Posts from April 2009.


We have been closely following the saga of Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter and his efforts to avoid being forced to reveal the confidential source of information concerning former federal prosecutor, Richard Convertino.  The former prosecutor is attempting to sue the Justice Department under the federal Privacy Act.

Last week the judge in the case, District Court Judge Robert Cleland, allowed Ashenfelter to submit a confidential affidavit explaining the basis for Ashenfelter’s fears that he might face criminal prosecution if forced to reveal his source.

As we ... Read More 

We have covered in a number of prior posts the saga of a former federal prosecutor's efforts to compel Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter to disclose the identity of a confidential source.  This story has had a number of interesting twists and turns, and last week's development was no different -- after hearing testimony from Ashenfelter in camera federal district court judge Robert Cleland upheld Ashenfelter's invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, which means that Ashenfelter will not have to reveal his source.

As we previously ... Read More 

Posted in FCC Matters

In a question-begging 5-4 decision, a badly-fractured United States Supreme Court issued a ruling this morning in the Fox indecency case stemming from the isolated use of expletives (the “F-Word” and the “S-Word”) by Cher and Nicole Ritchie on live awards shows broadcast in prime time during 2002 and 2003.  A half dozen opinions were filed by the nine Justices on the High Court.

The FCC had determined that the broadcasts at issue were indecent, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had reversed the FCC on the grounds that the FCC’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” ... Read More 

The Criminal Court for Knox County, Tennessee recently denied motions to prohibit or limit anonymous internet commentary about a capital murder proceeding. The court’s order denying the motion to restrict media coverage is linked here.

We have previously reported on the conflict between the First Amendment rights of the media to obtain access to or to cover criminal proceedings and the right of criminal defendants to receive a fair trial.  We have also reported on the First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and on prior restraints on media coverage.  This ... Read More 

Posted in Defamation

The First Circuit recently affirmed summary judgment in favor of Fox News Network and Fox personalities Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade over a three-hour cable program during which the hosts discussed a report of an alleged “hate crime” at a public school in Lewiston, Maine, where the plaintiff was the superintendent of schools.  During the program, Doocy and Kilmeade repeatedly quoted an article about the incident that contained false quotations and false citation to the Associated Press but also contained substantially true information.

The facts underlying Levesque v ... Read More 

Posted in Internet

A former Louisiana State University student recently filed a libel complaint against the student newspaper, the Daily Reveille, its management staff, and several officials associated with the university for alleged defamatory comments about the plaintiff that were anonymously posted on the newspaper’s website.  The Student Press Law Center provides a link to the amended complaint in a story about the lawsuit and also reports that the lawsuit has been dismissed in this follow up article.

The amended complaint alleged that the editor-in-chief and managing editor of the ... Read More 

Posted in FOIA

In a recent post, we reported that President Obama issued a Freedom of Information Act memorandum directing executive departments and agencies to administer FOIA with a presumption in favor of openness and a memorandum calling for transparency in government. President Obama recently took an additional step that appears to provide evidence of the administration’s continued commitment to open government: On February 26, 2009, President Obama submitted a budget for fiscal year 2010 that includes $1 million for the new Office of Government Information Services that would serve ... Read More 

Posted in Defamation

On March 18, 2009, the First Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a case in which a panel of the First Circuit recognized that, under Massachusetts law, truth is not an absolute defense to a libel claim.  The defendant raised a constitutional attack against the state statute that served as the basis of the panel's decision, but the First Circuit determined that the constitutional argument was not properly before the court.  The outcome—in which common-law malice may defeat the truth defense—cannot easily be squared with the federal constitutional requirements for ... Read More 

On April 2, the Fourth Circuit ruled that a former Baltimore Police Department officer’s Section 1983 civil rights claim based on violations of his First Amendment rights may proceed.  The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s order dismissing the freedom of speech claim.  Specifically, the Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to pursue his claim that the defendants, including the current and former police commissioners, violated the plaintiff's First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for releasing an internal ... Read More 


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