Roundup: Parent sues to access N.H. school district’s Net logs

Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Saying school officials don’t do enough to keep students from visiting
objectionable Web sites on school computers, an Exeter parent has filed a
lawsuit seeking access to Internet logs for district schools. James Knight says
because district schools don’t use Internet filters, students can easily access
pornography and other inappropriate material. But Superintendent Arthur Hanson,
questioning the reliability of filtering software, said officials enforce their
Internet policy as vigilantly as possible. Hanson also said turning over the
Internet logs would violate the federal Electronic Communications Act of 1986
and the state Right-to-Know law. Information that could divulge personal
information about pupils, which the district maintains the logs would, is not
public information and needs to be protected, Hanson said. Alec McEachern,
Knight’s lawyer, maintains the state’s Right-to-Know law doesn’t apply to the
information Knight has requested. McEachern says his client doesn’t want the
identities of any particular student or school employee, only a record of sites
that have been accessed through the school’s computers. McEachern says the
district also is misapplying the Electronic Communications Act, which he says
forbids the distribution of information that was obtained illegally, which is
not the case in Exeter. He also says the law doesn’t apply to cases in which
people consent to being monitored, which all New Hampshire pupils must do
before using a school computer. The case had a one-day trial at Rockingham
County Superior Court last month, and a decision is expected soon. But Knight
wasn’t willing to wait for the courts; he has enrolled his four children in a
private school that is not connected to the Web. Associated Press

Iowa: Civil liberties group criticizes library policy on online
obscene material

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union is upset that some Iowa libraries may
be violating First Amendment rights with a new policy to discourage Internet
users from viewing obscene material. A notice at computer terminals in Ankeny’s
Kirkendall Public Library tells patrons they could be guilty of a serious
misdemeanor if they display or disseminate obscene material. The same notice is
to be posted in Pleasant Hill’s library this week. The Johnston Public Library
adopted a similar policy last year, said director Francine Canfield. ICLU legal
director Randall Wilson said the notice “misstates Iowa’s obscenity statute”
and “appears to be censorship through intimidation.” A section of Iowa’s
obscenity law makes it a serious misdemeanor to display obscene material to a
minor, although the libraries’ policies do not make that distinction. Wilson
says graphic and sexually oriented information can be legally viewed by adults.
The notice insinuates that it is illegal, he said. Barbara Mack, an attorney
for the Iowa Library Association, said the notice is based on federal law and
applies to people of any age. She said the policy is not intended to hamper use
of the Internet or prosecute people for a crime if someone inadvertently sees
questionable material while walking past a computer terminal. Associated

Oklahoma: High school students, football fans circumvent prayer

Fort Gibson High School has joined a growing list of schools working
to bypass the Supreme Court ban on student-initiated prayer over school sound
systems. Instead of praying over the loudspeaker, students have been taking to
the field for prayer before football games while fans join them in the stands.
Halftime shows also include Christian music. Initially, the crowd on the field
was small, but more joined in each game. The crowd covered almost the entire
field before a recent game, and both teams and game officials waited to take
the field until after the prayer. Students held signs asking the crowd to
“please stand and pray with us.” About 1,500 fans did. Students say they
haven’t heard any complaints. The entire community supports the displays, high
school Principal Gary Sparks said. At halftime, the marching band began a
recent show by bowing in prayer and then included performances of four
Christian songs. A flag bearing a cross was waved throughout the show, which
was capped off by a human cross formed by band members. Associated Press

Utah: Judge rejects polygamist’s First Amendment motions

Thomas A. Green is not being selectively prosecuted and his polygamist
lifestyle is not protected by constitutional rights to free speech or to
practice religion, a 4th District judge has ruled. Green, 52, had filed motions
seeking the dismissal of four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal
nonsupport on grounds that his lifestyle was constitutionally protected and
that Juab County Attorney David O. Leavitt was targeting him because others
practiced polygamy in the county. Judge Guy R. Burningham told the
Deseret News on Oct. 25 that he
would deny Green’s motions for dismissal and the trial would go ahead.
Burningham did, however, grant a motion by Green’s attorney, John Bucher, to
postpone the trial , which was originally slated for this week, until Jan. 25.
The charges against Green, four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal
nonsupport for more than $50,000 in state support for 25 of his 29 children,
are all third-degree felonies. Green is also accused of rape of a child, a
first-degree felony, for allegedly having sex with one of his wives when she
was only 13 in 1986. No trial date has been set on that charge, which will be
tried separately, because attorneys are still arguing over several pretrial
motions. Among them, Leavitt wants Burningham to rule that Green cannot present
evidence to jurors suggesting that sex with a 13-year-old is a religious right.
Burningham is expected to rule on the motions after a hearing next week.
Associated Press

Ohio: State high court justice sues New York Times for defamation

(Editor’s note: In May 2003, The Associated Press reported that although a federal jury had found the New York Times article about Justice Francis Sweeney contained defamatory falsehoods, it was not published with actual malice; therefore the jury found in favor of the newspaper.

An Ohio Supreme Court justice filed a defamation lawsuit against
The New York Times, saying he was
falsely portrayed as a participant in the 1966 retrial of Dr. Sam Sheppard.
Justice Francis Sweeney’s lawsuit, filed Oct. 20 in Cuyahoga County Common
Pleas Court, seeks unspecified damages. Sheppard was found guilty of the 1954
beating death of his wife, but his conviction was overturned on appeal, and he
was acquitted at the retrial. Sheppard died four years later. Sheppard always
maintained his innocence and said his wife was killed by an intruder in their
home. The case inspired “The Fugitive” television series and movie. At issue in
Sweeney’s lawsuit is an April 13 Times story about a civil trial in which
Sheppard’s son unsuccessfully sought to prove his father was wrongfully
imprisoned for murder. Sweeney’s lawsuit says the Times wrongly reported that former prosecutors
pressured current prosecutors to vigorously defend the claim. The
Times story noted that Sweeney voted
in the minority when the Ohio Supreme Court decided against blocking the claim
and refused to step aside although he had been an assistant prosecutor in
Sheppard’s retrial. Don Iler, Sweeney’s attorney, said Sweeney had not been
involved in any way in the Sheppard retrial. The Times reporter, Fox Butterfield, said he hadn’t
seen the lawsuit and would not comment. Catherine Mathis, the newspaper’s vice
president for corporate communications, also declined to comment. Associated

Wisconsin: Corrections officials propose tightened control over
incident reports

The state Department of Corrections has proposed changing a state law
to give prison officials full discretion over what they include in the reports
that are filed when prisoners escape, are restrained or are searched. Existing
state law dictates what information must be included in the reports. Under the
proposed change, the department itself would make that determination. Incident
reports are public records and were used by the Milwaukee Journal
during its investigation of inmate deaths in Wisconsin
prisons. State statutes have not been updated for 20 years and are outdated,
said Dale Jellings, a Department of Corrections spokesman. Jellings added that
the contents of the incident reports would not change, but the department’s
proposal would eliminate requirements that they include an inmate’s full name,
when the incident occurred, who was present, why the inmate was restrained,
what medication he or she was given and staff comments, among other things. The
Journal Sentinel‘s findings prompted
state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Scott Walker, R-Wauwatosa,
chairman of the Assembly Corrections and Courts Committee, to propose that an
independent board review all inmate deaths. The representatives said they would
introduce their proposal before the Legislature in January. The Department of
Corrections will hold public hearings on the proposed changes next month.
Associated Press

New York: First Amendment attorney Charles Rembar dead at

Charles Rembar, a preeminent opponent of censorship who fought and won
some of the most important censorship cases in American law, died Oct. 24 at
85. Rembar defended the publishers of Lady
Chatterley’s Lover
, Tropic of
and John Cleland’s Memoirs of
a Woman of Pleasure
, better known as Fanny Hill, in some of the most important
censorship cases in American law. Acting in varying degrees as adviser,
attorney and literary agent, Rembar represented, among others, authors Herman
Wouk, Saul Steinberg, Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, Tom Clancy and Norman
Mailer, who was Rembar’s younger cousin, in small book deals and landmark
litigation. Rembar’s fight against obscenity laws began with the Grove Press’
publication of Lady Chatterley’s
in 1959, when he contested an obscenity ban imposed by the
Postmaster General. A federal district court later lifted the ban as an
impermissible prior restraint. Rembar then successfully defended Henry Miller’s
Tropic of Cancer, banned in dozens
of states and cities, and went on to represent G.P. Putnam’s Sons, the
publishers of Fanny Hill. After the
Supreme Court ruled in 1965 that Fanny
, first published in 1749, was protected by the First
Amendment, no American court in any final decision ever held a book to be
obscene. Rembar received a George Polk Memorial Award in journalism for
The End of Obscenity in 1969. A
collection of essays, Perspective,
followed in 1975, and a history of American law, The Law of the Land, in 1980. His writings
appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic,
and The New York
. Associated Press/The New York

Alabama: Newspaper wins access to sheriff’s incident

A lawsuit filed by The Birmingham
resulted in a circuit judge granting public access to
incident reports at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. The
News sued Shelby County Sheriff
James Jones in July, asking that the reports be made public under Alabama’s
open-records laws. Sheriff’s department officials had denied
News reporters access to the
reports, which are called Alabama Uniform Incident/Offense Reports and contain
basic information about a crime, including the nature of the incident and the
date and time it occurred. In a preliminary injunction issued Oct. 27, Shelby
County Circuit Judge Al Crowson ruled that the front side of the reports are
public information and that sheriff’s officials retain the right to remove
sensitive information such as Social Security numbers. The sheriff’s department
had provided reporters with a computerized summary of incidents instead of
copies of the reports. The newspaper is still seeking a permanent injunction
against the sheriff’s department in the case. Associated Press

Nebraska: Pastor cited for loud church music pleads not

The pastor of a Guatemalan church in Lexington has pleaded not guilty
to a charge of disturbing the peace by playing loud music during church
services. Juan DeLeon-Menendez, 42, pastor of Iglesia Jesus El Buen, was cited
Oct. 7 for loud music coming from the church and plans to challenge the charge
on constitutional grounds. Police officers who issued the citation said they
could hear live band music coming from the church a half block away. Defense
attorney Derek Mitchell alleges the statute of disturbing the peace is
unconstitutional as applied because it violates the defendant’s rights to
freedom of religion and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth
Amendments. DeLeon-Menendez’s trial is scheduled for Nov. 30. Associated

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