bucher in contempt of court for
commenting on a witness’ possible testimony, referring to the same
Sports Illustrated interview. The
judge did not, however, extend the order to Chmura, Bucher said. Boyle said
earlier that he did not believe his office or Chmura should be gagged, but said
he would obey any such order if it was granted. Chmura, 31, was charged with
third-degree sexual assault and child enticement after his children’s
17-year-old baby sitter accused him of having sex with her without her consent
during a post-prom party at the home of Chmura’s neighbor, Robert Gessert, on
April 9. He has pleaded not guilty. Associated Press

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