Roundup: Judge refuses to block California crackdown on vote-swapping Web sites

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

A federal judge has refused to stop state officials from cracking down
on California-based Web sites that let users in one state trade their vote for
president to someone in another state. The American Civil Liberties Union of
Southern California had sought a
temporary restraining order, arguing California Secretary of State Bill
Jones’ actions were an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. U.S.
District Judge Robert Kelleher denied the request in a ruling issued last
night. The Web sites seek to have Green Party candidate Ralph Nader supporters
cast their votes for Vice President Al Gore in states where today’s
presidential race is expected to be close. In exchange, Democrats agree to vote
for Nader in states where Republican George W. Bush is expected to win. The
trades, not sanctioned by the campaigns, could help Gore in swing states and
give the Green Party the 5% of the national vote it needs to win federal
campaign money. Three sites voluntarily shut down last week after Jones told
one it was violating state election laws. The ACLU said it would appeal, saying
such exchanges between voters are protected and that agreeing to a voting
strategy is different from offering payment for a vote. Meanwhile, Oregon
Secretary of State Bill Bradbury on Nov. 2 ordered vote-trading Web sites to
stop working with Oregonians, saying the deals violate state election laws even
though they involve no money. Bradbury said he mailed letters to six Web sites.
Associated Press

Mississippi: State court yanks campaign ads hours after U.S. high
court lets them air

Just hours after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lifted a
court ban on television ads promoting Mississippi judicial candidates,
Chancellor William Singletary issued another temporary restraining order
pulling the ads off the air again. Singletary issued the latest restraining
order late yesterday, ruling that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads for
Mississippi Supreme Court candidates violates state election laws. Earlier
yesterday, Scalia lifted the temporary restraining orders several state judges
had issued Nov. 3 against the ads. Candidates in three state Supreme Court
races had requested that the ads be blocked. No restraining order was sought in
a fourth race. Scalia’s action allowed the ads to return to television stations
for just a few hours. The U.S. Chamber’s ads are critical of some judges, but
supports candidates considered pro-business and aligned with its position on
legal reforms. It was not immediately clear what steps the U.S. Chamber would
take concerning the latest decision with the election only hours away. The U.S.
Chamber took the case to the nation’s highest court after the Mississippi
Supreme Court refused to block the local courts’ orders. The restraining order
affected U.S. Chamber ads critical of Supreme Court candidates Frank Vollor in
the central district and challenger Billy Joe Landrum and incumbent Justice
Oliver Diaz in the southern district. Last week, U.S. District Judge Henry T.
Wingate ruled that the U.S. Chamber
must report who has contributed to and how much it is spending on the ad
campaign. Associated Press

New Hampshire: School district must give parent access to Net
logs, court rules

The Exeter school district must make public copies of its Internet
history logs so a father can check whether officials are doing enough to keep
pupils away from the Web’s seedy side, a judge has ordered. James Knight, a
father of four whose children attended district schools until recently,
filed a lawsuit asking a judge to
force the district to hand over its Internet logs after educators decided not
to use filtering programs on computers children use. The district decided to
use supervision and spot checks by teachers instead of filters. But Knight, 44,
questioned whether that was enough and wanted to examine the Internet logs to
see whether children were accessing pornographic or other objectionable sites
despite the supervision. School officials denied the request, saying
distributing the information would violate the federal Electronic
Communications Act of 1986 and the state Right-to-Know law. But Rockingham
County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson said in a ruling released Nov. 3
that a district’s Internet history logs are public records. She also ruled that
the federal wiretap statute does not apply because the contents of the logs had
not been wrongfully intercepted, which is a precondition to the application of
the statute. Associated Press

Indiana: Journalists group condemns restricted access to prison

A national journalists organization on Nov. 3 condemned the
government’s attempts to restrict
interviews with inmates at the federal prison in Terre Haute. In a letter
sent to the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, the Indianapolis-based Society of
Professional Journalists urged warden Harley Lappin to drop restrictions
preventing journalists from broadcasting recordings of interviews with inmates.
Lappin requires journalists to sign an agreement prohibiting them from
releasing taped interviews with inmates or disclosing information given by one
inmate about another inmate. Reporters who violate the rules may be denied
future requests for inmate interviews. During the past 10 years, SPJ has
noticed a trend among prison officials to restrict media access to inmates and
restrict inmates’ right to free speech. Max Jones, editor at the
Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, said he
became concerned about media access to inmates following the airing of a “60
Minutes” interview with Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in the April 19,
1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Following the “60 Minutes” story, the Tribune-Star requested an in-person interview with
McVeigh. Lappin denied the request, citing security concerns, but granted a
telephone interview under conditions McVeigh rejected. Associated Press

New Mexico: Judge denies media attorney’s request for hearing

A state district judge refused Nov. 3 to release tapes that could show
whether he followed proper procedure when he issued a gag order in the case of
an overweight 3-year-old taken from her parents by the state. Judge Tommy
Jewell turned down a request by media attorney Martin Esquivel for the tapes
during a closed hearing with attorneys for the state and parents and the
appointed guardian for Anamarie Martinez-Regino, daughter of Adela Martinez and
Miguel Regino, who weighed 120 pounds at 3 1/2 feet tall when she was placed
in state custody Aug. 25. Esquivel viewed the denial as further evidence
procedure was not followed when the gag order was entered in September.
Esquivel sought tapes of a hearing as it related to the gag order as part of
his quest to have the state Supreme Court review the issue. Such tapes, he
says, are crucial to establish whether proper procedures were followed.
Esquivel said the Nov. 3 closed hearing began without him and that he believes
the hearing was improper. He also says he believes Jewell made a ruling on the
gag order in his absence, possibly lifting it, and that the state Children,
Youth and Families Department has contested lifting the order. Kari Converse,
appointed to represent Anamarie’s interests, has asked the state Supreme Court
if she can submit a sealed affidavit in support of the gag order, telling the
court she could not explain the facts underlying her position in a public
pleading without running afoul of state confidentiality requirements. Esquivel
said he would oppose Converse’s motion. Jewell announced last month an
agreement had been reached to return the girl to her parents, although he could
not say when that would occur. Esquivel last month
asked the state Supreme Court to
reconsider its rejection of the media’s appeal of the gag order. Associated

Oklahoma: Open-records loophole allows exotic pet owners to keep
licenses private

Oklahomans who own lions, tigers, bears and other exotic animals can
hide their ownership from the public thanks to a little-known section of the
state’s Open Records Act, according to a published report. The provision allows
the state Department of Wildlife Conservation to keep a secret list of people
who own exotic animals in Oklahoma,the Tulsa World
reported in yesterday’s editions. The newspaper discovered the
loophole when it asked the Wildlife Department for a list of Oklahomans who
hold a commercial breeder’s license, which is required to own exotic animals.
The Wildlife Department cited a provision in the Open Records Act that permits
those who apply for commercial breeder’s licenses to check a box on the
application form requesting that their license remain “nonpublic,” keeping the
names and addresses of exotic animal owners confidential. The provision also
means that all hunting and fishing licenses — as well as other
outdoor-related permits the department issues — are not public. State
Rep. Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, who, at the request of the Wildlife Department,
sponsored the legislation that amended the Open Records Act in 1996, said he
was unaware that the law had resulted in a secret list of commercial breeders.
The law was aimed at hunters who were complaining about their privacy being
invaded by telemarketers and direct mailings, Adair said. The department did,
however, furnish a copy of the “public” list and an edited copy of the
nonpublic list that had the names and addresses of licensees removed.
Associated Press

Washington: Seattle Times reporter wins inaugural Natt

Reporter Eric Nalder of The Seattle
won the inaugural Ted M. Natt First Amendment Award Nov. 2
for his work leading to a series of stories examining the state’s treatment of
sick and disabled people. The series called “The Throwaway People,” was written
in collaboration with Times reporter
Kim Barker and published over five days last December. The award, named for the
former publisher of The Daily News
of Longview, was presented by Natt’s wife, Diane, and son, Ted
Natt Jr., at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association.
Competition was open to newspapers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and
Montana that are members of the Associated Press. It was created by the AP and
Natt’s family to honor the former publisher, who died when his helicopter
crashed Aug. 7, 1999, along the Columbia River. Nalder, a Pulitzer
Prize-winning reporter, began a six-month examination of state records last
year. He sought more than 1,600 files covering patient abuse cases investigated
by the attorney general’s office since 1992. Halfway through his research,
federal authorities insisted that Nalder’s access to the records be cut off.
The Times and the attorney general
challenged the government’s position, but Nalder eventually lost access to the
records. Associated Press

Wisconsin: Firefighters sue to prevent release of names from drug

A firefighters’ union has filed a lawsuit against the city of Madison
and Fire Chief Debra Amesqua to keep her from revealing names of firefighters
associated with a drug investigation. According to the lawsuit, the union
argues that releasing the firefighters’ names and details of the Fire
Department’s drug probe would harm their reputations and privacy. Police began
an investigation into drug use by the firefighters after several were seen in
December entering a bar where an undercover operation was underway. In April,
police released censored reports implicating 12 firefighters in drug use. One
has since left the department. The Fire Department then began an internal
investigation to determine if the employees violated any of the agency’s 66
workplace rules. Amesqua said she intends to release the results of the
investigation by Nov. 10, saying the public’s interest in it outweighs other
considerations. The lawsuit requests that the judge temporarily bar Amesqua
from releasing the information. The union wants the court to have a closed
hearing on its request. A date has not been set. Associated Press

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