Roundup: Poll finds many Texans can’t name any First Amendment right

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

More than one-third of Texans cannot name a right guaranteed by the
First Amendment, according to a poll released Sept. 21. For those who could,
53% named freedom of speech, 3 % said freedom of press and 2% said freedom of
religion. The Scripps Howard Texas Poll, which surveyed 1,000 people during the
summer about the First Amendment, was done in conjunction with the Freedom of
Information Foundation of Texas. The poll mostly touched on First Amendment
issues, including whether the public has enough access to government documents
or whether they believe the press has too much freedom. Forty-seven percent
said they believed they have too little access to government proceedings in
Texas, with 38% saying the public has the right amount of information.
According to the poll, another 44% said there is too little access to state
government documents, with 33% saying the public has the right amount of
access. Associated Press

Ohio: High court tells police department to hand over records

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the Columbus Police Department
must turn over officers’ disciplinary records to The Columbus Dispatch, which sued for access, and
the local Fraternal Order of Police cannot be involved in the lawsuit. The
Dispatch Printing Co., the newspaper’s parent company, sued the city in June
1999 after it refused to turn over an index of citizen complaints against
police and an electronic database of police disciplinary cases. The newspaper
said the records might be related to a Justice Department investigation into
alleged civil rights violations by police. The city had maintained the records
weren’t available to the public because they should have been shredded under a
collective bargaining agreement with the union, which requires the city to
destroy public documents on regular schedule. Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote
in the Sept. 20 majority opinion that “even if a public record was scheduled
for disposal but was not destroyed, it remains a public record kept by a
government agency and is subject to the terms of” Ohio’s public-records law. In
barring the police union from being part of the lawsuit, Moyer found that
because state law overrides the bargaining agreement, the union had no “legally
protectable” interest in the case. Associated Press

Kentucky: Ex-police officer appeals records ruling

A newspaper’s attempt to gain access to police disciplinary records is
to be argued before the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The dispute began last April
when the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
filed an open-records request with the city for the personnel
files of six police department workers. City officials denied the request,
saying the records were not open for inspection. The newspaper appealed to the
attorney general, but before an opinion could be issued, attorneys for three of
the officers sued in circuit court to keep the records closed. In August,
Daviess Circuit Judge Henry M. Griffin III ruled that a disciplinary charge
against Jeff Palmer, by then a former police officer, must be released to the
newspaper. But Griffin sealed the documents for 30 days to allow Palmer time to
appeal the ruling, which he did last week. Ralph Wible, who represents the
newspaper, said he would file a cross-appeal, asking for additional documents
that Griffin did not release. The newspaper considers the information in the
police files to be of public interest, “and we will fight to get it, no matter
what the cost or time,” editor Bob Ashley said. Associated Press

Texas: Attorney general says citizen are getting better access to

More governmental bodies are requesting, and receiving,
public-information rulings from the state, which means citizens are gaining
better access to their government, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn said
Sept. 23 at the annual conference of the Freedom of Information Foundation of
Texas. In 1998, the year before he took office, Cornyn said, only 4% of the
requests for open records and open-meeting rulings received at the Attorney
General’s Office were answered in fewer than 20 days. This year, from January
until June, 43% were answered in that time period and 98% were answered within
45 days, he said. He attributed the stepped-up activity to his office’s
outreach programs, which educate the public about the Texas Public Information
Act, and to his enforcement of the law. Associated Press

West Virginia: Federal judge strikes down state strip
club-licensing law

Strippers aren’t covered by a state law requiring clubs to be
licensed, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II
ruled Sept. 22 that the language of the law is unconstitutionally vague and
wrongfully targets conduct he says is protected by the First Amendment. The
ruling blocks state officials from issuing licenses to or closing unlicensed
nude-dancing clubs. The law, which was enacted this year, established
requirements for residency, “good moral character” and other factors that club
owners had to meet, along with an annual $3,000 fee for an “exotic
entertainment” license issued by the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration.
R.W.B. Inc. and its related corporations, which operate strip clubs in
Barboursville, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Weirton and other cities, had filed
suit challenging the law. Haden had issued an injunction against enforcement of
the law in July and cited previous court decisions that said nude dancing is
“expressive conduct” protected by the First Amendment. Associated Press

Kentucky: Judge lifts gag order in murder trial

Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark lifted a gag order on Sept. 22 that
barred lawyers in the Shane Ragland murder trial from speaking to reporters.
Clark said he would issue a new order that would require attorneys and police
to guard against making prejudicial statements to the media. Ragland, 27, was
arrested July 14 and charged with the 1994 slaying of University of Kentucky
football player Trent DiGuiro. DiGuiro was killed by a single bullet from a
high-powered rifle as he sat on his porch during a party. A key witness in the
trial is Ragland’s ex-girlfriend, Aimee Lloyd, who went to police this year and
told them that Ragland had said he killed DiGiuro. Clark had issued the gag
order on Sept. 1. Associated Press

Maryland: Descendant sues to fly Confederate flag at

A descendant of a Confederate army officer has sued the federal
government for the right to display the flag of the Confederacy at Point
Lookout Confederate Cemetery. More than 3,300 Confederate prisoners of war are
buried in a common grave at the southern Maryland cemetery, which is owned and
operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. A U.S. flag now flies at the
graveyard on the Chesapeake Bay. A 1998 policy governing conduct of national
cemeteries limits the flying of the Confederate flag to two days a year:
Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day, which is observed during May in some
states, said Veterans Department spokeswoman Jo Schuda. The lawsuit, filed
Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., claims the policy is
unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment right to free speech
and free expression. Steven Campen, the lawyer representing descendant Patrick
J. Griffin III, said the regulation applies only to Confederate flags and not
others, such as POW/MIA flags. The conservative Rutherford Institute, which is
also involved in the case, accused the Department of Veterans Affairs of
“politically motivated discrimination.” Associated Press

Kentucky: Lexington newspaper files lawsuit seeking city

The Lexington Herald-Leader
filed a lawsuit Sept. 22 against the city-county government in an attempt to
obtain records concerning the city’s Division of Code Enforcement. The records
could be used as part of an ongoing series by the newspaper about unsafe and
unsanitary rental housing in Lexington. Last month, the Lexington-Fayette Urban
County Government denied the newspaper several requests for documents made
under the Kentucky Open Records Act. The city cited attorney-client privilege
and its right to protect internal memos, letters and e-mails sent between
employees. The Kentucky Open Records Act makes most local and state government
documents public, but allows exemptions for some specific documents. In its
lawsuit filed in Fayette Circuit Court, the newspaper accused the city of
operating in a “siege mentality” in regard to releasing information about the
issue. Associated Press

Texas: Board of Education members deny any wrong doing

Several members of the State Board of Education, under investigation
by Attorney General John Cornyn’s office for possible violations of the state’s
open-meetings law, deny doing anything wrong. Joe Bernal, D-San Antonio, had
lunch at an Austin delicatessen with GOP board members David Bradley of
Beaumont and Bob Offutt of San Antonio before a meeting of the board’s
Permanent School Fund Committee. At issue is whether they discussed selecting
investment firms to manage the state’s $22 billion education trust fund. Since
three board members constitutes a quorum of the five-member committee, they may
have violated the Open Records Act, which prohibits public boards from
conducting business in private when a quorum is present. Bradley said the three
were never seated at the same table, and Offutt left the restaurant shortly
after Bernal arrived. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Radio host sued over pageant comments

The Miss America Pageant has sued a radio talk show host for slander
for saying the contest was fixed. The beauty pageant filed suit Sept. 20 in
federal court in Camden, N.J., against Howard Eskin and Infinity Broadcasting
Corp., owner of Philadelphia radio station WIP-AM, said Robert M. Renneisen
Jr., the pageant’s CEO. The suit seeks an undetermined amount of damages,
alleging that Eskin’s remarks might raise doubts that could hurt the pageant’s
ability to raise scholarship money, Renneisen told a news conference at the
Philadelphia office of the pageant’s attorneys. Eskin said his comments were
facetious; the radio station said the lawsuit was without merit. Renneisen and
attorney Steven P. Perskie played a tape of an Aug. 22 broadcast on which Eskin
said, “I hope people know Miss America’s fixed… . Before they get into
the weekend, they know who’s going to win. They already know, you know, through
all the screenings and all the other stuff.” When a co-host mentioned “all the
judges out there,” Eskin replied: “That’s phony.” Renneisen said the lawsuit
was not just another attempt to boost interest in the 79-year-old pageant after
sagging television ratings in recent years. Associated Press

Oregon: Journalism school honors First Amendment defender

The University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication has
named its new entry and plaza as the Ted M. Natt First Amendment Plaza. The
Longview, Wash., newspaper publisher died in a helicopter crash a year ago.
Natt, a 1963 UO journalism graduate, was recognized in the Northwest and
nationally as co-owner, publisher and editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily
newspaper and as a columnist who fiercely defended First Amendment rights to
free speech. Tim Gleason, UO journalism school dean, said: “Natt’s career and
his lifelong championship of free speech rights should both inform and inspire
future journalists.” The Natt family contributed $500,000 to the Allen Hall
project in his memory. Associated Press

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