Public Forum Law Week in Review: 9/10/08

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Free Speech

Court: CalAware’s Suit a Losing SLAPP
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that a suit by Californians Aware against the Orange Unified School District, claiming that it violated the civil rights of district trustee Steve Rocco by censuring him and editing his comments out of a board meeting tape it prepared for cable television, was properly stricken under the anti-SLAPP law. Rocco was a co-plaintiff with CalAware, whose board of directors is now reviewing its options.

DMV Reconsiders, OKs 'HIV POZ' Plate
The San Jose Mercury News reports that in June, a local HIV-positive motorist applied for an "HIV POZ" personalized plate for his 2007 Prius. Saturday, he received a letter from the department rejecting his request, but after a query by the Mercury News, the DMV has reversed the denial.  Ten years ago the department lost a lawsuit brought by a motorcyclist whose application for an “HIV POS” plate was rejected.

Teacher Can Sue to Keep Faith Banners
The Los Angeles Times reports that a veteran high school math teacher has won a round in federal court in his fight to put "God Bless America" and "One Nation Under God" banners back in his San Diego classroom, where they had hung for two decades before the principal ordered him to take them down last year, saying they were an impermissible attempt to make a Judeo-Christian statement to his students.

Court: Animal Cruelty Ads Can Be Banned
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the California Court of Appeal has rejected a constitutional challenge to a West Hollywood ordinance banning “mobile billboard advertising” by a nonprofit group seeking to broadcast graphic images of animal abuse on large video screens mounted on a truck.

Governor Gets Bill Protecting Cybercritics
The California Newspaper Publishers Association reports that a bill it sponsored to protect the anonymity of those posting messages on the Internet from arbitrary abuse has been sent to the Governor. AB 2433 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank). CNPA says, would make it easier for an Internet service provider or anonymous speaker to find a lawyer to oppose an abusive subpoena issued from an out-of-state court by requiring the court to award attorney’s fees under the same circumstances as apply to SLAPP suits: where the subpoenaing party seeking to learn the speaker’s identity fails to satisfy the court that its proposed suit against the speaker is likely to be a winner.

District Ponders Restraints on Cyberbullies
The Californian in Temecula reports that school district administrators soon will draft regulations governing how to enforce a recently approved policy prohibiting cyberbullying.?? In doing so, it says, they will have to navigate between a desire to discourage online cruelty and protection for students' free-speech rights.

New Software Tuned to Screen Cyberbozos
The StupidFilter Project announces the beta version of its new software designed to help Internet comment moderators eliminate (if they choose) postings marked by telltale markers of likely dimwititude, e.g. “comments with too much or too little capitalization, too many text-message abbreviations, excessive use of ‘LOL,’ exclamation points, and so on.” But not, fortunately, speling errars.

Court: Festival Can Ban Biker Gang Colors
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has decided that the organizer of the Gilroy Garlic Festival did not violate the civil rights of four motorcycle club members when it prevented the men from wearing vests displaying their club affiliation.

No Prosecution for Abortion Protesters
The Orange County Register reports that abortion protesters arrested in February on charges of trespassing at Cypress College won't face jail time or a criminal trial; prosecutors have dropped the charges, concluding that the protesters’ refusal to confine their handbilling to designated “free speech zones” may have violated campus policy but was not a criminal offense.

Escribitionists Can be Dooced at Will
The San Diego Reader reminds those concerned that a private sector boss, not bound by the First Amendment to respect your speech rights, can not only fire (“dooce”) you for blogging (about anything) but can refuse to hire (“pre-dooce”) bloggers (“escribitionists”) in the first place.

Open Government

Federal Secrecy Report Card Released
OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of over 70 open government advocates including Californians Aware, announces that Government secrecy increased across a wide spectrum of indicators in 2007. The findings of the 2008 Secrecy Report Card, published annually to identify trends in public access to government information, include:

  • almost 22 million Freedom of Information Act requests were received, an increase of nearly 2 percent over last year;
  • the 25 departments and agencies that handle the bulk of FOIA requests failed to make a dent in their backlogs, although they received the fewest requests since reporting began in 1998; and
  • the number of original classification decisions increased slightly after dropping two consecutive years, and the number of derivative classifications increased by almost 13 percent.

Activist Fights Copyrighting of the Law
The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports that California claims copyright to its laws, published on line, and warns people not to share them, and that's not sitting right with Internet gadfly and open-access hero Carl Malamud. He has spent the last couple months scanning tens of thousands of pages containing city, county and state laws—think building codes, banking laws, etc. Malamud wants the state to sue him for publishing his copies of the codes on his website.

Report: Public Input No Quality Guarantee
Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy notes that a new report from the National Research Council probes deeply into the positive and occasionally negative effects of public participation on the environmental policymaking process. “It is practically an article of faith in democratic societies that openness and public participation are presumptively good,” says Aftergood, “but that doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Free Press

Letter Deluge Demands Charges Be Dropped
Timothy Karr, writing in the Huffington Post, reports that journalists and local residents assembled outside St. Paul City Hall Friday to deliver more than 60,000 letters to Mayor Chris Coleman and prosecuting attorneys demanding that they immediately drop charges against all journalists arrested last week as they covered the Republican National Convention. Dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers were booked by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office in what Karr says appears to have been an orchestrated roundup of both traditional and new media witnesses covering protests during the convention. The St. Paul PD now says it couldn't tell press from protesters.

Radical Media Computers Seized in Raid
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the FBI, UC Berkeley police, and Alameda County Sheriff's deputies raided and seized every computer hard drive and storage disk, including those of Slingshot, a quarterly newspaper, and Berkeley Liberation Radio, housed in the Long Haul Infoshop, a storefront work space used by a number of leftist and anarchist groups. EFF notes that the raiders, seeking the source of threatening e-mails traced to Long Haul, may have violated federal law in seizing the media property without special cause.

Open Meetings

DA: Unfair to Try to Punish Defiant Trustees
The Orange County Register reports that District Attorney prosecutors say that while a school board violated the Brown Act at least four times earlier this year, with some trustees showing "disturbing disdain, if not outright contempt" for constituents when meeting behind closed doors, it would be unfair to take legal action because doing so would hurt the cash-strapped district financially and because the board was reconstituted in June by a recall election that ousted two longtime trustees.

Open Courts

City Seeks Closed Hearing in Firing Lawsuit
The Stockton Record reports that the City of Lathrop, sued for wrongful termination by its former chief building official, who was fired in February, has asked the San Joaquin Superior Court to close the first hearing in the case to protect the privacy of city witnesses.

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