Roundup: Tennessee court unseals documents in child-abuse case

Friday, November 3, 2000

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville lost a battle Oct. 27 to keep
sealed its responses to the victims in a child abuse lawsuit involving one of
its former priests. Two boys and their mothers sued the diocese and the
Metropolitan Nashville government in January, alleging that church officials
knew former priest Edward McKeown was a pedophile, yet never reported him to
authorities. McKeown, who pleaded guilty to molesting one of the two victims,
was sentenced in June 1999 to 25 years in prison. According to an Oct. 28
report in The Tennessean, diocese
attorney Thomas Mink argued that keeping the court filings sealed was necessary
to ensure that the jury pool wasn’t prejudiced by pre-trial publicity and to
protect the privacy of people who aren’t parties in the suit, but are mentioned
in the documents. A claim that the First Amendment protected the diocese from
disclosure of such “ecclesiastical matters” as the priest’s discipline in this
case was briefly discussed in oral arguments, said Diocese communications
coordinator Rick Musacchio, in a Nov. 2 interview with The Freedom Forum
Online. Circuit Court Judge Walter Kurtz, however, disagreed with the argument,
saying that the First Amendment limited the courts ability only in internal
church affairs and could not be extended to keep secret proceedings that are
held in court. Kurtz also denied the diocese’s primary argument, saying in the
Oct. 28 report that he had read the sealed complaint and found nothing
sufficiently embarrassing to any individual to warrant a protective order. The
trial is expected to begin next summer. The
/ Freedom Forum Online staff

Rhode Island: Report finds problems with courts, open

State courts are improperly keeping some adult felony convictions from
the public record, according to a Brown University study released Oct. 30. The
study, by undergraduate researchers at the Taubman Center for Public Policy,
found 22 of 145 convictions originally charged as felonies were expunged before
state law allows. Four cases were disposed as crimes of violence, in violation
of state law. Researchers could not determine the final disposition of 39
cases, making it impossible to determine if they were expunged legally. The
study also found 16 expunged cases in which offenders had previous arrests or
convictions. The state’s law, meant to give a chance to deserving people to
rebuild their lives by wiping out the record of a criminal conviction, requires
a 10-year wait after the end of a felony sentence, or a five-year wait after a
misdemeanor, before records can be expunged. Only first-time offenders, and
those not re-arrested during the past 10 years, are eligible. The 145
convictions studied were expunged between 1993 and 1998. After concluding the
study, the researchers recommend that the criteria be printed on forms that
seek to have court records expunged. They also propose that crime victims be
notified of such hearings and that courts not be allowed to expunge records on
crimes of violence. The students’ report, “Public Courts, Private Records” also
looked at sealed civil suits and access to municipal legal claims. After more
than a year spent filing requests, searching court dockets and looking through
sealed records, the study found problems with record-keeping of sealed records
among the 31,000 civil suits reviewed from 1993 to 1999. The study group also
met resistance when seeking copies of claims against cities and towns. Copies
of the report were sent to judges in the District, Superior and Supreme Courts,
as well as to members of the General Assembly. Associated Press

Montana: Journalism groups aid student journalist in legal fight
over videotapes

Three journalism organizations have come to the aid of a University of
Montana student fighting a court
order to give police her videotapes of officers and protesters clashing in
the streets of Missoula last summer. The Society of Professional Journalists,
the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline and the Montana Newspaper
Association have all decided to help Linda Tracy pay her legal fees. Jerry
Brown, dean of the UM journalism school, said Oct. 31 he has given Tracy some
money and believes other faculty members and students also may chip in to help
fight a subpoena issued at the request of the Missoula city attorney’s office.
Three videotapes of raw footage shot by Tracy and others on the nights of July
29 and July 30 during a Hell’s Angels gathering in Missoula are targeted in the
court order. After the rally, confrontations with police occurred, resulting in
more than 60 arrests. The city, as part of an investigation to charge others
with crimes, obtained a court order for tapes that Tracy used to produce a
20-minute documentary showing the sometimes-violent events. Tracy refused to
turn over the tapes, citing a state law that protects journalists from being
forced to surrender to authorities names of sources or other information used
in the newsgathering process. The city has argued the law does not apply to
Tracy because she was not a true journalist while working on the documentary
for credit toward her journalism degree. Associated Press

Colorado: Ramsey ransom-note case against Globe editor to move

The case of a supermarket tabloid editor accused of trying to buy the
JonBenet Ramsey ransom note is headed to trial after the Colorado Supreme Court
decided not to consider the legality of the charge against him. The case
against Craig Lewis, an editor at the Globe, was on hold after the high court agreed
earlier this summer to hear arguments that the law under which Lewis was
indicted is unconstitutional. Lewis was accused of offering a handwriting
analyst $30,000 for a copy of the ransom note discovered a few hours before
JonBenet’s body was found, and was indicted in December by a Jefferson County
grand jury on charges of extortion and commercial bribery. Denver lawyer
Jeffrey Pagliuca, who represents Lewis, says his client was exercising his
First Amendment rights as a journalist and did nothing wrong. But on Nov. 1,
Pagliuca said he received notice that the Supreme Court won’t decide the
constitutional question before the case goes to trial. The trial originally was
scheduled to start next week. Pagliuca said a new date must be set because of
the Supreme Court’s reversal. The extortion charge, which Pagliuca says are
based on “inaccurate and incomplete information,” involves allegations that
Lewis and others planned to force former Boulder police Detective Steve Thomas
into an interview about JonBenet by threatening to publish photographs of
Thomas’ mother with a story saying she committed suicide. Associated Press

Louisiana: Residents stage rally for school prayer

Almost 60 residents of Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes convened on
Halloween to rally in favor of prayer in public schools. The rally, organized
by a group known as One Nation Under God, protested a recent move by the
American Civil Liberties Union to block student-led prayers at public functions
in Beauregard Parish schools. The ACLU said a parent also
objected to the school district’s
participation in a program known as Partners in Prayer for Schools, in
which churches and other groups adopt classrooms and pray for the students. The
district sent home letters to parents asking for permission for their children
to participate. Jayne Jarrell, One Nation Under God’s coordinator, said the
group would fight the ACLU, which has said it will file suit if religious
activities in the school system are not stopped. Over the past four decades,
the U.S. Supreme Court has said that public school prayer violates the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which provides for church-state
separation. The court has rejected arguments that would have allowed voluntary
prayer in classrooms and school-sponsored athletic events, saying, in essence,
that students are not truly in a voluntary position. Associated Press

Colorado: Bookstore to appeal ruling on customer’s

Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, said
yesterday she would appeal District Judge J. Stephens Phillips’ decision
ordering the store to give police information about a customer’s book purchases
to the Colorado Supreme Court. Both Meskis and Denver authorities agreed
yesterday to ask the state appeals court to let the case go straight to the
state’s highest court. In an Oct. 20
ruling, Phillips granted Denver’s North Metro Task Force limited power to
execute a search warrant at the bookstore to get information in a drug case.
Authorities say the case should go straight to the high court to expedite the
drug investigation. Police found books on drug-making during a raid in March
that turned up a metamphetamine lab in an Adams County home. Officers found an
envelope from the Tattered Cover with an invoice number printed on it, but no
name, in an outside garbage can. Police are trying to establish which of six
people who either live or frequently visit the house operated the lab, saying
they have enough evidence to charge the suspect, but the case would be stronger
if they could link the suspect to the books. The Adams County district attorney
refused to issue the task force warrants for the books, saying investigators
should try other ways of linking the book to the suspect. But the Denver
district attorney’s office issued the warrant. Arguing that the warrant
violated First Amendment rights, Meskis and her lawyer, Dan Recht, won a
temporary restraining order pending a hearing on the warrant. Recht argued
police had not shown a compelling need for the records and had not exhausted
other ways to get the information. But Phillips said police could conduct a
limited search. The Tattered Cover, one of the country’s largest independent
bookstores, is getting help from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free
Expression with legal costs. Associated Press

Kentucky: Lawsuit challenges county’s adult-entertainment

McCracken County’s new ordinance regulating adult-entertainment
businesses is being challenged in court. Nightclubs Inc., which owns Regina’s
II, claims in a lawsuit filed in McCracken Circuit Court that the ordinance
violates the company’s constitutional rights. Nightclubs Inc. is asking that
the county be blocked from enforcing the ordinance. In August, Regina’s II and
Playhouse Gentlemen’s Salon were charged with violating the adult-entertainment
ordinance. Specifically, the businesses were accused of violating the
requirements that such clubs to close by 1 a.m., exhibit no nudity and allow no
contact between dancers and customers. The owners of the two businesses —
Edward Green Jameson and Joann Warner — filed papers in McCracken
District Court on Oct. 31 asking that the ordinance be declared
unconstitutional and that the criminal complaints from August be dismissed.
Nightclubs Inc. argues in its civil suit that its non-obscene forms of
expression are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and by
the Kentucky Constitution. Associated Press

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