Roundup: Senate panel to review ‘Stars and Stripes’ controversy

Friday, September 15, 2000

A Senate subcommittee will review a government censorship policy that led to the resignation of the editor of Stars and Stripes two weeks ago. Executive Editor David Offer left his post after publisher Thomas E. Kelsch replaced the paper's own article about a possible missile deployment with one from The Washington Post that essentially contained the same facts. Offer said that the paper, owned by the Defense Department, didn't have enough independence from the government. “It is government-owned but it is independent — to the extent that is not an oxymoron,” said Charlie Abell, a Republican spokesman for the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee. “We and they want it to have as much independence as it can have.” According to Abell, staffers will hold discussions with American Forces Information Service officials, the newspaper's military parent organization, and officials in other military services as well as the publisher. Meanwhile, Stars and Stripes ombudsman David Mazzarella discussed the problem last week with Abell and with members of the House Armed Services Committee. Mazzarella said the policy that bans the paper from running classified information but allows it to run another company's story with the same information is “outdated.”

District of Columbia: Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against 'Newsweek' reporter

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against a Newsweek reporter accused of disclosing a source's name in stories about a woman who claimed President Clinton made an improper sexual advance to her. The source, Julie Hiatt Steele, alleged that reporter Michael Isikoff broke his promise not to print her name. The lawsuit contended that Steele, at the behest of her friend Kathleen Willey, lied to Newsweek in early 1997 by saying Willey confided that she had been the victim of an unwanted sexual advance by Clinton. Steele said she later told Isikoff that she had lied and said her conversations with Newsweek were “off the record” meaning her comments and her name were not meant for print. In 1998, Steele sued Isikoff, Newsweek, and the Washington Post Co., which owns the magazine, citing breach of contract and emotional distress, among other claims. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed Sept. 6 to a defense motion to dismiss the case on grounds that Steele's claims did not stand up to District of Columbia law. The judge ruled that the relationship between a reporter and a source is not contractual and even if it were, Steele's admitted lie invalidated the contract. An attorney for Stelle said an appeal is being considered. Associated Press

Maine: Settlement reached in 'Dateline' lawsuit

A legal battle between two Maine truckers and the television newsmagazine “Dateline NBC” over a “Dateline” report on tired truckers has ended, according to court documents. Notice was filed recently in federal court in Bangor indicating both sides have come to an agreement in a watered-down version of the original lawsuit. Attorney Bernard Kubetz, who represented “Dateline” and defendants Fred Francis and producer Alan Handel, said the agreement prohibited both sides from speaking about the settlement. Kubetz said a federal appeals court ruling in March probably spurred the settlement. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston reversed a Bangor jury's defamation verdict and threw out $525,000 in damages. The appeals court also threw out the jury's verdicts on the truckers' claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. It left intact a limited misrepresentation claim by trucking company owner Ray Veilleux, as well as his wife's claim for loss of consortium. That portion of the verdict was sent back to U.S. District Court in Bangor for reconsideration. Those claims now have been settled. The lawsuit was to be retried this month. Associated Press

District of Columbia: House vote keeps Boy Scouts' charter

The House came down solidly behind the Boy Scouts on Sept. 13 with a 362-12 vote to reject a proposal to revoke their eight-decade-old federal charter because of the scouting organization's policy of excluding gays. Republicans who brought the legislation to the House floor to show the lack for support for critics of the Scouts labeled the proposal an attack on American values. Democrats complained that the GOP's only intent was to embarrass them. The GOP leadership is resisting Democratic attempts to pass hate crimes legislation this year. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in June, upheld the Boy Scouts' ban on letting homosexuals serve as troop leaders. Also in June, President Clinton issued an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in federally conducted education and training programs. GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush and other Republicans quickly accused the Clinton administration of trying to throw the scouts off federal lands. But Attorney General Janet Reno, in a statement this month, said the tradition of Boy Scouts using federal lands for camping and other activities could continue. Associated Press

Michigan: Library votes to install Internet filters

The Kent District Library Board has decided to fund an Internet filter system for computers at its 18 branches, seven months after voters in nearby Holland defeated a proposal aimed at forcing the local public library to install software to keep youngsters from looking at pornography. The Kent board voted 5-1 on Sept. 12 to spend $85,000 for the Smart Access Manager system. The filtering system will cost the district $17,000 a year in support costs. But the board called the method cost-effective. Under the current policy, having staff members patrol Internet terminals would cost about $625,000 in employee time, the board said. The district's decision comes as public library systems struggle with a new state law that takes effect Oct. 1. The law requires public libraries to prevent minors from accessing sexually explicit or obscene material on Internet computers. Board member Laura Weld, who cast the lone dissenting vote, feared that Internet restrictions would spread to adults and generate more censorship. Starting in October, library cardholders over 18 will have unrestricted access while those under 18 will have all sexually explicit and obscene sites blocked. Meanwhile, pro-filter viewpoints dominated a Herrick District Library forum on Sept. 12, as trustees grappled over how the Holland library would comply with the new law. In February, the five-member board of the district opposed the filters, saying its policies adequately protected children. Attorney Cynthia Faulhaber, who is advising the library on the new law, said that with a law that is as “clear as mud,” the Herrick District Library must adopt the filtering system to protect itself or risk being held liable. But Paul deMaagd of Allegan County's Laketown Township argued at the forum that filters weren't necessary. He suggested that a less expensive solution would be to separate adult and young computer users. Holland voters Feb. 22 rejected an ordinance that would have mandated Internet filters at their library. Associated Press

California: City adopts rules banning heckling at high school sporting events

Spectators who taunt and jeer high school players or call the referee a bum will find themselves taken out of the ball game, and athletes who do an end-zone dance for the crowd will find themselves warming a bench. That's the gist of new conduct codes unanimously approved by the Modesto Board of Education on Sept. 11. Modesto is the first school district in the Northern San Joaquin Valley to adopt the guidelines, which were established by the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing board for high school sports. The federation's rules, called “Pursuing Victory With Honor,” are voluntary this year, but the group will probably start banning teams from division and state championships if they do not sign on by next year. Some local parents aren't happy with the new rules. Modesto resident Joe Dooley, whose son plays on the Downey High School football team, urged the board to reconsider. He said banning celebrations and taunting is a violation of the athletes' and spectators' right of free speech. Associated Press

Alabama: Federal judge issues gag order in sheriff case

Citing heavy publicity in print and electronic media, Chief Magistrate T. Michael Putnam issued an order Sept. 12 barring anyone involved in the absentee voter fraud case of Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Woodward from talking with reporters until the case is closed. The case is set for trial in October. A federal grand jury indicted Woodward and his former lawyer, Albert Jordan, on charges of illegally using a criminal database to run background checks on Bessemer voters in the 1998 sheriff's election. Election results initially showed Democratic challenger Mike Hale winning by 37 votes. Woodward contested the election, and the Alabama Supreme Court ruled him the winner. Prosecutors filed the request for the order Aug. 28, saying there was a concerted effort to poison the jury pool with inflammatory statements. Associated Press

South Carolina: Judge to allow TV camera at deputy-slaying trial

A television camera will be allowed in the trial of a man accused of shooting and killing a sheriff's deputy last year, a judge has ruled. Circuit Judge John Kittredge rejected a request from attorneys for Cory Sentell Harris to keep television cameras out of the courtroom when his trial starts next month. Harris is accused of killing Deputy Marcus Whitfield and causing injuries to two other deputies as officers tried to break up a disturbance outside a restaurant in August 1999. Opening the procedure to the public “fosters and enhances accountability,” Kittredge wrote. Kittredge noted there will be no video coverage of jury selection. The defense attorney and prosecutor have been restricted from discussing the case, under orders from the judge. Associated Press

Louisiana: Inmates lose typewriters

Louisiana prison inmates are losing their typewriters, a move that the state's corrections chief says will improve security. But the wife of the prison inmate who helped expose a pardon-selling scandal says she believes the move is aimed at preventing prisoners from writing to the media. Since March, new inmates have been forbidden to have typewriters, and prisoners transferring to different institutions have not been allowed to cart their typewriters with them. Wardens will decide in the coming months when to phase out inmates' typewriters at each state prison, said Richard Stalder, secretary of the Department of Corrections. Jody Sinclair, the wife of Billy Sinclair, a former death row inmate who blew the whistle on Louisiana's pardon-selling scandal in the 1980s, said, “The only inmates who are going to be interested in typewriters are those most likely to contact the media, to file lawsuits.” Federal courts have held that inmates do not have a right to a personal typewriter. Courts do not require typed appeals — just legible documents. Inmate paralegals, who help other prisoners with their appeals, will still have access to electric typewriters in libraries, which will also be accessible to any inmate wanting to type court documents, Stalder said. Associated Press

Minnesota: Appeals court backs county's move to restrict adult businesses

A central Minnesota county did not infringe on free speech when it passed an ordinance to force an adult club to move from its current location, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Sept. 12. The Benton County Board drafted an ordinance in 1994 designed to prohibit King's on the Lake from continuing to operate at its existing location. Four years later, the county refused to grant the club's new owner a variance to continue operating at the site. The club was located in a building that housed restaurants before the property owner turned the building into an adult club. The new ordinance allowed the county to prohibit adult clubs in certain locations, such as near schools or churches. Kismet Investors, the business that bought the property in 1997 and continued to run the adult club, filed a lawsuit asking the district court to compel the county to grant the variance and declare the new ordinance unconstitutional. The district court ruled in favor of the county, saying the board was justified in denying the variance and creating the new ordinance. The Appeals Court agreed, saying the new ordinance “leaves reasonable alternative avenues of communication for adult uses.” Associated Press

Kentucky: Agency violated records act in denying newspaper request, opinion says

A newspaper was wrongfully denied access to a public record for a story about a Department of Energy official who lined up a job for himself with a company seeking a government contract, an attorney general's opinion says. The official, Jimmie Hodges, was site manager at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which enriches uranium for nuclear fuel. The document was the department's response to Hodges' request for “post-employment advice.” By the time Hodges resigned Oct. 1, 1999, he was listed as a “key employee” of ELR Consultants in the company's proposal for a $200,000 contract to be paid by the department, according to the report by The Courier-Journal of Louisville. The newspaper asked to inspect “legal opinions saying it was OK for … Hodges to go to work for ELR.” The request went to the Purchase Area Development District, which handled administrative services for the organization awarding the contract — the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization. Rejecting the newspaper's request, an attorney for the area development district characterized the letter to Hodges as private correspondence or a preliminary memo, both exempt from disclosure under the Kentucky Open Records Act. The opinion by Assistant Attorney General Amye L. Bensenhaver said the letter was neither private nor preliminary. Associated Press

California: Court lifts gag order on Web site

An Alpine Valley Superior Court judge vacated a gag order on Sept. 13 that had required court documents to be removed from the Web site of a couple who spent the last seven years deriding a local law enforcement officer. It all stems from a curious case involving a man, a woman and a yellow Corvette. In 1993, Judy Komaroni said she thought a California Highway Patrol officer had made a lewd comment about her at a rest stop. She got in her car, followed him and videotaped him as he ticketed another motorist down the road. The CHP officer immediately began to follow Komaroni, who initially refused to stop and drove away at speeds up to 140 mph along U.S. Highway 395 until she was finally stopped and arrested by several CHP officers. She was convicted of speeding and evading arrest and served four months in jail, with five years probation. While in jail, Komaroni's husband posted documents about her case on a Web site and criticized the CHP and the way the case was handled by the criminal justice system. The Alpine Valley Superior Court vacated the gag order prohibiting the posting of the documents after an appellate court agreed to review the constitutionality of the order unless it was lifted. The American Civil Liberties Union calls the new ruling a victory for free speech on the Internet. Associated Press

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