Roundup: New Jersey judge backs anonymous 4 in online privacy case

Friday, December 1, 2000

A Superior Court judge has refused to unmask four Internet computer
users who posted anonymous messages about a software company. Dendrite
International, based in Morristown, wanted the judge to publicly identify the
computer users, who it says revealed company secrets and crossed the line into
libel. But in a decision handed down Nov. 28, Superior Court Judge Kenneth C.
MacKenzie sided with the defendants. In the lawsuit, which was filed in May,
Dendrite alleged that three of the defendants made false statements about the
company and that two who identified themselves as company employees violated
their contracts by criticizing the company. The company also claimed three of
the defendants published secret company information. Dendrite requested that
Internet portal Yahoo! release the names of the four, identified in court
papers as “ajcazz,” “gacbar,” “xxplrr” and
“implementor extrodinaire.” Paul Levy, an attorney with Public
Citizen, the consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, which intervened
in the case on behalf of the defendants, called the decision a
“tremendous victory for free speech.” Associated Press

California: News media seek to open court records in Yosemite
murder case

A group of news media organizations are seeking access to court
records in the case involving motel handyman Cary Stayner, who was sentenced to
life without parole yesterday for killing and beheading a naturalist in
Yosemite National Park. Stayner’s sentencing followed a plea bargain in
September that spared him a possible death sentence in exchange for admitting
he killed Joie Armstrong, 26. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping, attempted sexual
assault and murder. The plea also guaranteed that Stayner will never be able to
speak publicly about the July 1999 slaying. His final public word on the matter
came in an apology he gave in court. A group of news media organizations,
including the Associated Press, is
asking the court to unseal the documents. But defense lawyers have argued
that releasing them could jeopardize Stayner’s right to a fair trial in
state court for three other slayings. Judge Anthony W. Ishii ruled in favor of
unsealing the documents but is giving the defense until Dec. 8 to obtain a stay
from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Stayner’s
life sentence brings an end to the federal case against him and marks the
beginning of state court proceedings that could lead to a death sentence. He is
accused of killing three Yosemite tourists, Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli,
15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, in February 1999. They had
been staying at a remote motel outside the park’s western gate, where
Stayner lived and worked. Despite the gag order, part of Stayner’s story
is expected to become public if court records are unsealed. Associated

Rhode Island: ACLU calls for end to faith-based police program

The American Civil Liberties Union on Nov. 28 urged the Providence
police department to halt a new faith-based community outreach program. Rhode
Island ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said that the program, dubbed
PRAYER, violates freedom of religion rights and that it is also wrong for the
police to use taxpayer money to promote religious faith. Public Safety
Commissioner John Partington said city lawyers are reviewing the program to
ensure it doesn’t violate religious rights. But he brushed off the
objections, saying the goal of the program is what is most important. The
program was created by Gregory Bolden, a city patrolman for 14 years who said
he was frustrated by fruitless efforts to mend the department’s troubled
relationship with the community. Bolden said faith can help spur positive
dialogue and cooperation. The program includes community forums and a network
of professionals and clergy to counsel officers. Bolden said the program is
voluntary and nondenominational and has been endorsed by the police
administration. Associated Press

California: ADL complaint prompts teacher ban from prayer

Murrieta Valley High School teachers can no longer participate in the
annual See You at the Pole prayer observances. The Anti-Defamation League
complained to the school that the practice violated the doctrine of separation
of church and state. At least two Murrieta teachers participated in the prayer
observances in September. The teachers stood with more than 70 students to pray
for people who have not accepted Christ as their savior, for the wisdom of the
next U.S. president, and for the humility of students. While students may lead
prayers on campus, teachers may not participate because they are employees of
the school and therefore agents of the state, ADL spokesman Marjan M. Keypour
said. After hearing from the ADL, Principal Mark Johnson told teachers to
refrain from participating in prayer observances in the future. More than 3
million students gathered around flagpoles across the United States on Sept. 20
for nondenominational Christian prayers in the 11th annual See You at the Pole,
organizers said. Associated Press

Colorado: Tattered Cover owner wins freedom award

Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstores, was presented
the Jean Otto Friend of Freedom Award by the Colorado Freedom of Information
Council in Denver on Nov. 28. Meskis was honored for her defense of the First
Amendment and the public’s right to access information, said Thomas B.
Kelley, attorney and president of the council. Meskis
is appealing to the state Supreme
Court a judge’s recent
order that her store turn over a customer’s invoice in a drug case.
The North Metro Drug Task Force wants the invoice to help determine if a drug
suspect bought two books on how to make methamphetamines. Otto, a founder of
the council and a former Denver
Rocky Mountain News
editor, said Meskis is “one of those who cares deeply about every
component of the First Amendment.” About 80 people, including former Rep.
Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., president of the American Association of Publishers,
attended the presentation. Previous winners are Otto and Jim Manspeaker, clerk
of the U.S. District Court in Denver. Associated Press

Colorado: Lawyers for Columbus Day protesters subpoena Denver

Attorneys for 147 Columbus Day protesters have subpoenaed Denver Mayor
Wellington Webb over their push to dismiss the prosecutor from cases charging
the demonstrators with loitering. Jim Thomas, head of the city attorney’s
prosecution unit, said he could not remember the last time a sitting Denver
mayor was made to testify. The defendants say Webb knew of negotiations to drop
all reference to Christopher Columbus in the parade. In return, the protesters
agreed not to interrupt the event. The 147 demonstrators, including leaders of
the American Indian Movement, were
arrested when they blocked the path of the Oct. 7 parade for about an hour.
They say Columbus was a slave trader who committed genocide against their
ancestors. The defendants say the city should have stopped the parade when the
organizer, the Sons of Italy lodge, broke the agreement. The city,
however, argued that the parade was protected by the First Amendment and
couldn’t be scrapped. Movement members want city Attorney C. Wallace
Wortham removed as prosecutor because they say he helped negotiate the pact.
They have also subpoenaed him, Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson, Safety Manager Ari
Zavaras, and mayoral aide Jim Martinez, for the hearing today. According to
Wortham, neither he nor Webb was involved in the negotiations. He said he would
ask that Webb not be made to testify. Hudson called the subpoenas a public
relations ploy but said Webb would testify if they were not reversed. The
protesters face up to a year in jail and a $999 fine or two years probation. No
trial dates have been set. Associated Press

Indiana: Federal prison warden defends ban on broadcasting

A warden is standing firm on a ban on broadcasting interviews with
federal prisoners, saying the creation of “jail celebrities” would
undermine security. Warden Harley Lappin, the top administrator at the U.S.
Penitentiary at Terre Haute, which includes the federal death row, rejected a
call to lift the ban in a Nov. 13 letter to attorney Bob Lystad of the Society
of Professional Journalists. The journalists group, based in nearby
Greencastle, had sent a letter to
Lappin on Nov. 3 urging him to drop restrictions that prevent journalists from
broadcasting recordings of interviews with inmates. Journalists are required to
sign an agreement that prohibits them from releasing taped interviews with
prisoners or disclosing information given by one inmate about another inmate.
Reporters who violate the policy may be denied future requests for inmate
interviews. Lappin’s letter defends the prison’s rules, saying all
conditions are in compliance with the law. Lystad said Lappin’s response
was unfortunate. Steve Key, an attorney for the Hoosier State Press
Association, also criticized Lappin’s decision, saying, “That
becomes an issue more of First Amendment than prison security.” Key says
he believes the warden’s stance on broadcast interviews changed after CBS
earlier this year aired a “60 Minutes” program on Timothy McVeigh,
who was convicted in the Oklahoma City bombing. Lappin’s letter to Lystad
also said requests for face-to-face interviews with prisoners will be
considered on a case-by-case basis. Associated Press

Virginia: New office for FOI questions doing brisk

A state office that answers questions about the Freedom of Information
Act has received 132 inquiries since its
inception earlier this year, its
executive director said Nov. 29. The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory
Council is not yet handling the volume of established offices in states such as
New York, which fields 800 to 900 calls a year. But Maria J.K. Everett, who
heads the Virginia council in Richmond, said business is brisk. The council
issues advisory opinions, both in writing and over the phone. While its
opinions don’t carry the force of law, the council hopes to quickly
resolve disputes, clarify the law and educate people about their rights when it
comes to public records. Of the 132 calls, 51 have come from the public and 50
have come from government. Another 31 came from the media. The council
chairman, Del. Clifton “Chip” Woodrum, D-Roanoke, said the mix of
calls was heartening. He said he was pleased that the general public is
weighing in regularly. Associated Press

Montana: Parents blame national library group for book staying on
school shelves

A group of parents told the Great Falls School Board Nov. 27 that they
blame a national library organization for the school district’s initial
decision to leave a book on the shelves of the Great Falls High School library.
They also urged changes in the district’s library book selection process.
Debbie Scherrer, parent of a Great Falls High junior, told the board she was
shocked when a committee appointed by Principal Steve Henneberg denied her
request to remove Ken Follet’s Hammer of
from the school library. Scherrer objects to
detailed sexual scenes and profanities in the book. In denying Scherrer’s
request, the committee cited a recommendation for The Hammer of Eden by Book List, a publication of
the association, as “suitable for mature audiences.” The
association’s policy views parents’ efforts to screen material as
censorship, she said. Under school board policy, Scherrer’s request to
remove the book is now being reviewed by a committee appointed by
Superintendent Bryan Dunn, which was to make a decision on the request today.
Scherrer can then accept the recommendation or appeal it to the board.
Associated Press

Colorado: Denver newspaper seeks to unseal Columbine autopsy

The mother of a student slain in the Columbine High School shootings
told a judge yesterday that autopsies of victims should not be released as
requested by a Denver newspaper. Dawn Anna, mother of victim Lauren Townsend,
told a judge that releasing the autopsy reports of the victims killed by Erick
Harris and Dylan Klebold, would be like “pulling the scabs off of many
children.” The Denver Postrequested the autopsies, saying
they could help clear up a number of questions, including whether police
accidentally killed one of the victims, student Daniel Rohrbough.
Rohrbough’s family has filed a lawsuit alleging he was killed by
authorities. Attorneys argued before Jefferson County District Judge Brooke
Jackson in a hearing yesterday. Jackson said he likely wouldn’t issue a
ruling until after the holidays. Two Columbine autopsy results already have
been released. Harris’ autopsy report was released by court order,
and the family of Isaiah Shoels released his autopsy report voluntarily last
year. The Denver Rocky Mountain News
has asked for the release of Klebold’s autopsy report. Attorney Tom
Kelley, who represents the Post,
said autopsy reports are public records under a law created by the Legislature.
He said the law allows the public to keep an eye on the government. Kelley also
argued enough time has passed since the shootings that the potential impact of
releasing such documents has lessened. But Anna said there would never be an
appropriate time to release the remaining documents. Gary Borgeson, a
psychotherapist whose clients included dozens of people with ties to Columbine,
said releasing the documents could be emotionally damaging. Julia Parisian, a
clinical psychologist who has worked with trauma victims, testified that
releasing the autopsies could trigger painful emotions in some people affected
by the tragedy but would not likely re-traumatize them. Associated Press

Indiana: Lawyer continues to file open-meeting suits despite
updated laws

An attorney has filed lawsuits against four Gary city boards accusing
them of violating the state’s open meeting laws. Attorney Clorius Lay
contends that some boards are blatantly violating the state’s Public
Access Laws, which were updated more than a year ago in an attempt to prevent
open meeting-related lawsuits. Gov. Frank O’Bannon hired a public access
counselor in 1999 to help residents and elected officials better understand the
laws governing meetings. O’Bannon’s appointee, Anne
Mullin-O’Connor, said most of the approximately 200 complaints the office
receives each month are settled amicably and rarely result in lawsuits. She
said the only reason Lay, who represents political activist Chuck Maclin, filed
complaints first with her office is to recover attorney fees, as required by
Indiana law. The latest lawsuit, filed Nov.27, is against the Gary Public
Transportation Corp. Lay said that board posted executive session agendas that
are too vague, the same grounds he used to sue the Gary/Chicago Airport board
and the Gary Sanitary District board. He’s also suing the Genesis
Convention Center board. Separately, Lay has two lawsuits pending against the
City Council, alleging one illegal firing and one instance of a violation of
First Amendment rights. Lay said he plans to go forward with his lawsuits
regardless of the opinions from Mullin-O’Connor’s office. He said
he’s exempted the Gary Housing Authority board and the Economic
Development Commission from lawsuits because they corrected the situation. But
in the other instances, he said the Open Door Law is being blatantly violated.
Associated Press

Vermont: Former Castleton administrator sues to get job

A fired Castleton zoning administrator is suing the town to get her
job back. Patricia Ryan, whose contract expired April 1 and was not renewed,
claims in her suit that the select board and the planning commission illegally
met in executive session, violating her First Amendment rights and wrongfully
terminating her. The suit claims that town officials sought to dismiss Ryan for
the way she performed her job as zoning administrator, and specifically cites
Ryan’s ruling that a respite home on Sand Hill Road did not need a zoning
permit. The suit further charges that the select board held “secret
meetings” in late 1999 and took a “secret vote” to eliminate
Ryan’s position during a joint executive session with the Planning
Commission on March 9. The town has until Dec. 17 to answer Ryan’s
complaint. Former select board chairman Patrick Eagan has said in the past that
the decision not to rehire Ryan was not related to her job performance, but was
an effort to save the town money. Ryan is requesting reinstatement and
unspecified cash damages, including back pay. Associated Press

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,