Roundup: N.Y. high court dismisses news media’s petition against Diallo judge

Friday, October 27, 2000

The state's highest court has refused to hear a case brought by eight news organizations against the judge in the Amadou Diallo trial over his initial refusal to release pretrial records. The Court of Appeals dismissal on Oct. 23 of the petition against Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi essentially upholds a lower court ruling, which stated that the news groups' case was moot because Teresi did eventually release the documents in question. The news organizations, which include the Associated Press, Daily News, Newsday, the New York Post, The New York Times, the Albany Times Union, the New York Law Journal and Clear Channel Communications Inc., had wanted to see documents that included personnel records and previous complaints lodged against the four white New York City officers accused of shooting to death Diallo, an African immigrant. These documents, along with tapes and transcripts of interviews with witnesses to the February 1999 shooting in the Bronx, were presented by both the prosecution and defense during a Dec. 29, 1999, closed pretrial session held by Teresi. The records were eventually made public along with trial documents that Teresi ordered unsealed after the officers were acquitted of murder and other charges in February. But Michael J. Grygiel, co-counsel to the news organizations, argued that the media needed the timely release of the pretrial records to accurately report on the case. The newsgroups had appealed on a First Amendment rights claim. However, the Court of Appeals dismissal said that no substantial constitutional question was directly involved in this instance. Associated Press

Florida: State open-meetings requirements should be amended, Democrats say

When Republican Gov. Jeb Bush met this summer with the two men likely to control the Legislature next year he was met with questions about why the meeting was closed. The state Constitution requires that meetings between the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, and the governor — arguably the most powerful triumvirate in Florida government — be open to the public. But that strategy session to discuss the upcoming legislative session was closed, Bush said, because Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, wasn't speaker of the House yet, and Sen. John McKay, R-Bradenton, wasn't president of the Senate yet. Several Democrats, led by state Sen. Kendrick Meek, said yesterday they'll file a joint resolution in the next legislative session in an effort to change the Constitution to require meetings to also be open when the governor meets with the president-designate and speaker-designate. The joint resolution will be considered by the Legislature during the 2001 session that starts in March. If it passes, the proposal would go before voters on the 2002 ballot. Associated Press

Mississippi: Federal judge to hear arguments in political-ads case

A new federal judge will hear arguments on Oct. 29 about U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads involving Mississippi Supreme Court candidates. U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr., whose son works for the Supreme Court, stepped aside Oct. 24 and was replaced by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate. Wingate will decide whether state election laws, especially those requiring disclosure, apply to the more than $400,000 spent by the U.S. Chamber in Supreme Court races. Attorney General Mike Moore said if the state loses the argument that its campaign-disclosure law applies, it will open the way for any organization to make large, independent campaign expenditures. The Chamber, which paid for television ads naming Chief Justice Lenore Prather, Justices Jim Smith and Kay Cobb and candidate Keith Starrett, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 23 in federal court claiming the right to free speech allows it to air the ads independently, without involvement by the candidates, and without reporting its donors and expenditures to the secretary of state's office. Chamber officials said ads that do not use words of advocacy are educational rather than political and are not governed by the state's election law. Wingate called for chamber attorneys to file a brief by yesterday. Secretary of State Eric Clark, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, must present a legal brief by today. Associated Press

Arizona: Tucson bans soliciting from traffic medians

Hawking newspapers, selling merchandise and begging from Tucson traffic medians will be illegal, starting next year. The City Council voted 6-1 on Oct. 22 to ban selling, begging and charity solicitations from medians, beginning May 1. Councilwoman Carol West, who proposed the bill, said it was needed for safety, but many who spoke in favor of the bill said beggars and hawkers are eyesores and hurt tourism. Amelia C. Cramer, an attorney for Tucson Newspapers, which handles circulation, advertising and other business functions for the separately owned Tucson Citizen and Tucson Star, said the ordinance amounts to governmental prior restraint on the press and restricts free speech. About 50 hawkers sell roughly 2,400 copies of the Citizen each day, 6% of the newspaper's circulation. In an effort to stop the ban, Michael A, Chiak, the Citizen's editor and publisher, proposed a plan that would raise hawker pay and hold the city free from liability if hawkers or their customers were injured. However, Councilman Jerry Anderson called the raise too little, too late. Associated Press

Colorado: Library to restrict minors' Internet access

Broomfield library officials have angered some residents with a plan to limit what sites Web surfers can visit on the library's computers. The library will equip two of four Internet-access computers with filters, requiring minors to have parental permission to surf as part of less-tolerant Internet-use policy to meet the requirements of new state grants. This is the first year the state is making money available to libraries as part of a $2 million grant program. To be eligible, libraries must restrict minors' access to Internet sites that are obscene or promote illegal activities. Helen Martin, director of Broomfield's Mamie Doud Eisenhower Library, is bothered by the semblance of censorship the program has. Still, she said it's important that the library meet the new state guidelines because it stands to gain almost $10,000 for new materials. Colorado is one of four states that historically has not supplied state money to its libraries, which depend on property taxes, federal funds and public donations. Associated Press

Kentucky: Sheriffs must disclose cell phone records, state attorney general rules

Sheriff's departments in two northeastern counties violated the Kentucky Open Records Act in responding to a newspaper's request for cellular telephone records, the attorney general's office has ruled. A reporter for The Daily Independent in Ashland made the same request to both departments in July, asking for the number of cell phones the department owned, leased or rented, names of people who used the phones, copies of cell phone bills since July 1, 1998, and a statement of the purposes of the phones. The Lawrence County sheriff issued a “blanket denial” of the request while the Greenup County sheriff did not respond at all. Writing opinions in both cases, Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Bensenhaver said individual entries could be withheld if there was a legal basis for doing so, but the sheriffs otherwise were obligated to disclose the records. Also, public agencies being asked for records are required by the Open Records Act to respond within three days, Bensenhaver wrote. They cannot simply ignore the request, she said. Associated Press

Iowa: Company sues city for access to accident records

A Davenport company is suing the city and its police department over the release of accident records. In a lawsuit filed Oct. 25 in Scott County, Seven Cities Sod claims police violated state records law by withholding reports about an accident involving one of the company's trucks last summer. John Martin, the city corporation counsel, said the department is not obligated to hand over investigative reports of any police matter without a court subpoena. Brent Oleson, the company's attorney, said his client was able to get more information about the case from the Scott County Sheriff's office, which also responded to the accident. Oleson said he received a basic incident report from the police department, but it contains no details about what happened July 21, the day a Seven Cities Sod truck collided with a pickup. The driver of the pickup, Dennis Kraklio, 55, of Grand Mound was seriously injured in the crash. No charges were filed, but Oleson says Seven Cities Sod wants more information on the case to prepare for a possible lawsuit in the matter. Associated Press

Kentucky: Judge issues gag order in juvenile's murder case

A gag order has been issued in the case of a juvenile charged in connection with the killing of one of her schoolmates in Mayfield. Graves District Judge Royce Buck said attorneys, court personnel and police risk fines and jail time if they speak to the media about the case, which involves the death of 18-year-old Jessica Currin, whose beaten and burned body was found behind Mayfield Middle School on Aug. 1. Police said at the time of the arrest that they didn't believe the juvenile was involved in the actual killing. Associated Press

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