Roundup: Federal judge refuses to halt Virginia minute-of-silence law

Friday, September 1, 2000

A federal judge declined yesterday to issue an injunction that would halt a Virginia law requiring public school students to observe a minute of silence. The law, which took effect July 1, requires all school districts to impose a minute of silence so students can meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed suit on behalf of eight students who said the new law violates their First Amendment rights. The ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Claude Hilton does not directly address the merits of the ACLU lawsuit. Hilton said he agrees with state Solicitor General William Hurd, who argued that students will suffer no irreparable harm if the law remains in effect until a final decision is made in a week or two. But Stuart H. Newberger, a Washington attorney who argued the case on behalf of the ACLU, said tens of thousands of students will be harmed significantly every day the law is in effect because it infringes on their constitutional rights. Newberger said he would seek an injunction from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to stop the law from taking effect before most students begin classes Sept. 5. A ruling by the appeals court could come as early as today. Hilton will hear arguments on the merits of the case Sept. 8. Associated Press

Texas: Bush loses motion for dismissal from protesters' lawsuit

Gov. George W. Bush has lost his bid for dismissal from a lawsuit accusing him of violating the free-speech rights of environmental protesters at the Governor's Mansion. State District Judge John Dietz on Aug. 30 said Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, could be called to testify when the case goes to trial. No date has been set. The lawsuit alleged that Bush gave state troopers “unbridled discretion” to target protesters picketing in front of the mansion last year on a public sidewalk. Bush spokesman Mike Jones said yesterday that security policies regarding the mansion were made by the Department of Public Safety, with no involvement by Bush or his office. The lawsuit was filed against Bush and the DPS in August 1999 by people arrested and jailed on four different occasions. They were protesting environmental policies backed by Bush. In each case the Travis County district attorney's office dropped charges of blocking an entry way. Rick Abraham, one of those arrested, said previous governors allowed protesters to picket on the sidewalk and Bush is trying to silence his critics because he is running for president. Jones denied the accusation. Associated Press

District of Columbia: Bill may open doctor files

Patients will be able to examine the government's secret dossiers on their doctors, including disciplinary actions and malpractice payments, if a House committee chairman gets his way. Rep. Tom Bliley, R-Va., chairman of the House Commerce Committee, plans to introduce legislation next week to give the public access to the federal data bank that tracks critical records on health care providers. Bliley also plans to hold hearings on the legislation early this month with the intention of pushing it through the House before Congress adjourns for the year, committee spokesman Stephen Schmidt said Aug. 28. While details of the measure are still being finalized, Schmidt says it will be modeled after a Massachusetts law that provides patients with profiles of all physicians licensed in the state, including disciplinary actions and malpractice payments. The profiles are available over the Internet. Bliley has not decided whether the legislation will require public release of all malpractice payments made by or on behalf of any physician, or just those by health care providers with multiple payments, said Schmidt. Under current law, identifying information and most of the details in the database can be shared only with insurance companies, hospitals, and federal and state health care regulators. Associated Press

California: Bill would allow parties to include independents in their primaries

California's political parties could allow independents to help pick their nominees under a bill headed for Gov. Gray Davis' desk. The bill, by Sen. Steve Peace, D-El Cajon, is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June striking down California's open primary election. Under the open primary, voters could vote for any candidate regardless of their own party registration. The high court ruled that system violated political parties' First Amendment rights of association. The decision restored the state's old primary system, under which only members of a political party are allowed to vote for that party's candidates. Peace's bill would allow, but not require, a political party to let independents help pick the party's nominees. The Senate voted 28-4 Aug. 31 to approve Assembly amendments to the bill, sending it to Davis. Associated Press

Massachusetts: 'Perfect Storm' filmmakers sued

The family of doomed fishing boat captain Frank William “Billy” Tyne Jr. is suing the makers of this summer's big screen hit “The Perfect Storm,” contending he was depicted in a “false and unflattering light.” Tyne's two daughters and his wife filed a lawsuit Aug. 24 in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Fla., against Time Warner Entertainment Co. and the two companies that produced the film. The lawsuit also contends that the movie was produced without their consent and their privacy was violated. Time Warner released a statement Aug. 29 saying the studio didn't need permission from Tyne's family to make the film or portray him. The film, based on the book by the same name by author Sebastian Junger, tells the story of Tyne's final sword-fishing expedition in October 1991 into the heart of storms that converged in the North Atlantic. Tyne and five crewmembers on the Gloucester-based boat all drowned, and the boat, the Andrea Gail, was never found. The family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as royalties from the movie. Associated Press

Indiana: Baptist Temple continues tax fight

Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker has urged the Indianapolis Baptist Temple and the U.S. attorney's office to reach a compromise in a $6 million tax dispute that has spanned more than a decade and could cost the church its property, including the temple and a school as well as other church holdings. The government is attempting to collect $6 million dollars in back withholding taxes, penalties and interest. The church has argued that paying the taxes would amount to a sacrilege by recognizing the federal government as an authority higher than God. Indianapolis Baptist Temple attorney Al Cunningham says that it is unlikely that the church will reverse its position. Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the tax laws are “neutral” and don't run afoul of the First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion. The judge has not yet made a decision in this case but could allow the immediate seizure of church property or grant a delay in foreclosure with certain restrictions. Associated Press

Louisiana: Former governor appeals contempt citation

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported May 26, 2002, that former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards had decided not to appeal his $1,700 fine for violating a gag order in the Cascade Insurance Co. corruption case. It would cost more than that to fight the citation for contempt of court, Edwards said. “We just decided to let it go.”

A week after he was fined for what a judge says was a violation of her gag order, former Gov. Edwin Edwards said he would do his best to remain mute while he appealed the $1,700 fine to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In documents released Aug. 29, Edwards' appealed U.S. District Judge Edith Brown Clement's contempt of court citation against him. Edwards also asked that he not have to pay the money until a decision was rendered on his appeal. Clement had ordered Edwards to pay the fine before Sept. 1. Edwards made a comment after a pretrial hearing Aug. 23 to the news media about a letter that contradicts the government's position that he, along with state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown and four others charged in the case, rigged a sweetheart deal for the owner of a failed Shreveport insurance company. Clement has warned Edwards that she will fine him $1,000 a word for any future violations. Associated Press

Wisconsin: Task force recommends changes to state's open-records laws

A task force is recommending that the state Legislature clarify Wisconsin's open-records laws, contending several judicial interpretations have made their implementation “cumbersome.” The committee draft report recommends that the Legislature make it clear that portions of public employees' personnel records aren't covered by the open-records laws. It urges lawmakers to create an expedited process for judicial review when other portions of their records are requested. It also asks legislators to clarify that provisions in the law requiring notification prior to the release of some personal records only applies to public employee records. Key provisions for news media are the time limits being proposed. A public employee would have five days to challenge release of the information, and a judge would decide the matter within 10 days. Extensions, stretching the 10 days to 30 days, would be allowed. But if the court did not reach a decision within 30 days, the records would automatically be made public, according to the draft report. Associated Press

Indiana: Journalism society files friend-of-the-court brief in Tiger Woods case

The Society of Professional Journalists has asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio to reject Tiger Woods' appeal in a right-of-publicity lawsuit. The SPJ on Aug. 23 joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the ongoing case. The Indianapolis-based organization says Woods' appeal threatens First Amendment rights. If the appeal is successful, the SPJ says, it would increase the potential for publicity-rights laws to extend into the newsgathering process. Woods sued Alabama artist Rick Rush after he painted Woods at the Masters golf tournament in April 1997 and then sold 250 limited-edition serigraphs and 5,000 smaller lithographs. Woods claims the sale of the paintings violates his trademark and right of publicity. In April U.S. District Judge Patricia Gaughan in Cleveland ruled that trademark or property-rights laws do not protect Woods' image and that the First Amendment allows Rush not only to paint Woods' image but also to profit from copies of the artwork. Associated Press

South Carolina: State official urges school district to follow court's prayer ruling

Letting students pray over district public address systems at football games in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling is a losing legal battle for Lexington School District 3, state Attorney General Charlie Condon says. Instead, the district should support a proposed constitutional amendment by U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., that would allow prayer in public schools, Condon said yesterday. Condon said the board should reverse its recent resolution allowing prayer at football games because of the threat of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. Condon said a moment of silence or spontaneous prayers initiated by students or others were constitutional. Associated Press

Alabama: Weekly newspaper settles libel claim for $300,000

The Washington County News settled a libel suit against it for $300,000, avoiding a trial scheduled this week over its award-winning 1997 story about the disappearance of a young woman. Joseph Eugene Williams Jr. of Fruitdale sued the newspaper and its former managing editor, Larry O'Hara, claiming the story about the 1978 disappearance of Cathy Sue Carpenter damaged his reputation. The story on the 20th anniversary of her disappearance pitched the theory, based on anonymous sources, that Carpenter had been raped and sodomized at a wild party, then killed and her body dumped down a well in Fruitdale. The newspaper claimed to know Carpenter's killers, but never named the suspects. The lawsuit contended that the News had printed enough information that people began to harass Williams. Local residents began asking Williams what he did with Carpenter's body, the lawsuit states. At least two key details printed in the News linked the suspects with Williams, said Hank Caddell, one of four attorneys representing Williams. One was a map with an arrow identifying the area where the woman allegedly disappeared, near his client's property, he said. The other detail was an altercation between one of the paper's sources and a member of Williams' family. Associated Press

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