Public Forum Law Week in Review: 7/31/08

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Whistleblowers

Court: Ex-UC Livermore Lab Workers Lose
The Associated Press reports that the California Supreme Court has unanimously decided that two former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists are barred from suing over allegations they were fired for complaining about safety problems. The court cited the state's whistleblower law, which bars such complaints against the University of California as long as the school system seriously considers the grievance and makes a timely decision.

Open Government

Officials Resisting More Police Disclosure
The San Jose Mercury News reports that a San Jose open-government proposal to require broader release of police reports and other official records is facing stiff opposition from city administrators, who say the far-reaching recommendations would be costly and jeopardize crime fighting.

Columnist: Will Hard-Pressed Press Sue?
Contra Costa Times columnist Thomas Peele salutes the willingness of a Redding newspaper to pay for a lawsuit forcing the city to release public records.  That success also means the city will have to pay at least most of the paper’s attorney’s fees, but there’s always a risk that such litigation will not succeed and the paper will have to eat the fees.  With the newspaper industry in such dire financial straits, Peele wonders, will publishers continue to risk legal costs to keep public information public?

Irvine Will Put Citizens’ Privacy to a Vote
The Orange County Register reports that voters in November will weigh in on tighter restrictions on the city’s release of residents' personal information sent to City Hall, allowing officials to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to disclose information given to the city for a "limited specific purpose" and which the city has promised to keep confidential.

TV Station Audits Police Records Practices
Sacramento TV station KCRA Channel 3 reports that of a dozen area law enforcement agencies it audited recently to determine their compliance with the California Public Records Act, nine passed its tests and three failed.

Official: I Was Fired for Requesting Records
The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports that a member of the Cerritos Fine Arts and Historical Commission, relieved of his post by the City Council, says he plans to sue for infringing on his right to file a public records request.

Public Information

Public Records Disclosed Reveal . . .   
 . . . that, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News, even as city residents and employees are encouraged to curb their driving habits, many of the city's top elected officials are still driving SUVs or large sedans that get less than 25 miles per gallon and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars a year to keep on the road.

Free Speech

Recall Group Appeals Supermarket’s Ban
The Associated Press reports that backers of a movement to recall Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez and two council members have appealed a Solano County Superior Court ruling that restricts them from gathering signatures on recall petitions at the Raley's supermarket in the Heritage Mall.

Gospel Speaker Banned from Public Square
The Modesto Bee reports that after peaceably if loudly preaching almost every Saturday night for three years in a public plaza in downtown Modesto, a man was told by the city that he and his friends can no longer do so on Saturday nights, when the plaza is rented for $100 to a multiplex cinema theater located there; the ban has prompted a lawsuit.

ACLU Protests County’s Print Banishment
NewsBlaze.com reports that the ACLU of Sacramento called a proposed policy on the consent agenda for today’s meeting of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors a "direct assault on the First Amendment of the United States and California Constitution" that would make County government buildings "No Free Speech Zones." The policy would, among other things, ban from County facilities any flyer, brochure or other printed materials not produced by the County.

Minutemen’s Sign Re-posted Near Border
The Los Angeles Times reports that an anti-illegal-immigration group's Adopt-a-Highway sign has been re-posted on Interstate 5 near the Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente after a federal judge ruled that it did not pose a danger to the public.

Animal Shelter Volunteer Files Lawsuit
The Union in Grass Valley reports that a volunteer at the Nevada County Animal Shelter has sued Sheriff Keith Royal and two of his officers in federal court for violation of her free speech rights, alleging she was terminated recently two days after she questioned one of the officers about "the propriety and legality of the planned euthanization of one of the kennel dogs.”  The complaint also alleges that volunteers were told “not to speak to the media or answer any questions from the media regarding shelter operations." 

Student Speech Defenders Fight for Fees
The Marin Independent Journal reports that the free speech case brought by a student journalist and Novato High School took six years and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the student won. But even that didn't end the dispute; the fight over legal fees, sought in the amount of $1.2 million, has now reached the California Court of Appeal.

Columnist: Climb Down and Get a Cause
“People are losing their homes and jobs in droves. The economy is falling apart. Thousands upon thousands of people are dying in the war in Iraq, writes MediaNew
s columnist Tammerlin Drummond. “But, heck, who cares about that when there are trees to save in Berkeley.”

Commission Nudged to Police ‘Robocalls’
Campaigns and Elections.com reports that the California Public Utilities Commission is coming under fire from those who say it is not enforcing existing regulations on “robocalls”—automated political phone messages. It's the same story in a number of states that currently have laws on the books that restrict the practice: The laws are rarely enforced and actual penalties for violators are nearly non-existent.

Your Tax $ at Work, on W_ _d Suppression
Reasononline reports that earlier this year, when Mt. Shasta proprietor Vaune Dillman turned in his application to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for approval of the label for a new beer he planned to start bottling, he included the design of the bottle caps. Shortly thereafter, the TTB advised him by fax that the slogan “Try legal Weed” was an impermissible “drug reference,” adding, “We do not believe that responsible industry members should want or would want to portray their products in any socially unacceptable manner.”

Kids Rebuked for Patriotic Song in Capitol
Capitol Resource Institute reports that students attending a youth leadership conference were reprimanded by capitol security on July 13 for singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” in the state capitol rotunda. Officers of the Highway Patrol and the capitol sergeants-at-arms told the students that singing in the building was forbidden without a permit from the Joint Rules Committee.

College to Teacher: If Asked, Don’t Tell
LifeSiteNews.com reports that an adjunct professor fired from San Jose City College for answering a student's in-class question about heredity and homosexual behavior has filed a federal lawsuit http://www.telladf.org/UserDocs/SheldonComplaint.pdf against the school.  June Sheldon’s answer in part mentioned that a particular scientist had found a correlation between maternal stress, maternal androgens, and male homosexual orientation at birth, but that his views were only one set of theories in the nature versus nurture debate. When another student complained, the school pursued the matter and ultimately fired Sheldon.

Free Press

Reporter Not Ordered to Name Source
The Los Angeles Times reports that a federal judge in Santa Ana has declined to order a reporter, who invoked his 5th Amendment protection against testifying, to reveal his source for information in a 2006 story on a grand jury probe into a conspiracy to send sensitive information to China. Earlier, as reported  in Steven Aftergood’s Secrecy News blog, the reporter explained to the court the importance of confidential government sources and their role in his work “related to the growing threat from the People’s Republic of China.”

Justice Demands Magazine’s Retraction
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that a justice of the California Court of Appeal has demanded that a national magazine retract an article asserting that he “turned to” the then-chief executive of Countrywide Financial Corp. for refinancing of his home and suggesting a relationship between the refinancing and a case before the court.

Columnist: Bank Crises Not Press’s Fault
Orange County Register columnist Jonathan Lansner writes that John Reich, the nation's top savings and loan regulator, missed the mark in a speech last week to a bankers’ convention in which he decried the media's purported role in fomenting financial turmoil that allegedly sank an S&L on his watch—IndyMac Bank of Pasadena—and has since haunted other bankers. Reich, he says, “seems troubled that some reporters want to ask experts what banks and S&Ls may be at risk, and then they have the audacity to then inform their audiences of those potential troubled institutions.”

Ex-Speaker’s Chronicle Column Faulted
SF Weekly reports that newsroom staff at the San Francisco Chronicle  are “sickened” by the newspaper’s decision to offer a regular Sunday column to longtime Assembly Speaker, ex-mayor and veteran lobbyist Willie Brown. For them, it says, “reading it became a game of Where's Waldo, in which players sought to find the greatest number of violations of the paper's ethical code.”

Videographer Claims Censoring Attempt
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario reports that a man who filmed a June 10 lecture by a Turkish diplomat at Claremont Graduate University now has a website criticizing the university, alleging it is trying to censor his film on the Internet.

No Charges Yet in Malibu ‘Paps’ Faceoff
The Los Angeles Times reports that a month after two June beach skirmishes between paparazzi and Malibu locals, despite video clips of the events seen worldwide on the Internet, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has not charged anyone in the incidents, in part because many of the harassed ‘paps’ are unknown and unwilling to complain, says a department spokesman.

Another Student Paper Advisor Uprooted
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Fallbrook High School will not have a student newspaper in the coming school year, the apparent fallout of a move by administrators to remove the paper's adviser after he protested the censorship of an article and a student editorial.

Open Meetings

Quorum AWOL at Police Auditor Meeting
KMPH-TV, Fresno reports that Mayor Alan Autry's attempt to bring an independent police auditor (IPA) to Fresno was stymied when a meeting of the City Council set this week to decide on
whether to place the IPA position on the November ballot for voters failed to get a quorum when only three of the seven members showed up.

Paparazzi Ordinance Drafting Criticized
The Malibu Times reports that a freelance journalist and Malibu resident has accused the municipal leaders of having violated the Ralph M. Brown Act when by allowing a group of lawyers to work on drafting a paparazzi ordinance proposal behind closed doors; he told the Times he may sue.

D.A. Backs out of Brown Act Training Date
The Watsonville Register Pajaronian reports that an assistant district attorney’s concerns over a possible conflict of interest led him to withdraw from a Brown Act briefing session for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s board of trustees, who are already defending two lawsuits under the open meeting law.  The attorney representing the plaintiff in those cases called the conflict risk “illusory.”

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