Sheriff’s Deputy Sues to Defend Speech Rights

Should a deputy sheriff be barred by his boss from writing letters to the editor of the local paper with his strong and unorthodox views on criminal justice? That’s the question raised in a new First Amendment lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco, reports Amy Gittelsohn for the Trinity Journal.  The plaintiff, for example, is critical of the war on drugs and thinks jury nullification has its merits.

Latest Media Access to Prisons Bill Nears Finish

While the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1974 that  journalists had no First Amendment right to schedule personal media interviews with prison inmates, for the next two decades the actual policy of the California Department of Corrections was to honor media requests for interviews with willing prisoners.  But in 1996, after reports about inhumane conditions at Pelican Bay made the Wilson Administration uncomfortable, the department used “emergency” regulations to cut off the customary access, and over the years since then six bills passed by the legislature to restore it have been vetoed by Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger.

The latest effort, AB 1270 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), has passed the Assembly and on Tuesday cleared the Senate’s policy hurdle, the Public Safety Committee, on a 4-2 vote.  It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for cost impact vetting, and if passed there it would go to its last vote on the Senate floor.

A report by a clearly partial organization (the press did not cover the hearing) nonethless conveys how the support base for media access to prisons has grown far beyond mere media urging. The main questions remaining: Will Governor Brown provide the seventh disingenuous veto message in the series?  And if he signes the bill, how many reporters do the shrinking newspapers have left to take advantage of the restored right to interview?

Journalists Get to Watch Idaho's Lethal Needlework

Our constitutional standards dictate that when the state punishes crime by killing the criminal, the act must be humane—not “cruel or unusual.”  Those states moving to lethal injection as a less brutal method of execution than, say, electrocution or gassing are thus left with only two real bases for legal challenge in this context. Do the injected chemicals themselves cause avoidable physiological torment once in the system, or does the search for an optimum blood vessel to inject involve needlessly hurtful trial and error?

The latter issue can be monitored by those the state permits to witness executions only if it is not hidden from them, but shrouding these preliminaries from observation has continued to be a practice in the State of Idaho until now, when journalists have convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that a decision it reached in a case involving a San Quentin injection in the 1990s should set the standard for an impending execution in Boise: let the whole process be watched by those who with the right to watch it at all. Rebecca Boone reports the result for the Associated Press.

Most interesting detail: “They used a blood pressure cuff to enlarge the veins in his elbows, starting with the right, then the left. They cleaned his arms repeatedly with alcohol wipes to prevent infection — in case the execution was called off at the last minute.”

Berkeley Police Decry Chief's Heavy-handed Order

It’s not often that journalists collectively speak out in defense of police officers’ rights, and the reverse is just as true. So it’s all the more astonishing to see what’s happened in Berkeley: cops criticizing a bad move by their chief against a reporter. Kristin Bender reports in the Oakland Tribune. Continue reading

118 FOIA Cases Here; One Concerns Assassinations

A website based at Syracuse University shows 118 active Freedom of Information Act cases filed in the federal courts in California since October 1, 2009. The display shows seven cases filed  in Sacramento, eight in San Jose, nine in San Diego, 10 in Fresno, 21 in Los Angeles, 22 in Oakland, and 41 in San Francisco. Continue reading

Working Where Free Press Rights Don't Count: Two Stories

Two San Francisco Bay Area journalists who paid heavy prices for venturing into extraordinary conflict—one sent to federal prison for more than seven months, the other shotgun-slain on the street—have their full stories told for the first time in newly released chronicles that show the limits of the First Amendment in keeping the press free from government coercion or criminal attack. Continue reading

CalAware's Suit Prompts Board to Seek Brown Act Cover

Only days after Californians Aware filed a court action challenging the lawfulness of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ two nonpublic meetings with Governor Jerry Brown last fall, the Board today directed staff to seek a Brown Act amendment from the Legislature allowing local bodies to hold private meetings with governors—and with U.S. Presidents as well. Ari Bloomekatz reports the lawsuit filing and the lobbying approval in the Los Angeles Times. Continue reading