Roundup: Federal judge orders Indiana church to surrender property

Friday, September 29, 2000

A federal judge has ordered an Indianapolis congregation to give up its church building to satisfy a nearly $6 million debt to the IRS. U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker's order yesterday gives the Indianapolis Baptist Temple until Nov. 14 to move out, after which the IRS will sell the property. The church has been feuding with the IRS since 1984, when the Rev. Greg Dixon, now pastor emeritus, commissioned all church employees as ministers and refused to withhold income and Social Security taxes. Dixon's son, the Rev. Greg Dixon Jr., who is now head of the congregation, said he would seek a stay of Barker's order in higher federal courts. The Dixons have proclaimed their case to be a test of religious freedom, saying the church's duty to obey God allows no room for manmade laws and that withholding taxes from paychecks would make it an agent of the government. Associated Press

New Hampshire: State judge tells police to turn over photos

A judge has ordered Manchester police to turn over thousands of photos taken by gang patrol officers of people on city streets. The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union had been seeking the materials since receiving complaints six months ago from several people who said they were photographed by police even though they had not been arrested. The agency wants to know if a disproportionate number of photos was taken of minorities, said Claire Ebel, NHCLU executive director. In a ruling released Sept. 27, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Arthur Brennan said the public has a right to review the photos under state open-records laws. Assistant City Solicitor Dan Muller said he is not aware of a policy of police taking photos of minorities more than others. He also said two exemptions from the state right-to-know law apply to the photographs — disclosing them would reveal the department's investigative techniques and would invade the privacy of the individuals photographed. Brennan said people's names and addresses would be removed from the photos before they are turned over. Associated Press

Missouri: State high court hears media arguments in sealed-records case

Joe Martineau, lawyer for the Pulitzer Publishing Co., argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on Sept. 27 that the salary records of a court appointee who handled an insolvent insurance case should be open to the media and public. The publishing company told the state's highest court that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch should be granted access to the salary records of J. Burleigh Arnold, who directs Transit Casualty Insurance Co., the state's largest insurance company receivership. Martineau argued that the case raises important First Amendment questions involving open court records. James Owen, the lawyer representing the insurance company, argued that because Transit is still involved in sensitive negotiations with reinsurance companies, the release of the salary records might give those companies advantage in the talks. The Supreme Court did not indicate when it might rule in the case. Associated Press

California: Judge denies Mattel injunction against artist's use of Barbie dolls

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew declined on Sept. 25 to place a preliminary injunction against an artist who uses Mattel's Barbie dolls in his photographs for social commentary. Lew did not immediately elaborate on his ruling. But his decision indicates that the court has doubt about Mattel's case, said attorney Michael Small of the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented artist Tom Forsythe. El Segundo-based Mattel's August 1999 lawsuit accuses Forsythe of copyright and trademark infringement. The artist maintains he has fair use based on artistic expression and free-speech rights. Forsythe uses Barbies to depict a shallow consumerist value that perpetuates in American culture, Small said. Some of the photographs show the doll doing household chores but some are posed in various sexual positions. Mattel spokeswoman Lisa Marie Bongiovanni said Mattel plans to appeal, adding that the company has devoted 40 years to the Barbie brand name. Associated Press

District of Columbia: Bush campaign intercepts Gore media material

Reporters traveling with George W. Bush did not receive packages sent over by Al Gore's campaign Sept. 26 because Bush's aides had instructed the hotel to bring any deliveries for the media directly to them first. The Bush campaign did not distribute the material, but said yesterday it would no longer screen deliveries to members of its traveling press corps. Campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said communications director Karen Hughes issued the instructions Sept. 26 to hotel staff at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles in response to complaints from some reporters about people knowing which rooms they were staying in. Gore campaign spokesman Mark Fabiani, who complained about the matter in a letter yesterday to Hughes, said such a policy keeps reporters from deciding what information to receive. Associated Press

Iowa: State attorney general promises more open-records training

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller promised training for law enforcement officials after a statewide newspaper investigation showed widespread disregard for the state's open-records law. Gov. Tom Vilsack responded to the investigation by calling for increased education for government workers. Miller plans to use the Iowa Communications Network teleconference system on Nov. 28 to offer a training session to all law enforcement agencies, county attorneys and anyone else who is interested, The Des Moines Register reported Sept. 26. State law gives Miller's office the power to enforce open-records laws, but Miller, Iowa's attorney general for 17 of the past 22 years, could not recall any instance in which his office had prosecuted someone for violating them. He suggested that county and city attorneys enforce open-records laws, but said he did not know of any case in which a county attorney had prosecuted a government official for refusing to allow citizen access to records deemed public, the Register reported. Open-records advocates say Miller's position has conflict-of-interest questions. Forrest Landon, president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, says attorneys general and county attorneys must run for office and don't want to antagonize local officials who might otherwise support their campaigns. The Register was among 13 Iowa newspapers that conducted a joint investigation into whether local officials honored the state's public-records law. Associated Press

Tennessee: Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal on nude-dancing ban

The Tennessee Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal involving a Sullivan County ordinance banning nude dancing and alcohol at adult-oriented businesses. The denial, listed Sept. 25 on the high court's Web site, means the county's two-year-old ordinance — adopted under the state's Adult Oriented Establishment Act — remains intact. Rulings by Chancellor Richard Ladd and the state Court of Appeals had been appealed by American Show Bar Series Inc., doing business as Show Palace under owner Michael L. Grubb. Another club owner, Robert Walling of Bottoms Up, later joined the appeal. They cited issues such as the First Amendment right of freedom of expression. Marty Browder, attorney for the Show Palace, said the Supreme Court denial effectively ends further state consideration of the matter based on a 1998 suit. County Attorney Dan Street said there are at least two other appeals of the Adult Oriented Establishment Act, as adopted by two other Tennessee counties, still in federal courts. Associated Press

New York: Manhattan school board bans Boy Scout affiliation

A Manhattan school board has banned its 42 schools from sponsoring Boy Scout troops because the 90-year-old national organization excludes gays. The board of Community School District Two passed the resolution at a meeting on Sept. 26, becoming the first district in the city to enact such a ban. The ban keeps the schools in the district, primarily elementary and middle schools, from sponsoring troops, which none currently do. The troops may still meet on campus, as can most any independent group. Former board member Delco Cornett called the ban a political attack on innocent children. In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the Boy Scouts' exclusion of gays. Since then, some companies and organizations that have sponsored and funded the Scouts have stopped giving. Associated Press

Montana: Denied in Illinois, white supremacist seeks law license in second state

Matt Hale, the leader of a white supremacist group who was denied a license to practice law in Illinois, has formally applied to the State Bar of Montana. Hale, a self-described racist, anti-Semite and leader of the Church of the Creator, says he is confident he will be admitted to practice law in Montana and will move there full-time if his application is accepted. Hale, who passed the Illinois bar exam, was denied a law license in that state two years ago, because he failed to meet Illinois' ethical fitness and conduct code for attorneys. Hale lost several court battles in Illinois and had argued that being denied a law license because of his opinions violated his First Amendment free-speech rights. The American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, supported his position. Ken Toole, program director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said Hale's is not a fight for free speech. Toole said he believes Hale would fail any test of conduct applied to the legal profession. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Miss America pageant files slander suit against talk-show host

The Miss America Pageant has sued a radio talk show host for slander for saying the contest was fixed. The beauty pageant filed suit Sept. 20 in federal court in Camden, N.J., against Howard Eskin and Infinity Broadcasting Corp., owner of Philadelphia radio station WIP-AM, according to pageant CEO Robert M. Renneisen Jr. The suit seeks an undetermined amount of damages, alleging that Eskin's remarks might raise doubts that could hurt the pageant's ability to raise scholarship money, Renneisen told a news conference at the Philadelphia office of the pageant's attorneys. Eskin said his comments were facetious; the radio station said the lawsuit was without merit. Associated Press

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