Roundup: Police evict reporters from Florida election recount center

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

With the presidency of the United States yet to be decided, Florida
officials unexpectedly closed the main Capitol building in Tallahassee Nov. 10,
cutting off access to the office responsible for supervising a recount of the
state’s six million presidential ballots. Police officers forced reporters and
all other “unauthorized” people from the building — which had been the
center for information on the recount — despite reports that election
officials would be providing updated information. Officials at Florida’s
Division of Elections had released three updates of the recount the previous
day, but were unavailable for comment on Nov. 10, choosing instead to work
behind closed doors. Florida’s 25 electoral votes appear to hold the key to the
presidential election since neither Democrat Al Gore nor Republican George W.
Bush can reach the 270 votes required to enter the White House without them.
Meanwhile, in Miami yesterday, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejected
TV network attempts to place a camera in the courtroom during a hearing on hand
counting the ballots. Neither side in the dispute over the ballots had
objected. “I hate to put you in a position of losing a hearing when you’re not
opposed,” Middlebrooks told a lawyer for the networks. While in private
practice, Middlebrooks pursued similar First Amendment cases and said, “I had
the same success you’re having.” Reuters/Associated Press

New Mexico: State officials argue for continuing gag order in
child-custody case

Children, Youth and Families Department attorneys last week filed a
brief with the state Supreme Court in Albuquerque arguing that Children’s Court
Presiding Judge Tommy Jewell’s gag order should remain in effect to protect an
obese three-year-old who was removed from her parents custody on Aug. 25, and
to keep more details of her case from leaking out. Similar arguments were made
by the girl’s court-appointed guardian, who claims that Anamarie
Martinez-Regino’s story could have been told more accurately and completely if
news media outlets had not attached her name to it. By naming her, the news
media forced the state to follow confidentiality laws, which were enacted to
protect children, the state attorneys said. Thus, state officials could provide
no information about how the case was handled and why, which is the very
information the media have argued the public has a right to know. The arguments
came in response to media
attempts to get the gag order lifted by the Supreme Court and claims that
Judge Jewell improperly imposed the gag order, violating Anamarie’s mother’s
constitutional rights. Attorney Marty Esquivel, representing the Associated
Press, The Albuquerque Journal, The Albuquerque
KOAT-Channel 7 and KRQE-Channel 13, wants a full state
Supreme Court hearing on the gag order. The court said it was still considering
whether to have a hearing and had asked all parties to respond to Esquivel’s
request. The mother’s attorney, Troy Prichard, has said in an affidavit filed
with the high court that she feels stifled by the gag order and wants to talk
about the custody case to help others in similar situations. But the guardian
ad litem, Kari Converse, said she believes the mother, Adela Martinez, has
changed her mind and now agrees that the gag order should stand. Anamarie, who
weighed 120 pounds, was taken away from her parents and placed in state foster
care amid allegations of medical neglect. She was returned to her parents’
custody Nov. 10. Associated Press

Wyoming: Coroner denies newspaper access to autopsy

The Laramie County coroner’s office is not divulging the cause of
death of a man whose body was found buried in the basement of a downtown
apartment house in July. Responding to a request from the
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Coroner Bill
Ryan said he could not release the autopsy report because the case is under
investigation by the Cheyenne Police Department and the Laramie County district
attorney’s office. In a letter to the newspaper, Ryan cited the state Public
Records Act, which allows records to be closed if their release would be
“contrary to the public interest.” The law allows withholding of records of
investigations conducted by “any sheriff, county attorney, city attorney, the
attorney general, the state auditor, police department or any investigatory
files compiled for any other law enforcement or prosecution purposes.” The same
act, however, excludes coroners’ autopsy reports from records that can be
withheld “unless otherwise provided by law.” Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney
who specializes in open-records issues, said the law is clear that autopsy
reports are open to the public. Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming
Press Association agreed, saying the report was a medical report, not an
investigation. Authorities have not released the name of the victim. The
Tribune-Eagle said it has long been
speculated to be Allen Ross, an independent filmmaker from Chicago, Ill., who
had been missing since November 1995 and known to have come to Cheyenne.
Associated Press

Wisconsin: Firefighters’ names should be public, state judge

A state judge has ruled that the names of nine firefighters
investigated for drug use could be made public as early as tomorrow. Dane
County Court Judge Sarah O’Brien ruled yesterday that the public’s right to
know outweighs the firefighters’ interest in protecting their reputations. John
Talis, attorney for the International Association of Firefighters Local 311,
said after yesterday’s hearing he was unsure whether the firefighters would
appeal. O’Brien granted a union request to bar Madison Fire Chief
Debra Amesqua from releasing the names of two firefighters exonerated by an
internal investigation. Bob Dreps, an attorney for the
Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital
and WKOW-TV, argued that public employees are subject to
the state Open Records Law. “They are in the public eye by virtue of the
position they accepted,” he said. “They can’t come back later to the court and
ask it to conceal them from the public that employs them.” In April, police
released censored reports implicating 12 firefighters in drug use. One has
since left the department. No firefighters were criminally charged. The Fire
Department began an internal investigation to determine if the employees
violated any of the agency’s 66 workplace rules. Amesqua planned to release the
names along with the results of the investigation but a judge blocked the
release after the firefighters’ union sued, claiming that releasing the names
and details of the internal drug probe would harm firefighters’ reputations and
privacy. Associated Press

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