Roundup: Michigan high court denies prosecutor’s request for unpublished photos

Monday, October 16, 2000

The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that 11 media outlets with unpublished photos and video of last year's riot at Michigan State University don't have to give the materials to prosecutors using investigative subpoenas. Ingham County prosecutors have been trying to get the materials since the March 27-28, 1999, riot to help prosecute rioters. They argued that since the media were recording a public event, they should turn the material over as evidence of criminal activities. More than 120 people have been charged with crimes relating to the riot, which cost an estimated $238,000 to East Lansing and the Michigan State campus. But the court cited the state's shield law in ruling that the newspapers and television stations may keep all of the footage and photographs that have never been published or broadcast. The court also noted in its Sept. 26 ruling that the state's Investigative Subpoena Act allows law enforcement officials to subpoena only material that has already been published or broadcast or material that is related to an investigation involving a news organization. The media outlets are the Detroit Free Press, the Lansing State Journal,The State News (Michigan State's student newspaper) and television stations WJBK, WKBD and WXYZ in Detroit, WJRT in Flint, WILX and WLNS in Lansing, WWMT in Kalamazoo and WZZM in Grand Rapids. Freedom Forum Online staff

Mississippi: Lawyer asks Supreme Court to hear challenge to Ole Miss flag ban

An attorney is taking his complaint against the University of Mississippi's ban on spectators waving Confederate flags at campus athletic events to the Supreme Court. Richard Barrett, a lawyer for the white supremacist Nationalist Movement, said Oct. 13 that he has asked the Supreme Court to take up his lawsuit, which claims the ban violates his First Amendment Rights. The 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the ban in August, saying it found nothing wrong with “the University defendants' game management policies, which prohibited spectators from carrying sticks and large flags or banners into the University's football stadium during athletic contests.” Associated Press

Tennessee: State appeals court hears arguments on closed-door meetings

The Tennessee Court of Appeals heard arguments in a lawsuit contending state legislators should be kept from having private meetings to discuss public business. Lawyers pressing the lawsuit told the court on Oct. 11 that the public's right to know should override lawmakers' desire to work out legislative compromises behind closed doors. Attorney General Paul Summers asked the judges to throw out the lawsuit, saying the courts should not interfere if legislators decide they can more efficiently develop proposals and more readily compromise if the general public is not there to see. Plaintiff's attorney George Barrett said he was astounded at the state's argument. The suit, that now includes more than a dozen news agencies, was filed on June 30 by former television producer Mark Mayhew, alleging the Legislature violated the state's Open Meetings Act by meeting in secret while attempting to balance the budget that took effect on July 1. The trial, which would have begun before Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Hamilton Gayden on Aug 28, was delayed by Summers, who appealed several of Gayden's pretrial rulings. The Court of Appeals could throw out the lawsuit or send it back to Gayden for trial. Associated Press

Texas: State appeals panel sends school records case back to trial court

The three-year legal fight over access to computerized Dallas school records has been returned to the trial court level by an appeals panel. The Dallas school district does not want to release the information because it claims student privacy could be compromised. A district court ruled in favor of the school system in 1998. But a panel of the 11th Court of Appeals said Oct. 5 that more evidence should have been heard before a judgment for either side was entered. In 1997, the Internet Open Records Project and the Dallas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People requested a database containing each student's score on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills over 10 years. State Attorney General John Cornyn joined the two groups in seeking release of the database. The plaintiffs maintain that the district could easily comply by giving each student a unique identifying number and redacting other personal information. But school officials disagree, saying there is no guarantee that the students would be anonymous. Associated Press

North Carolina: Judge says attorney general's office searched adequately for records

Attorney General Mike Easley's office has searched adequately for public records linked to $1 million in public service advertisements and requested by state Republicans, a judge has ruled. The North Carolina Republican Party sued Easley in August, accusing the Democratic candidate for governor of improperly using state collected court settlements to pay for ads they say are de facto campaign commercials. The GOP is claiming the Department of Justice wasn't doing enough to provide them with paperwork related to the production of the public service announcements featuring Easley. The Republicans also complained in the lawsuit that the department failed to interview former employees who worked in the public-information office at the Department of Justice but now work in Easley's campaign to learn more about the production of the ads. But Wake County Superior Court Judge James Spencer Jr., in a decision made public Oct. 11, ruled that the Justice Department made an adequate search of files and computer records. The Justice Department's search turned up 2,000 pages of documents about the public-service ads that were turned over to the GOP on Aug. 21 and 24. Associated Press

Arizona: Student fighting to keep sculpture on display

An art student is fighting with Northern Arizona University officials to keep his outdoor sculpture on display on campus. University officials say they want the sculpture, titled “Freedom,” taken down because of safety concerns, including its proximity to power sources. Artist Greg Ashcraft spent five months working on the piece, a large steel fish trap hanging between two pine posts with ceramic fish suspended inside by wires, calling it a metaphor for people or ideas caught by a confining system or society. The piece was too big to be displayed inside the gallery, so Ashcraft and museum curator Mike Speir decided it could be displayed outside. Ashcraft said he thought any display problems had been taken care of after Speir got sprinkler, gas and water blueprints for the property in front of the Fine Arts Building before putting the piece up. Kurt Davis, the university's vice president of public affairs and marketing, said that the dispute was a safety issue, not a censorship issue. Associated Press

Hawaii: Native Hawaiians granted access to religious site on Army-controlled land

The 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army Hawaii has signed an agreement that will give Native Hawaiians access to an important archaeological site in Makua Valley, Army officials said. The Oct. 12 agreement will allow the Hawaiian community to care for the Ukanipo Heiau complex next to Makua Military Reservation in Leeward Oahu, which has been listed National Historic Register since 1984. In the agreement, the Hawaiians will care for the site while the Army provides a management plan, materials and volunteers that will be needed. The state will oversee the process as the landowner. U.S. Army Hawaii cultural resource manager Laurie Lucking said it's the first agreement under the American Religious Freedom Act of 1978 giving Native Hawaiians access to religious sites on military-controlled land. Associated Press

Virginia: Finger gesture not protected by First Amendment, judge rules

A Virginia general district court judge recently determined that the First Amendment doesn't protect citizens who extend their middle fingers to public bodies and fined a woman $25 for doing just that to the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors this summer. Board members took Cynthia Booten to court after they said they saw her flip them “the bird” during a supervisors' meeting on July 10. The incident reportedly occurred after the board approved a conditional-use permit to allow a neighbor of Booten to expand a family business. Several witnesses and board members told Judge Richard Lewis Jr. that they saw Booten make the gesture. Steven Benjamin, Booten's attorney, said it wasn't clear that Booten made the gesture to the board. Benjamin contended that if she had, it didn't cause a disruption and was protected by the First Amendment. Lewis disagreed and fined Booten. Booten refused a court offer for a six-month probation to wipe away the charge and appealed the conviction to state circuit court. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19. Freedom Forum Online staff

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