Supreme Court turns down Ayash appeal

The Supreme Court turned down an appeal today from The Boston Globe and a former reporter in a $2 million defamation judgment stemming from the paper’s refusal to reveal a confidential source, AP reports. Justices had been told that the case was important for protecting news sources, a subject of special interest with the summer jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller in a CIA leak case and court fights over civil contempt findings against other journalists.

The MNPA participated in an amicus brief filed in support of the appeal.

The Globe had been sued by a doctor who argued news articles wrongly blamed her for the death of a patient. The patient, Betsy Lehman, was the newspaper’s health columnist, who died in 1994 from an overdose of experimental cancer drugs.

Daily Hampshire Gazette sold to Newspapers of New England

Northampton’s Daily Hampshire Gazette, the oldest continually published newspaper in Massachusetts, is being sold to the Concord, N.H.-based Newspapers of New England, AP reports. The sale was announced Tuesday by Gazette publisher Peter DeRose, whose family has owned the newspaper since 1929.

The transaction, which is expected to be completed by January, also includes the sale of the weekly Amherst Bulletin, the Gazette’s smaller sister paper. The privately owned Newspapers of New England publishes the Recorder in Greenfield, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, and two other papers in New Hampshire.

Opinion: Tougher penalties needed to ensure open government

Prompted by the recent case of a school board’s closed-door meeting, William B. Ketter, editor-in-chief of Eagle-Tribune newspapers, writes in support of MNPA bills to toughen the enforcement provisions of the state’s open meeting laws. An excert:

“The right to publish stories about the performance of school officials is meaningless if you don’t also have the right to gather news about their deficiencies and accomplishments — even when a principal or superintendent objects on privacy grounds.

“Yet school boards routinely take up competency reviews away from the public eye, invoking an exemption in the state Open Meeting Law that allows closed-door discussion of an individual’s reputation or character. Challenges to this ruse usually go nowhere.”

[Read more.]

Papers win bid for bankruptcy report

An investigative report compiled by a court-appointed bankruptcy examiner is a public record and must be made available to the news media, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in Gitto v. Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Two media organizations, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp. and MediaNews Group Inc., sought release of the report. They prevailed in their request in both the bankruptcy court and the district court before the case reached the 1st Circuit.

The case arose after Gitto Global Corp., a Massachusetts plastics manufacturer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the bankruptcy court appointed an examiner to investigate allegations of accounting irregularities.

Two former executives of the company argued that the resulting examiner’s report should be impounded under 11 U.S.C. section 107(b)(2), which provides an exception to public access for documents that contain material that is scandalous and defamatory.

But the 1st Circuit rejected their argument that any material tending to harm a person’s reputation triggers the exception. In so doing, the court affirmed that there is a long-standing common law presumption of public access to judicial records.

“To qualify for protection under the § 107(b)(2) exception for defamatory material,” the court said, “an interested party must show (1) that the material at issue would alter his reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person, and (2) that the material is untrue or that it is potentially untrue and irrelevant or included for an improper end.”

DA says school board broke the law

The Middlesex district attorney’s office says that the Wayland School Committee violated the state open meetings law last year when it kept the public out of its closed-door review of the superintendent of schools, according to the MetroWest Daily News.

According to the report, the DA concluded that the School Committee violated the open meeting law when it used a pair of executive-session meetings to discuss the job review of the superintendent last year.

The committee also violated the law when it did not provide public access to individual reviews of Burton written by committee members and copies of his 2004 job evaluation, the DA found.

DA slaps Tewksbury board for illegal meeting

The Tewksbury Board of Selectmen violated the Open Meeting Law in November by agreeing privately to credit sick days to a deputy police chief, and also by failing to announce the discussion as a reason for the closed-door meeting, District Attorney Martha Coakley’s office ruled, the Lowell Sun reports. In a five-page decision, Assistant District Attorney Heather Hall said the board broke the law in the manner in which it convened the Nov. 23, 2004, executive session and in holding the session for an improper purpose, the newspaper reports.

School committee violated open meeting law

The Danvers School Committee violated the Open Meeting Law this spring when four members agreed to add their names to a memo addressed to the fifth member, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told the Danvers Herald in response to the newspaper’s inquiry. “The district attorney found reason to believe that four members met, albeit by phone or in some other non-physical way,” the newspaper said in a report published Aug. 11.

Legislative committee takes up open meetings bills

The legislature’s Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight heard testimony today on six bills filed by the MNPA to toughen the enforcement provisions of the state’s open meetings laws.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Boston) and Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford), heard testimony by MNPA Executive Director Robert J. Ambrogi and MNPA Legal Counsel Peter J. Caruso.

Several members of the committee expressed support for the bills. Rep. Cabral said his position on open meeting law reform may be even stricter — he would like to see elimination of some of the statutory exceptions. Rep. Michael E. Festa (D-Melrose), House vice chair of the committee, said that as a former school committee member in Melrose, he had seen officials skirt the law. “I think the legislation makes perfect sense,” he said. Rep. Marie J. Parente (D-Milford), said that she supports these bills because the open meeting law cannot be effective if there are no penalties for its violation.

The six bills — H. 3517, H. 3518, H. 3519, H.3619, H. 3620 and H. 3621 — would amend the open meeting laws to:

  • – Make it a misdemeanor for an official to knowingly and intentionally violate the law, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 for a first offense and not more than $2,500 for subsequent offenses.
  • – Authorize courts to impose a $500 civil fine against officials who attend meetings in violation of the law.
  • – Authorize courts to award attorneys’ fees and costs in actions to enforce the law.
  • – Authorize courts to impose a $1,000 civil fine against state bodies that violate the law, in the same way that the law now authorizes fines against local bodies.

The committee is not expected to act on the bills until September.