Roundup: Florida school board bans Boy Scouts

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Broward County’s school board voted unanimously to keep the Boy Scouts
of America from using public schools to hold meetings and recruitment drives
because of the group’s ban on gays. The board came to its decision at midnight
Nov. 15 after more than three hours of listening to three dozen speakers amid
cheers, jeers and yelling. Superintendent Frank Till put forth the measure
because he said the group’s policy toward gays was in violation of the
district’s anti-discrimination policy. The screaming from the crowd of more
than 80 people ceased after School Board Chairwoman Darla Carter ordered
security guards to remove two audience members from the Western High School
auditorium in Davie where the meeting was held. About 60 Boy Scout troops and
Cub Scout packs will have to find another place to meet in 30 days. The South
Florida Council of the Boy Scouts, which serves Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe
counties, has promised to sue the district and seek an injunction. Till said
the lease the Scouts signed in 1998 requires them to comply with the district’s
stand against any discrimination. The Boy Scout Oath mentions a pledge to be
“morally straight,” a phrase that led to a national policy specifically barring
gay members. Board members said they respect the Scouts’ attempt to teach
proper character but noted that they can do nothing that would support a group
that discriminates. The Scouts countered that the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled last summer that they have
the right to limit membership and ban gays based on their beliefs. They also
contend that the district can’t hold Scouts to the agreement requiring
non-discrimination because it allows other groups to use the schools even
though they discriminate. Associated Press

California: Police officer files complaint alleging city fired him
for writing novel

A police officer who said he was fired for writing a novel alleging
sexual abuse and corruption within his department filed a claim with the city
of Pasadena two weeks ago seeking unspecified damages for wrongful termination,
discrimination and emotional distress. Naum Ware can pursue a lawsuit if his
claim is rejected. The 42-year-old Ontario man said he wants his job back. City
Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said the city had not studied the claim in
depth. Ware was fired on July 17 after self-publishing his book,
The Rose Garden, which was billed as
offering “tales of indecency, theft, spousal abuse, disrespect, promiscuity,
rape” among officers. The book uses fictional names, except for that of Police
Chief Bernard Melekian, and describes a force in which one officer is caught
soliciting Hollywood prostitutes, another tears up traffic citations for sexual
favors and a sergeant rapes a cadet at a police station. Melekian suspended
Ware earlier this year, saying derogatory comments in the book about women and
gays called into question Ware’s impartiality and professionalism. At the time
of his suspension, Ware’s police union attorney said the officer had not shown
any bias on duty. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: State police release documents from undercover

Pennsylvania State Police ran vehicle background checks on activists
and took more than 100 photographs of protesters at public demonstrations and
on street corners to gather information about “planned criminal activity”
during last summer’s Republican National Convention, documents released Nov. 17
show. In addition, undercover state troopers were authorized to “participate in
activities concerning both lawful and unlawful protests,” according to a memo
included in about 100 pages of information released by the state police.
Defense attorneys say the undercover operations may have overstepped bounds
because of involvement with the city police, who are restricted from
infiltration of protest groups, or because undercover troopers may have
actively encouraged and participated in illegal acts. Also submitted Nov. 17 by
state police was a $30 expense report for beer purchased by an undercover
trooper posing as a protester, saying the beer was “for relaxation” at the end
of the day. The report said “valuable intelligence information was gleaned”
when two other protesters invited him to be arrested as part a street-blocking
demonstration. State police defended the surveillance and undercover operation
as falling under the agency’s duty to protect the governor and visiting
dignitaries, presumably including GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush. The
investigation was intended to protect Philadelphia residents and “protect the
First Amendment rights of protesters,” according to a memo released Nov. 17. A
municipal judge earlier this month ordered state police officials to
turn over information about state police investigations that contributed to an
Aug. 1 search warrant of a West Philadelphia warehouse. A hearing was scheduled
for today, when Police Commissioner John Timoney was expected to testify about
what Philadelphia police knew before raiding the warehouse. Associated

North Carolina: Patrol destroys trooper data on roadside

Details about roadside stops made by North Carolina state troopers may
be difficult for the public to retrieve after the Highway Patrol destroyed the
data after forwarding it to a researcher. North Carolina State University,
where a social sciences professor is studying the material, has refused a
request by a newspaper to obtain the data, citing federal research regulations.
Using patrol money and a federal grant, the patrol last year asked North
Carolina State professor Matthew Zingraff to conduct a study of the troopers’
traffic citations and warning tickets. Zingraff decided to study all traffic
stops, not just those resulting in a traffic ticket. The patrol agreed to
collect the trooper’s identity and time, date and place of the stop for the
study. Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary David Kelly, who oversees the
Highway Patrol, said the patrol was only acting as a courier of data to the
university. Kelly said the public would have access to the data after the
researchers publish their studies next year. Nevertheless, Hugh Stevens, a
lawyer for the North Carolina Press Association, said destroying records
violates the state public-records law. The data was collected in part due to
concerns in recent years about racial profiling. TheNews &
of Raleigh reported in 1996 that the 12 members of an
anti-drug unit of the Highway Patrol stopped black males twice as often as
other troopers patrolling the same roads. The General Assembly subsequently
enacted laws requiring the Highway Patrol and other agencies to collect data on
traffic stops and searches. The data is forwarded to the Division of Criminal
Information at the Department of Justice, which started in 1999 to publish the
data on its Web site. But the law did not require the patrol to identify the
trooper or give the time, date and location of the stop. Associated Press

New Jersey: Judge declines to unseal transcript of secret

U.S. District Judge William G. Bassler refused Nov. 14 to unseal the
transcripts of a secret hearing in September involving a French citizen accused
in a multimillion-dollar stock swindle and a Justice Department investigation
into campaign funding abuses. The ruling in Newark denied a request by
The Record of Hackensack, which in
September uncovered the hearing involving Philippe V. Hababou and his
subsequent extradition to France to face financial fraud charges there.
Newspaper lawyer Alexander F. McGimpsey Jr. argued that
The Record needs to know the basis
of the “compelling governmental interest” before it can argue to unseal the
transcript. He suggested such information could be given to the newspaper’s
lawyers, who, as officers of the court, would be barred from sharing it with
their client if the judge keeps proceedings secret. Bassler said no such
mechanism has been approved for the federal courts, and that he would not
create one. He said the interests of the government and Hababou outweigh the
newspaper’s First Amendment interests. McGimpsey said the newspaper would
consider whether to challenge the ruling before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals. The hearing Sept. 28 before Bassler was also closed at Hababou’s
request, according to court papers reviewed by the Associated Press. Associated

Pennsylvania: Newspaper association seeks to join appeal of John
Doe ruling

The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association wants to join a newspaper’s
appeal of a judge’s order to keep secret two names on telephone logs of a woman
accused of running a rural prostitution ring. The association, which represents
more than 300 daily and weekly newspapers in the state, asked the state Supreme
Court on Nov. 13 to join the Greensburg Tribune-Review‘s case. “We are concerned with the
unwarranted elevation of personal privacy over constitutional and First
Amendment concerns, said Corinna Wilson, general counsel for the PNA. The
newspaper had asked to see names on the phone logs of Susanne Teslovich, a
former Fayette County commissioner who is accused of arranging appointments for
prostitutes from her home in Menallen Township. Fayette County Judge Gerard
Solomon ruled against releasing the names, saying it could hurt the reputations
of the two men, who have been identified in court as John Doe No. 1 and John
Doe No. 2. The Tribune-Review
appealed the judge’s decision to the state Supreme Court two weeks ago and the
newspaper association then filed arguments in a friend of the court brief. The
court has not decided whether it will hear the case. District Attorney Nancy
Vernon has said she wants to release the names because the case does not
deserve special treatment. Associated Press

Massachusetts: Judge refuses to speed up release of statewide test

A Superior Court judge has rejected a request by the media to speed up
the public release of district-by-district scores on the closely watched MCAS
exams. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph Gants issued the ruling Nov. 16 on
the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, given to students last
spring in grades 4, 8 and 10. The Boston
be and the Union-News of Springfield had sued, saying the
public should have seen the scores last week, when local school officials saw
them, rather than be forced to wait until their scheduled release today. In his
rejection, Gants noted the importance of the request, but said it was not
important enough to speed up the release.
Managing Editor Marie Grady expressed disappointment
in the ruling, and said the newspaper was considering an appeal. The newspapers
argued there was no reason why the Education Department couldn’t turn over the
score information to the public sooner. But the attorney general’s office,
representing the department, said the scores would be sent to the districts
directly from the contractor that corrected the tests. Judith Yogman, chief of
the administrative law division for the attorney general’s office, said the
districts needed the results early so they could have time to check them for
errors. Associated Press

New Mexico: Media attorney fights to have gag order

A news media attorney is again questioning the gag order imposed by a
Children’s Court judge on parties involved in a custody battle over an
overweight child. The gag order was imposed by Judge Tommy Jewell on all
parties involved in the case involving 3-year-old Anamarie Martinez-Regino and
the state. Martin Esquivel, representing the Associated Press, the
Albuquerque Journal, The Albuquerque
, KRQE and KOAT in
efforts to have the gag order
lifted, said the order constitutes an “implicit threat” to Anamarie’s
parents: “Speak out against the state of New Mexico and run the risk of not
getting your child back.” Anamarie was taken from her parents Aug. 25 and
placed in state foster care amid allegations of medical neglect. At the time,
she weighed 120 pounds and was 3 feet tall. State officials claimed her
parents, Adela Martinez and Miguel Regino, were not providing the special diet
and exercise the girl required. An agreement reached last month allowed for the
child to be returned home. She was reunited with her parents, who admitted no
wrongdoing, on Nov. 10. Despite her return, the gag order remains in place.
Esquivel argues that parties involved in the case, including an attorney for
the parents, the Guardian Ad Litem and the state Children Youth and Families
Department cannot agree on when the gag order was issued. A final argument was
submitted Nov. 17 by Esquivel, urging the state Supreme Court to lift the gag
order. The next step will be a decision by the Supreme Court to hold a hearing
or reaffirm its earlier ruling upholding the gag order. The state’s highest
court has said it will decide whether it wants a hearing to reconsider the
issue by Dec. 8. Associated Press

Kentucky: School records case weighs privacy rights and public

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Nov. 15 took up a case in which student
privacy rights are weighed against the public’s interest in knowing how schools
handle discipline. Specifically, the court must decide whether the Hardin
County school district was justified in denying a newspaper’s request for
information on disciplinary actions. A circuit court judge said it was, while
the attorney general and the state Court of Appeals said it was not. The case
pits Hardin County schools against The
of Elizabethtown. The school district contends
it is bound by a federal law that forbids release of information that
identifies or is “easily traceable” to specific students. The newspaper says no
student could be identified with the information it requested. Using the
Kentucky Open Records Act, reporter J. Kyle Foster asked for a breakdown of
disciplinary cases by school, year of occurrence, type of action and reason for
action. Foster conceded that students’ names were confidential and did not ask
for them. Hardin County Superintendent Lois Gray gave Foster a compilation of
actions by the school board. Each student’s name was blotted out, as were
school name, grade, age, race and type of offense. An attorney general’s
opinion said school name and category of offense should be released. On appeal,
Hardin Circuit Judge T. Steven Bland sided with the school district’s argument
that such information could be cross-referenced with school directories to
identify students who had been expelled. The Court of Appeals reversed Bland’s
ruling in a 2-1 decision and in the hearing on Nov. 15, some of the justices
questioned whether the district’s scenario was far-fetched. Chief Justice
Joseph Lambert and Justice James Keller said a student might transfer or drop
out, and mere omission of the student’s name from the next school directory
would not be proof of expulsion. The justices did not indicate when they would
make a ruling. Associated Press

Missouri: Fired officers seek to keep names secret

A judge has refused to let Webster Groves officials keep secret the
names of four police officers disciplined for their alleged involvement with
two teen-age girls. Presiding Judge Robert S. Cohen denied the request by
lawyers for the officers, who were identified in court only as John Does 1
through 4, on Nov. 14. Their lawyers argued that public disclosure would
violate the police officers’ rights to privacy and due process. Benjamin
Lipman, an attorney for the St. Louis
, argued that the firings and the identities of the
officers are public records. Until now, the city has refused to identify the
officers or explain why they were disciplined. At the judge’s request, Webster
Groves City Attorney Helmut Starr agreed not to identify the officers for 48
hours so their lawyers, Rick Barry and Greg Kloeppel, could appeal their
request for secrecy to the Missouri Court of Appeals. According to the
officers’ petition for a restraining order against the city, they were
suspended indefinitely on Sept. 27 “pending an investigation based on
allegations of misconduct by the officers.” The petition also indicates three
of the officers were then fired Oct. 18, and the fourth remains on indefinite
suspension. Barry and Kloeppel contend that the officers — merit system
employees — are entitled to appeal their firings by City Manager Milton
Matthews to a personnel advisory board. The good names of the officers would be
irreparably harmed should Webster Groves disclose their identities, their
lawyers added. Lipman argued that the city manager is a public governmental
body under state law and his firing of the officers is a “final action” that is
a public record under the state Sunshine Law. Matthews and Police Chief Dale
Curtis turned over the results of their own internal investigation last month
to county Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch. McCulloch said he
disapproved of the officers’ actions but that a review found that no crimes had
been committed. An anonymous letter, implicating the officers and two
teen-agers, led to the investigation, city officials have confirmed. Associated

Colorado: State court records going online

A new online system will provide records from the Colorado Judicial
Branch, making the state one of the first in the nation to allow public access
to its statewide court information database. Don Knox, director of the project, said the system will give anyone willing to pay $5 a
chance to look through more than 100 million court records to determine if
someone has a criminal, civil, domestic relations or traffic record. Under the
agreement with the courts, people can inspect the records online only and none
of the records are available in bulk. Court officials said they insisted on
those limits so they could block access to any record that a court decided
later to seal. Clients can search by name, business name or case number, and no
information is provided on victims to protect their privacy, said Dan Hall,
spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department. The records also exclude Social
Security numbers and street addresses. Probate, mental health and juvenile
cases also are off-limits. Tom Kelley, a First Amendment attorney in Denver,
said the system offers opportunities and also has limitations. Kelley said the
judges blocked access to records that would show their decision and sentencing
patterns, along with other information that should be public. Court officials
warned the records may contain errors, and that clients should be careful to be
sure the record they find matches the person they are checking. Knox said
before the new system went into effect, people would have to go to each of the
state’s 128 courts to ensure comprehensive research or depend on records months
out of date. Knox said the information provided by Colorado courts are updated
100,000 times a day, every few seconds. Associated Press

Alabama: Closed-door authority surprises federal official

A federal official was surprised to learn that the legal framework for
the group charged with disbursing the government’s Fort McClellan property
blocks close public scrutiny of its operations. Alabama’s open-meetings law,
known as the “sunshine law,” doesn’t apply to the Fort McClellan Development
Joint Powers Authority, according to its attorney, former state Sen. Doug Ghee.
Ghee said Attorney General Bill Pryor agreed with him on that point. Pryor’s
office last month issued an opinion at the request of state Sen. Del Marsh,
R-Anniston. Marsh made the request at the prompting of
The Anniston Star, he said. The JPA
is made up entirely of government officials — three county commissioners,
two city councilmen and two state appointees — but it’s not a public
entity, Pryor said. JPA Executive Director Ken Whitley says the public-private
question doesn’t matter, because he and his staff conduct themselves as if they
were working for a public entity. The JPA does allow the public into its
meetings and closes its doors only when discussing litigation, personnel
matters, and negotiations over real property. As in any business dealings,
secrecy during negotiations is necessary, land reuse authority officials agree.
However, because the JPA is not a government entity, it can withhold its
records at any time, and has, even after approving a deal. State public-records
law gives every citizen the right to inspect and take a copy of any public
writing in the state, including bids on state land. But the legal framework
between Anniston and Calhoun County that formed the JPA in 1998 says it’s a
private nonprofit group and that the sunshine law doesn’t apply. Joan Sigler,
the project manager at the Army’s Office of Economic Adjustment, which oversees
base closures, said land reuse authorities must be accountable to the public
because they’re selling public land. So the federal government requires they be
public entities. In fact, if the JPA were formed as a private nonprofit as
defined by federal Internal Revenue Service law, it would not be eligible to
serve as a land reuse authority, she said. Last month, when The
Star asked to see the appraisals and
legal contract in the board-approved sale of Buckner Circle, Joint Powers
Authority officials refused to release them. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Judge issues gag order in pier collapse

A Philadelphia judge has issued a gag order in the civil suits filed
over the fatal collapse of a pier and nightclub on the Delaware River. More
than 20 lawsuits have been filed in connection with the collapse, which killed
three women and injured 30 club patrons when they were hurled into the water.
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham had asked for a stay in the civil
suit filed by John Ferraro, the father of Jean Marie Ferraro, 27, of Cherry
Hill, N.J., who was killed. A stay would postpone action in the civil cases
while Abraham’s office pursues its six-month criminal investigation. Common
Pleas Judge Joseph D. O’Keefe is still considering the request for a stay, but
ordered lawyers Nov. 16 not to discuss the cases in public. Associated

Kentucky: Animal shelter to dispute attorney general’s

Tri-County Animal Control Center will appeal a state attorney
general’s opinion that it is subject to Kentucky’s open-records law, the center
said. The opinion said since the center gets more than 25% of its revenues from
tax dollars, it must hand over documents to a neighboring shelter in Elliott
County which alleged the shelter wasn’t holding dogs for the required five days
before adopting or destroying the animals. But an attorney representing the
shelter maintains that it is a private entity and said it does not have to hand
over the documents. Associated Press

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