Roundup: Federal judge rules in favor of AP in Utah libel case

Friday, August 4, 2000

A federal judge in Salt Lake City on Aug. 2 ruled in favor of the Associated Press in a lawsuit brought by former state legislator Craig Peterson for mistakenly identifying him as an Olympic official. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball granted the AP's request for summary judgment. On Feb. 9, 1999, the news cooperative sent out a photograph of Peterson in which he was incorrectly identified as a former Salt Lake City bid committee financial officer who shares the same first and last name. The mistake was corrected the next day, but the mixed-up photo appeared in The New York Times. Peterson originally sued the Times, but that suit was withdrawn and the AP was substituted as a defendant. The publication of the mistake prompted Peterson's claims that the error caused him “personal humiliation, anxiety, shame, mortification and mental anguish and suffering.” Attorneys for the AP argued that the lawsuit did not meet the basic standards for libel. Associated Press

Ohio: Settlement reached in radio host-newspaper dispute

A Toledo radio station's morning host agreed to give credit to the city's daily newspaper when he uses the newspaper's stories on the air, according to a settlement reached by the Blade and WSPD-AM. In a lawsuit filed last September, the newspaper accused the station and host Mark Standriff of “pirating” stories and using them on the air as if they were the station's. The agreement signed by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Bowman on Aug. 1 said Standriff is free to use short excerpts and to comment about the newspaper's stories as long as credit is given. The settlement said Standriff could use information from the Blade “only if he broadcasts at the same time a proper, accurate and fair attribution to the Blade.” The station did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement. The newspaper agreed to drop a claim seeking unspecified damages and asking that WSPD pay the Blade all advertising profits generated during the broadcasts at issue, said Fritz Byers, the newspaper's lawyer. The lawsuit accused WSPD of violating the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The Blade said the radio station's use of its product could hurt the newspaper's circulation and ability to attract advertisers. Associated Press

Florida: Liberty Counsel drops lawsuit against school district

The Liberty Counsel has voluntarily withdrawn its federal lawsuit against the Willis Independent School District. The socially conservative group filed the lawsuit on May 19 and withdrew it 13 days later. The group had claimed that teacher Sara Flottman threw away Bibles owned by students Angela and Amber Harbison. The suit had also claimed that school officials ordered a student to remove his Ten Commandments book cover. Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of the Liberty Council, said the suit was dropped because the plaintiffs wanted to work with the school district to create a new religious-freedom policy. “We're trying to see whether or not we can resolve the situation to get policies adopted over the summer,” he said. Staver said that the parents of the students involved have not yet decided whether to enroll their children in a private school or continue in the Willis school district in the fall. If the students remain in the Willis school district, their parents will consider refiling the lawsuit if the school has not made efforts toward drawing up a new policy by the fall. Both Angela and Amber were being home-schooled after the incident. In a press release, the school district said it had always maintained that the lawsuit's allegations were untrue. The district said it routinely allows voluntary religious activities on school campuses and in school facilities. Freedom Forum Online staff

California: Makers of shirt with DVD-copying code face suit

A T-shirt with the DVD encryption source code printed on its back has drawn the ire of the Motion Picture Association of America. The organization has added the shirt's creator, Copyleft, to the list of defendants in its lawsuit centering on the propagation of the DeCSS computer code, which cracks the encoding of DVDs. Copyleft donates $4 for every T-shirt sold to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which is providing legal defense for Eric Corley in the same lawsuit in which Copyleft now finds itself embroiled. MPAA is trying to prevent Corley from posting links on the Web to the DVD encryption source code. Trial briefs are set for Aug. 8. The Hollywood Reporter/Associated Press

Arkansas: Finger gesture protected expression, says federal judge

An Arkansas state trooper violated a man's constitutional rights when he arrested him for gesturing with a finger, a federal judge says. U.S. District Judge H. Franklin Waters ruled Aug. 1 that Wayne Nichols had a constitutional right to display his middle finger to Trooper Jose Chacon and that the gesture was not prohibited by state law. Nichols was arrested by Chacon on Aug. 6, 1998, for misdemeanor disorderly conduct. He was later acquitted of the charge, and sued Chacon in federal court. Chacon argued in court filings that obscene gestures are considered disorderly conduct by Arkansas law and that police officers can't be expected to know the subtleties of First Amendment law. But Waters said that under the law, disorderly conduct includes making an obscene gesture “in a manner likely to promote or provoke a violent or disorderly response.” He said Nichols' gesture was unlikely to provoke anyone because no one saw it but Chacon. Associated Press

Wyoming: Sheriff to appeal order to release jail report

Laramie County Sheriff Roger Allsop will appeal a judge's order that a report be made public regarding deputies' handling of a spate of suicide attempts at the county jail in Cheyenne. Eighth District Judge Keith G. Kautz issued the ruling July 19 in favor of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle in its open-records lawsuit against the Laramie County Sheriff's Department. Laramie County Attorney Peter Froelicher said he planned to file a notice of appeal. The newspaper will have 45 days to respond. Associated Press

West Virginia: Judge orders arrest of mayor in open-records fight

A Kanawha Circuit Court judge in West Virginia has ordered the mayor of Jefferson jailed for contempt of court because she did not appear at a hearing in an open-records lawsuit. Mayor Kathy Wolfe did not appear at an Aug. 2 hearing before Judge Paul Zakaib. James Ralph Jarrett is suing Wolfe to obtain copies of town records, alleging that she inappropriately used town funds. Wolfe has ignored Jarrett's Freedom of Information Act requests. Associated Press

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