AAN News

Santa Barbara Independent Fights Contempt Chargenew

Attorneys for the alt-weekly have filed legal papers with the California Court of Appeal arguing that a judge erred in finding the Indy in contempt of court for refusing to turn over all the crime scene photographs taken by Paul Wellman. The paper's attorneys argue the judge failed to provide any evidence there was "a reasonable possibility" that Wellman's unpublished photos "will materially assist" the defense attorney who asked for them. The legal standard required by California Constitution to penetrate California's shield law requires a reasonable possibility, the Indy reports.
Santa Barbara Independent  |  12-26-2007  9:15 am  |  Legal News

Louisville Eccentric Observer Settles Inquiry Over Light-Hearted Adnew

"In our issue before the Kentucky Derby, we ran an ad for a bar that was holding a 'no celebrities allowed' party," LEO editor Cary Stemle tells AAN News. "At that time of year here, there's lots of fancy parties that involve celebs and it gets tons of attention," he explains. The ad read, in part: "If you have an agent, publicist, third world adopted baby, or front row seats to the Church of Scientology, you have no chance of getting in." Alfonso Lanceta, the chairperson of the enforcement board of the Metro Human Relations Commission, filed a formal complaint against the paper, contending that the ad's text attempted to prevent not Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise from attending its party, but anyone who's adopted a person from the Third World, as well as all Scientologists. After spending more than $5,000 in attorney's fees, LEO settled with the Commission, and had to print an ad this week reaffirming its commitment to uphold non-discrimination standards. "This advertisement is an appeal to the common man in every sense of the term," a University of Louisville dean tells LEO. "I have to believe that the Metro Human Relations Commission didn't get the joke."
Louisville Eccentric Observer  |  12-20-2007  11:26 am  |  Legal News

Phoenix New Times Drops Challenge of Law on Publishing Addressesnew

The paper has dropped its lawsuit asking a federal judge to declare the law that makes it a crime to publish the addresses of certain people on the internet unconstitutional, the Arizona Business Gazette reports. The statute was the one that began the recent grand-jury investigation of New Times and the arrests and controversy that followed. Since the threat of prosecution against the paper had been dropped, "it made no sense to tilt at windmills," Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey tells the Gazette. However, since the case was dismissed "without prejudice," the paper could reinstate its case if there is any subsequent investigation. Lacey says he would hope all the publicity surrounding the case would convince the county attorney not to try to enforce that law against New Times or any other publication.
The Arizona Business Gazette  |  12-14-2007  8:29 am  |  Legal News

States Failing FOI Responsiveness

State freedom of information laws are, for the most part, failing to offer any meaningful recourse when citizens are denied access, according to a report by the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC). Thirty-eight states received a grade of "F" in the survey, which looked at five factors: response time, appeals, expedited review, attorney's fees and costs, and sanctions. I can't say I was shocked by what we found," writes Charles Davis, executive director of the NFOIC. "but I am saddened that despite more attention being paid to FOI issues than ever before, most citizens remain in the dark." (FULL STORY)
National Freedom of Information Coalition  |  12-07-2007  11:08 am  |  Legal News

Senators Urge Passage Of Revised FOIA Billnew

After talks to reconcile House and Senate versions of FOIA reform bills went nowhere, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) yesterday presented a new version of their bill that would bring its financial issues in line with the House version, the AP reports. Talks between the House and Senate stalled over House rules preventing lawmakers from piling on debt to finance tax cuts or new spending programs. "We have a strong chance of Senate action on the bill this week, and I hope the House also will swiftly pass this legislation so the president can sign this important act before year's end," Leahy said in a statement.
The Associated Press via Editor & Publisher  |  12-05-2007  3:16 pm  |  Legal News

Chicago Council Moves To Void Accidental Ban On Free Papersnew

The Chicago City Council's License Committee unanimously passed a new version of the litter and door-to-door distribution law that no longer includes the language banning the distribution of free papers in open stacks, Editor & Publisher reports. The new law now heads to the full Council for a vote.
Editor & Publisher  |  12-03-2007  11:11 am  |  Legal News

Santa Barbara Independent Appeals Decision, Will Not Turn Over Photosnew

After being ordered by a Superior Court judge to turn over more than 300 photos of a March 14 crime scene, an attorney for the Independent says the paper plans to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, photographer Paul Wellman is scheduled to appear in court next week for contempt proceedings, according to the Independent. "We think the protections provided by California reporters' privilege laws do not allow the state to turn newspapers into prosecuting agencies on their behalf, and so we are fighting this ruling," publisher Randy Campbell says. In other legal news, a judge on Monday allowed the copyright case brought against the Independent by the daily Santa Barbara News-Press to go to trial. However, the Indy says the ruling was mixed: Though the claim of copyright infringement survived and will see trial in January, the judge "entirely dismissed the News-Press' three claims of unfair business competition, intentional interference with business advantage, and negligent interference with business advantage." The final claim -- that the weekly stole trade secrets from the daily -- will be litigated at a later date.
Santa Barbara Independent  |  11-21-2007  8:40 am  |  Legal News

Copyright Case Against Santa Barbara Independent Moves Forwardnew

In July 2006, a reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press wrote an article describing what occurred in the paper's newsroom the day a handful of top editors resigned. The story never made the paper; instead, the Independent got a hold of a draft and posted it on its website. The parent company of the News-Press then sued the Independent in federal court for copyright infringement. A federal judge yesterday indicated he was inclined to rule that the Independent did indeed infringe the News-Press' copyright on the article, the Santa Barbara Daily Sound reports. However, he expressed concern that the case was even brought to court, according to blogger Craig Smith, saying that while it did appear there had been a "technical" violation of copyright laws, he was at a loss to see what the damages or harm could possibly be. The judge also said that the doctrine of "fair use" would not provide a sufficient defense for the Independent. He said he will issue a final ruling after more thought on the case.
Santa Barbara Daily Sound | Craig Smith's Blog  |  10-30-2007  8:25 am  |  Legal News

Canadian City Bans News Boxes in Downtown Corenew

New Westminster, which sits about 12 miles from Vancouver in British Columbia, has approved the ban as part of a series of measures to address "livability and enforcement issues" in the city, the Georgia Straight reports. The ordinance, set to take effect Jan. 1, would affect more than 20 of the Straight's boxes. It's "very likely" that the city has violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, says Vancouver media lawyer David F. Sutherland: "There is a constitutional right, not only in the newspaper to distribute by traditional means in public space, but also on the part of readers to receive it in that way." Still, the news box ban isn't quite as draconian as an earlier restriction New Westminster had on the alt-weekly: In 1968, the city banned the Straight across the entire municipality.
The Georgia Straight  |  10-22-2007  9:13 am  |  Legal News

Chemical Co. Drops Suit Against Monterey County Weeklynew

The alt-weekly was being sued by Suterra for referencing one of its product's "inert" ingredients in print, but on Friday afternoon lawyers from the company notified the paper that the suit was being dismissed "without prejudice," the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports. Then over the weekend, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the ingredients be made public, and also ordered that the state immediately resume spraying the product, known as Checkmate LBAM-F. It is being used to eradicate the light brown apple moth.
Santa Cruz Sentinel | Monterey County Herald  |  10-22-2007  8:36 am  |  Legal News

Alt-Weekly in Legal Battle Over Synthetic Pheromone Ingredientsnew

Monterey County Weekly is being sued by the chemical company Suterra for referencing one of its product's "inert" ingredients, which the company claims are protected as trade secrets under federal law. The Weekly reported on health and environmental concerns related to two of the ingredients (first disclosed by the Santa Cruz Sentinel) in a story last week. On Tuesday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge rejected the pesticide company's request for a temporary restraining order on the paper. The Weekly has counter-sued the company, asserting its First Amendment right to disseminate information in the public interest.
Monterey County Weekly  |  10-19-2007  10:02 am  |  Legal News

House Vote on Federal Shield Law Planned for Next Week

As we reported last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee has strongly passed a federal shield law known as the Free Flow of Information Act. Congressional leaders in the House of Representatives want to build on this momentum and bring the House version of the bill to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday, Oct. 16. The bill needs 218 votes to successfully pass on Tuesday. AAN is a member of the Shield Law Coalition, and urges its members to call their Representatives before Tuesday's vote -- please ask them to vote yes on H.R. 2102 and vote no on any amendments that would weaken its protections.
AAN News  |  10-11-2007  1:20 pm  |  Legal News

Chicago Law Bans Many Free-Paper Distribution Practicesnew

The ordinance, passed last winter to bar the door-to-door distribution of menus, brochures and the like, also bans many circulation practices for free newspapers, Editor & Publisher reports. The law reads: "It shall be unlawful for any person to distribute or to cause others to distribute ... newspapers, periodicals and directories of any kind on any public way or other public place or on the premises of any private property in the city in such a manner that is reasonably foreseeable that such distribution will cause litter," including "leaving stacks of paper on the ground without any means of securing them," a distribution tactic used often by free dailies and weeklies. There doesn't appear to have been any enforcement of the law against newspapers thus far, E&P notes.
Editor & Publisher  |  10-09-2007  9:36 am  |  Legal News

Federal Shield Law Heads to Senate Committee Today

The Free Flow of Information Act 2007, introduced by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) last month, will be considered today by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Saying the bill "would bring the federal government in line with 49 states and the District of Columbia," the Washington Post editorializes for its passage: "The legislation has gone through many constructive changes since it was first introduced in 2005 and deserves to become law." In addition to its opinion, the Post also runs opposing op-eds about the shield law. U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald argues that the bill "poses unique obstacles to the protection of national security," and that the system isn't broken to begin with: "A compelling case has not been made for jettisoning the legal framework that has guided this process for the past 35 years," he writes. Yet former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson disagrees. "From the Valerie Plame imbroglio to the Wen Ho Lee case, it is now de rigueur to round up reporters, haul them before a court and threaten them with fines and jail sentences unless they reveal their sources," he writes. "The legislation would not give reporters special license beyond the type of common-sense protection we already accord to communications between lawyers and clients, between spouses and in other contexts where we believe some degree of confidentiality furthers societal goals. [It] is well balanced and long overdue, and it should be enacted." UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill this afternoon by a 15-2 vote.
The Washington Post  |  10-04-2007  10:46 am  |  Legal News