Monday, June 25, 2007

FOI arrogance

As the month was beginning to age and things were a little slim, we at CSJ were wondering who was going to pop up as the likely candidate for arrogant FOI butt-head of the month.

Lo and behold, one Jim Davis, Misssisippi attorney at law, has saved the day.

Mr. Davis is a defense attorney in a case involving allegations of the beating death of an inmate at the Harrison County jail.

This issue in federal court had several points: the unnecessary sealing of documents, the confiscation of original prisoner-abuse complaints by federal authorities without leaving a copy behind (complaints that under state law are open record), and videotape of the alleged beating. The Biloxi Sun Herald had requested that the records be opened.

So what brings Davis this singular honor. To wit, this from the Sun Herald's article:

Jim Davis, attorney for Ryan Teel, told the judge he couldn't believe the Sun Herald had the "audacity" to ask for the records. He called it a waste of his time to be arguing motions on the newspaper's requests when he needs to be working on his client's defense. Davis asked Roper to forbid the newspaper from filing any further motions.

Mr. Davis, we so hate to bother you on these trivial things, so let's make a deal -- you and all the other lawyers stop filing things under seal and ask the feds nicely to share the complaints and the paper will not have to file motions seeking what really should be open.

Magistrate Judge John M. Roper pointedly told Davis et al. that anyone has a right to file a motion if they feel wronged (a judicially polite way of saying "stuff it."). And Roper decreed that nothing else will be filed under seal unless he OKs it.

But Roper's no untarnished hero, either, for this little remark as he refused to release the records:

"The right to a fair trial trumps all the First Amendment rights you may have," Roper told the newspaper's attorney.

Time to go back and read the law books, judge. The fab nine in D.C. have made very clear over the years that free press and fair trial is a bit of a balancing act, although the balance tilts to and fro from time to time. (It's what helps keep newspaper lawyers in business.)



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