Roundup: Nebraska Regents candidate challenges campaign-finance law

Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Nebraska's campaign-finance law has become subject to a lawsuit in the wake of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents race. Regents candidate Randy Ferlic discovered a loophole in the law and filed a $300,000 revised spending estimate Sept. 8. He claims the 1992 campaign-finance law, which calls for voluntary spending limits, is unconstitutional and violates his right to freedom of speech. His lawsuit, filed in Lancaster County District Court, says the state has no compelling interest in ensuring candidates have similar funds when campaigning for office. Ferlic's revised estimate would allow him to spendf $120,000 before his opponent, Rosemary Skrupa, could receive any funds. The voluntary limit on spending in the regent's race is $25,000, which Skrupa has agreed to. If Skrupa remains under that spending limit and Ferlic goes above it, she is entitled to state funds. He reported to the Accountability and Disclosure office Sept. 8 — after being denied a temporary restraining order that would have kept the state from enforcing the law — that he plans to spend an additional $300,000 to gain a spot on the board. Ferlic's spending in the race so far has jumped from twice the voluntary spending limit at $50,000 to almost six times the limit. Associated Press

Idaho: School district violated teacher's rights, federal judge rules

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has ruled that the Jefferson County Joint School District violated the First Amendment rights of a teacher who publicly criticized the superintendent during a labor dispute three years ago. Winmill, following the recommendation of federal Magistrate Mikel Williams, found that the district unconstitutionally reprimanded teacher Sue Kenny for sending her colleagues at Midway Elementary School a letter lambasting Superintendent Larry Vandel. During contract negotiations in the opening months of the 1997-1998 school year, Kenny wrote the letter in which she criticized the district for “divide and conquer” tactics in its dealings with teachers, contending that Vandal had done the same thing during an earlier contract dispute in the Arco district. But School Board President Garth Gunderson said it was Kenny's comparison of Vandel to Adolph Hitler in the letter that was so objectionable. He maintained that he still did not believe the district violated Kenny's rights by issuing the letter or reprimand. Winmill, however, disagreed, holding that the reprimand infringed on Kenny's constitutional right to free speech. He ordered the district to remove the letter of reprimand from Kenny's file. Associated Press

Hollywood rejects accusations it markets violence to children

The entertainment industry rejected federal accusations yesterday that it sells violence to children in music, movies and video games. Executives suggested they deserve praise for cleanup efforts rather than government “bludgeoning.” Industry leaders and spokesmen lined up to challenge a Federal Trade Commission report that concluded that movies rated “R” — which require an adult to accompany children under 17 — and video games that carry an “M” rating for 17 and over are routinely targeted toward younger people. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said, “There is no enterprise in America that is more attentive to the parents of this country than the movie industry. “Instead of bludgeoning us, I think Congress should say congratulations to the movie industry,” he added. Representatives of the music and video game industries issued similar statements. Most of the major film studios declined to comment, saying they had little time to digest the 300-plus-page report. No studio will be represented tomorrow when the Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing on the issue. Associated Press

North Carolina: Defense attorney requests TV ban at trial

North Carolina Superior Court Judge Charles Lamm has scheduled a hearing Oct. 12 to consider requests by two television stations, Court TV and WSOC-TV, to cover the trial of Rae Carruth, a man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend. The Charlotte Observer is also requesting permission to allow photographers in the courtroom. In a motion filed Sept. 5, Carruth's lawyer, David Rudolf, asked Lamm to deny the TV stations permission to air the trial. Rudolf said cameras could distract witnesses and contribute to tabloid sensationalism. In his request to televise the trial, Douglas Jacobs, Court TV's executive vice president and general counsel, said Court TV has covered more than 700 trials in its 10-year history. He added that no verdict had ever been reversed because of Court TV coverage. William Bruce, WSOC-TV's news operations manager, said that he has set up, operated and supervised the televising of more than a dozen criminal trials in Mecklenburg County. He added that there had never been a case where court rules or directives were violated. Associated Press

Indiana: Judge gives church new deadline

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker has given the Indianapolis Baptist Temple 10 days to show why the federal government should not bring foreclosure proceedings against it. Barker's Sept. 7order takes the conservative, fundamentalist church a step closer to losing its buildings because of a long-simmering tax dispute with federal authorities. The church has refused to withhold employee income and Social Security taxes. The Internal Revenue Service says the unpaid taxes, penalties and interest total almost $6 million. The Rev. Gregory A. Dixon, senior pastor of the church, said the church would file its arguments for a further delay, and that would trigger another 10-day period for the Justice Department's response, and so forth. But Barker gave no indication of such a timetable in her ruling. The church's feud with the IRS has been brewing since 1984, when Dixon's father, the Rev. Gregory J. Dixon, decided the church should break all ties with government and that workers at the church were ministers, not employees. The Dixons have proclaimed their case to be a test of religious freedom, although numerous courts have upheld the legality of tax laws upon churches. Associated Press

Colorado: ACLU calls Ten Commandments tablet unconstitutional

The American Civil Liberties Union says a granite tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments outside Grand Junction's new city hall is illegal and should be removed. Sue Armstrong, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, says the tablet's placement violates separation of church and state mandated in the First Amendment. Armstrong said the group is not planning to sue the city but has urged residents to demand the tablet be removed. Mayor Gene Kinsey said the Constitution does not prevent the city from having religious articles on display. However, he said the tablet might have to come down if it is challenged. The local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles presented the tablet to the city in 1958. Kinsey said the city has displayed the tablet ever since, taking it down only while the new city hall was being built. A bill that would have required the posting of the Ten Commandments in Colorado schools died in the state Senate this year after its sponsor said there were too many legal questions about the issue. Associated Press

California: Journalists, cyclists cleared of DNC charges

Two journalists and 10 bicycling protesters were cleared of charges on Sept. 5 for demonstrating in downtown Los Angeles during the Democratic National Convention last month. Deputy City Attorney Howard Gluck suggested the dismissals because he felt the 70 adults arrested had been penalized sufficiently through serving jail time and having their bikes temporarily confiscated. Also, charges against 56 other adult cyclists and one minor were dropped Sept. 8. The cycling protesters rode through downtown Los Angeles to support a more bike-friendly environment. Police authorities said that the protesters created a dangerous environment by ignoring safety cautions, riding swiftly past scared pedestrians and almost causing accidents. Those arrested were accused of blocking a thoroughfare, going through a stop sign and going the wrong way on a one-way street, according to Gluck. Associated Press broadcast correspondent Brian Bland and Chicago Tribune journalist Flynn McRoberts were the two journalists arrested. They were covering the protest and showed press credentials. Both reporters claim they were riding legally at the time of the arrest. The Los Angeles Times

New York: Court finds some Diallo evidence should have been released

Judge Joseph Teresi was not acting within the law when he denied the media access to documents in the high-profile Amadou Diallo murder trial, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court noted Sept. 8 while dismissing on procedural grounds a media petition for access to the records during the trial. The court found the petition, by seven news organizations, moot because the four New York City police officers on trial have been acquitted and the evidence is now available to the public. The trial ended in February. Michael Grygiel, a First Amendment lawyer who represented the news organizations, is considering an appeal. Diallo, an African immigrant, was shot and killed in the Bronx in February 1999. The Associated Press, the New York Daily News, Newsday, the New York Post, The New York Times, the Albany Times Union and the New York Law Journal, challenged Teresi's actions in the Diallo case. Associated Press

California: Judge modifies gag order in kidnapping case

Solano County Judge Allan Carter on Sept. 7 modified a protective order that prohibited attorneys, police and the FBI from releasing information to the media in the case of a man charged with kidnapping and molesting an eight-year-old Vallejo girl. “Based on my readings, the only difference is that now entities like the FBI and the Solano County Sheriff may talk with the media,” said attorney Rachel Boehm, who represents the San FranciscoChronicle, the San FranciscoExaminer, the Vallejo Times-Herald and The Sacramento Bee. The newspapers had contested Carter's Aug. 25 gag order, arguing that it impaired their ability to gather news. Carter's ruling still prohibits attorneys, judicial officers, police and volunteers from making any statements about the case or the suspect, Curtis Dean Anderson. Anderson, who has an extensive criminal record, was arrested Aug. 12, two days after the disappearance of the 8-year-old girl. Boehm said, “We are glad that the gag order has been modified but our position is that it is still unconstitutional.” Associated Press

California: Judge refuses to stop TV miniseries on O.J. Simpson

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe has ruled against O.J. Simpson's request for an injunction on a CBS miniseries depicting the “inside story” to his “dream team” of criminal defense lawyers. The movie, “American Tragedy,” is based on the best-selling book of the same title by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth. Simpson lawyer Terry Gross had argued that allowing the series to air would greatly impair Simpson's constitutional right to legal counsel. Schiller's attorney, Gary L. Bostwick, argued that stopping the miniseries would be equal to prior restraint and would violate Schiller's freedom of speech. Yaffe ruled against Simpson for two reasons. First, Simpson can later sue Schiller and Robert Kardashian, who was a member of the Simpson defense team, in a civil lawsuit. Second, the miniseries includes many scenes that were already publicized in Schiller's 1996 book. Yaffe said Sept. 6 that Simpson should have objected when Schiller's book came out. Simpson was acquitted of murder in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman. Los Angeles Times

Florida: Teen fights to wear Confederate shirt to school

A 16-year-old honor student has been told he could be suspended from school if he wears a T-shirt depicting Confederate heroes and a rebel flag again to school in Brooksville, Fla. Officials at Central High School gave Joel Roberts a discipline notice Sept. 8 for wearing one of the “Legends of the Confederacy” T-shirts he bought at a Civil War memorabilia sale. They said the shirts are “potentially disruptive” and could cause racial tension at the school. The shirts show the faces of Confederate heroes and a small insignia of a Confederate flag. Delana Roberts said that she and her son would abide by the decision, though she believes it violates his free-speech rights. Joel has agreed to stop wearing the shirts to school, but plans to keep fighting for the right to wear them. He has collected 84 signatures on a petition, including five from black students, he said Sept. 9 in an article on the Web site of the local newspaper Hernando Today. Roberts said her son collects Civil War memorabilia, including Confederate flags and garments, because he loves history. Associated Press

North Dakota: Open meetings, records information now on Internet

Information about the open-meetings and records-disclosure laws that affect public agencies is now more readily available on the Internet, said state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. An open-records and meetings manual, relevant attorney general's opinions and other information now can be found on the office's Web site, Heitkamp said Sept. 7. The 1997 Legislature set up a procedure that allows citizens to request the attorney general's opinions in disputes over open records and meetings. Usually, only state and local officials and legislators may ask for opinions. Forty-eight opinions on open records and meetings have been requested, and the majority of them have come from “everyday citizens” who were seeking information, rather than from the news media, Heitkamp said. The opinions and periodic training sessions have helped make state and local government agencies aware of state law governing open records and meetings, the attorney general said Sept. 7. A training session has been scheduled Oct. 13 for government officials, to be conducted over the state's interactive video network. Twelve sites will be used during the broadcast. Associated Press

Indiana: University says it will protect coach's accuser

As demonstrators passed out fliers threatening the 19-year-old freshman whose accusations led to the Sept. 10 dismissal of Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight, university officials said they would ensure the student's safety. Kent Harvey claimed he greeted Knight with “Hey, what's up, Knight?” and the coach grabbed his arm to admonish him for calling him by last name only. University spokesman Christopher Simpson would not specify what steps would be taken to protect Harvey but said campus police would investigate any threats. Harvey and his two brothers have been threatened by e-mail and telephone since their confrontation on Sept. 7 with the Knight, said their stepfather, Mark Shaw. IU officials said Harvey's complaint wasn't the only reason Knight was fired. Knight, already in trouble for a history of misconduct, had been under a “zero-tolerance” policy that bars inappropriate physical contact with students. Associated Press

Vermont: Newspaper battles state colleges over student records

A judge is reviewing arguments put forth by the Vermont State Colleges and The Caldonian-Record, which wants access to hearings and records on potentially criminal behavior by students. The case began in February, when The Caldonian-Record, a daily newspaper based in St. Johnsbury, requested records from nearby Lyndon State College relating to discipline stemming from a Dec. 10 party at which several underage students were reported to have consumed alcohol. The state college system initially refused but later agreed to produce the records, omitting student names. The newspaper then requested notice of future disciplinary meetings under the Open Meeting Law and more detailed disciplinary records during the past five years and in the future. The state colleges denied those requests, arguing that student disciplinary matters were not subject to Vermont's open-meeting or public-records laws, and were covered under a federal law barring the release of students' academic records. Philip White, Caldonian-Record lawyer, argued that criminal behavior ranging from underage binge drinking to hazing to sexual assault is widespread on the nation's campuses and that the public should have full access to information about it. Lawyers for the state colleges responded in court papers by saying the state's public-records law contains an exemption for student records. Associated Press

Maryland: House speaker calls for summit on public-records law

Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor has proposed a summit of news executives and government officials over the administration of public records in the state. Taylor wants to discuss increased training for government employees in the wake of a survey that found half the requests for records that should be open for public inspection were refused. The Allegany Democrat said he hopes to hold the meeting before the start of the legislative session and will urge Gov. Parris Glendening to attend. Taylor said workers need better guidance on which records are public and which ones must be kept private, and how to handle the requests expeditiously. If the talks highlight the need for major changes, Taylor said he might be willing to reconsider legislation, which was sought unsuccessfully two years ago by the press association, to set up a task force on public records. Associated Press

Colorado: Judge orders release of Columbine files

Jefferson County District Judge Brooke Jackson has ordered that binders of files from the investigation into the Columbine High School shootings be made public. The Sept. 8 ruling came in a public-records lawsuit filed by victims' families. They were seeking access to information about the investigation into the April 20, 1999, massacre, in which two Columbine seniors fatally shot 12 students and a teacher and wounded two dozen others before killing themselves. Jackson's order excludes the release of information about the composition of the bombs made by gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold or why some malfunctioned. It also excludes identifying information about victims, their families, other possible suspects and persons included in a “hit list” prepared by Harris and Klebold; information about medical treatment received by injured students and teachers; and reports by law enforcement personnel of their observations while attending autopsies of deceased victims. Jackson also directed the sheriff's department to remove documents seized under search warrants from the Harris and Klebold homes. Associated Press

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