Monday, March 17, 2008

As nation observes Sunshine Week, open government adovcates report a mixed bag

By A. Matthew Deal and Emilie Yam, SPLC staff writers

Washington, D.C. - In a new, $450 million, state-of-the-art museum of news in Washington, D.C., media professionals, government officials and open-government advocates gathered on March 14 at the 10th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference to discuss recent changes to the Freedom of Information Act and the importance of sunshine laws to journalists.

The conference was an early kick-off for Sunshine Week, an event that educates the public about open government, which began March 17 and runs through March 21. The week-long observance is sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Sunshine Week often features events like the Newseum's FOI Day to promote awareness among journalists and policymakers on issues concerning public access to information. These events serve as a way to educate journalists on recent changes and trends that affect their ability to get records from public institutions.

Sunshine Week focuses not only on the federal Freedom of Information Act but also on other topics surrounding open government, such as state open-records laws. These laws are the functional equivalents of the federal Freedom of Information Act for state public institutions, and they are usually more relevant for student journalists reporting on issues involving their high schools or universities.

Recent examples of both progress and setbacks to open government are prevalent.

In Connecticut, a commission decided Feb. 13 that the Yale University Police Department was performing a public function under state law, and that the public should have access to its records. In Virginia, the General Assembly on Feb. 26 passed a bill restricting the disclosure of information about donors to three public universities, much to the chagrin of open-government advocates. In Pennsylvania, a new law was signed Feb. 14 that updated the state's open records laws, informally regarded as one of the worst in the nation.

For better or worse, sunshine and access to information are news these days.

In December, Congress passed and President Bush signed a bill updating the federal FOI law for the first time in more than a decade. Corinna Zarek, FOI Service Center director for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said two of the biggest changes are the addition of penalties for agencies that take too long to respond to requests and the creation of an agency to mediate disputes when FOIA requests are denied. At FOI Day, however, some open-government advocates voiced concern over how well the law will be implemented.

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, the Student Press Law Center each day will feature stories devoted to open-government issues. We have conducted several open-records tests to see how easily we could access information such as police incident reports at public and private universities, reimbursement records for high school superintendents, and student government association minutes and annual budgets.

We hope student journalists can take this collection of information and use it to enhance the quality of reporting at their institutions, learning from our experiences and drawing from the most effective strategies that we have learned through this process.

To learn more on open-government initiatives, go to SPLC's Website, or

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eliot Spitzer's glass jaw...and house

by William Anderson

Once in a while, an event occurs that even people who avoid the news cannot avoid, and it seems that New York’s still-governor (at this writing on Wednesday) Eliot Spitzer has become the center of the world. Perhaps that is fitting, given that Spitzer is someone who seems to believe that the world revolves around him, and while that is not true, nonetheless he has managed to put himself in a position where the news about him is at the center of the news cycle.

A few years ago, a book publisher approached me to see if I was interested in writing a book about Spitzer, who at the time was preparing to launch a bid for the New York governorship from his post as New York’s attorney general. The publisher knew that I despised Spitzer, knowing that I referred to him as "Mr. Evil," a moniker that he and I both thought to be fitting.

However, while I would have loved to have had an opportunity to go after Spitzer, I also knew I did not have the time and resources to devote to writing something credible. There also was another factor; fear for my own safety.

Eliot Spitzer is a bully, but more important, a bully with a badge, a man who has no scruples, no conscience, and not a shred of human decency.

Here is a man who openly threatened journalists, used his position as a prosecutor to destroy other people, and had the press covering his backside. He would not have hesitated to go after me or members of my family, and a ruthless man like him who at that time did not have to stay within the bounds of the law would have done whatever it took, but he would have done it, had he perceived even the slightest threat to his own political ambitions.

For more on this op/ed piece, go to

Nothing is sacred on the campaign trial anymore

The YouTube Election
by Steve Greenhut

After speaking to a group of veterans in South Carolina last April as part of his "Straight Talk Express," Sen. John McCain was asked by an audience member when the United States would send an "airmail message to Tehran." The senator stopped for a moment, then reminded the audience of "an old Beach Boys song, 'Bomb Iran.'" Bomb, bomb, bomb … bomb, bomb Iran. He sang those words to the tune of "Barbara Ann."

No doubt, McCain, the eventual 2008 Republican presidential nominee, was just trying to be funny (albeit in a stupid way for a man who hopes to one day have his finger on the nuclear trigger) after being asked a provocative question, but long gone are the days when a misstatement or joke will fade into oblivion. The video cameras were rolling, the liberal group began running ads using the clip, and anyone with a computer can still watch the senator sing that silly song by going to and typing in "McCain" and "Bomb Iran."

This is, indeed, the first YouTube election, in which the voting public need not wait for the newspaper, TV news shows or even the traditional Web sites for information about the candidates. There's no need to read what a politician said during a campaign stop. There's no need to rush home from work to watch the network news coverage, or to catch the latest debate or sit through those annoying talking-head cable shows, where guests hector each other.

One need only go to YouTube to watch the highlights or even replay entire broadcasts. The whole campaign is at your fingertips, and the implications are astounding.

For more on this op/ed piece, go to

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hooray for Falling Housing Prices

This article originally appeared on the March 6 blog.

by Lew Rockwell

Robert Samuelson is correct about this: housing prices will have to fall dramatically to clear the market, and that is good news for buyers. But here is what he does not take into account: there are far too many homeowners because the federal government has subsidized homeownership since the New Deal. In a market economy, there would be more scope for the landlord, and more people would rent.

NB: being able to keep some of your own money--the mortgage tax deduction--is not a subsidy. But the Federal Reserve's lowering of interest rates, and the actions of such fascist agencies as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and such socialist agencies as the FHA and VA, have wasted huge amounts of wealth by directing it into a consumption good masquerading as an investment.

A recession or depression always brings clarity; the malinvestments of the boom are revealed for the busts they are. That includes a huge number of now-overpriced houses and condos. Once prices fall enough, we have a chance for more rationality in housing. But in true FDR, Depression-lengthening, style, the feds and the Fed are trying to prevent price declines. (Thanks to Joe Schembrie.)

Personal injury suit against Mason school board settled

Despite being named in two abuse and neglect lawsuits, the Mason County Board of Education recently settled a two-year old personal injury suit which allegedly occurred at the Board's central office.

On March 4, the Board agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Charles and Mitzi Spangler of Ashton. In their suit, the Spanglers allege that Mitzi sustained injuries on Dec. 14, 2004, when waiting to see Larry A. Parsons, superintendent of Mason County Schools, she was led into a darkened room by a Board employee, and fell as a result of an uneven floor.

The suit named Parsons and Board President Michael "Micky" Cottrill as co-defendants. According to court records, the suit was filed on July 24, 2006, and slated for trial next month.

The Spangler's attorney, Matthew C. Clark, with the Point Pleasant law firm of Kayser, Lane and Clark, confirmed that the parties agreed to reach an out-of-court settlement. Though the final order was still awaiting Mason Circuit Judge David W. Nibert's signature, the case is officially over, Clark said.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Suits ask Mason schools be held liable for teacher's abusive actions

The Mason County Board of Education has been named as a co-defendant in two civil suits alleging responsibility for injuries two special needs students suffered at the hands of their teacher.

That teacher, who is named a co-defendant, has a pending suit against the Board challenging an administrative law judge's decision upholding the Board's decision terminating her for the alleged acts.

For more on this article, go to the West Virginia Record.

WXYZ TV exposes modern-day highwayman

Cop Writes 2,400 Traffic Tickets, Scores OT


For more on this article, go to WXYZ-TV 7 - Detroit, Mich.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Holy Mothman, Batman! The Charleston Gazette reports controversial news from Mason County!

This article originally appeared in the March 13 edition of the Charleston Gazette, and is reprinted with permission.

Apologize, Mason sheriff says
Remarks about subpoena error went too far, he says

by Gary Harki, staff writer

Mason County Sheriff Scott Simms believes state Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis Jr. owes the entire county an apology because of comments he made about an arson investigation.

Kimberly Sue Blake, a volunteer firefighter and daughter of the county's 911 director, was charged with two counts of first-degree arson in January. She and two other firefighters allegedly started a fire at a Mason building.

But charges against Blake were dismissed after an assistant state fire marshal, Jason Baltic, didn't show up at her hearing. A subpoena for Baltic was issued, but never served.

According to the sheriff, Lewis told WSAZ-TV that the issue with the subpoena was "typical of Mason County." The sheriff believes Lewis meant that the sheriff's office was doing a political favor for the county's 911 director, Chuck Blake, by not serving the subpoena.

"That was definitely his intention," Simms said. "People in positions of power and responsibility need to be responsible when they open their mouth.

The sheriff said his main problem was that Lewis impugned the entire county.

"Anybody who has got a problem with me or wants to call me names or make implications that I'm corrupt, that's fine," Simms said.

"I'm an elected official and I asked for it. ... [But] when a man of his position makes a statement like that about a county, then he is talking about all the people of Mason County and that's wrong and he owes the people of Mason County an apology."

Lewis was out of town until Tuesday, and could not be reached for comment, according to a deputy state fire marshal.

The subpoena was not served because of an honest mistake, Simms said. He said 99 percent of the department's annual 4,500 subpoenas are served in Mason County, and its computer system doesn't record whether subpoenas outside the county have been served.

"It has to be dealt with by hand. That's where the mistake took place," the sheriff said. "After the hearing, when I became aware that the fire marshal hadn't been notified I undertook an internal investigation to understand how that happened.

"I know how it happened. And I am taking measures to fix that so it doesn't happen again."

However, Brent Kapp, one of the other firefighters charged with arson, did have a preliminary hearing and his charges were not dismissed. Simms said he didn't know for sure, but he assumed someone from the fire marshal's office was at Kapp's hearing.

He could not say why that subpoena was apparently served, but the subpoena for Kimberly Blake's hearing was not.

The third firefighter charged, Jamar Cuthberson, waived his right to a preliminary hearing, according to court documents and Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Damon Morgan Jr.

Cuthberson and Kapp are out on bail and their cases are awaiting action by a Mason County grand jury, Morgan said.

Baltic, the assistant fire marshal, said he believes that what happened was a simple mistake.

"I guess you could say in the process there was an oversight," he said. "I didn't receive a subpoena. I wasn't there."

Charges against Blake will still be presented before the grand jury, Morgan said.

"Frankly, in cases in general where a defendant is released on bond, a preliminary hearing never benefits the state unless they are a flight risk," Morgan said.

"It only benefits the defendant because they get to hear the state's case."

Simms said his department has always worked well with Lewis' office and that they will continue that good working relationship.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mayor McDaniel, please call your office

Gas guzzlers are tops with Orlando-area, regional officials

Orlando, Fla. - Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty champion environment-friendly initiatives, yet each drives a Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle that weighs more than 2.5 tons and burns a gallon of gas about every 15 miles.

They're not alone.

Gas-guzzling SUVs are the wheels of choice for two out of every three of Central Florida's highest-ranking public leaders who are provided a vehicle and a full tank at taxpayer expense, an analysis by the Orlando Sentinel found.These officials help decide their agencies' policies for vehicle purchases, and their personal preferences mirror a larger trend.

Despite pledges by a few to go green, area governments have stocked their fleets primarily with large trucks, SUVs and sedans that are among the least fuel-efficient vehicles on the road and among the worst polluters.

For more on this article, go to the Orlando Sentinel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Former Mason doc's fate now in hands of Ohio grand jury

Levine drug case bound over to Pike grand jury

WAVERLY, Ohio -- A former Mason County physician now awaits a decision by a grand jury if pending drug charges against him have merit.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, Dr. Jack M. Levine was scheduled to go on trial for sexual imposition in Pike County Court. Levine was charged with the crime, a misdemeanor, in December after a female patient he was treating for addiction to prescription pain medication alleged he touched her inappropriately.

However, the Pike County Prosecutor's Office asked that the charge be dismissed. On Feb. 19, it filed charges of information on alleged drug-related activity conducted by Levine discovered in the course of its investigation of the sexual imposition allegation.

For more on this article, go to The West Virginia Record.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mason County politicos, take heart! Upscale Californy burb has problems with its puppy prisons

County's inaction keeps pets in antiquated shelter

by Teri Sforza, Orange County Register

Anaheim, Calif. - For at least a quarter century, Orange County has meant to build a new shelter for thousands of lost and abandoned animals that every year end up in its care.

It has been unable to do so.

"One of the most frustrating problems which has avoided solution during my years as supervisor, has been locating an acceptable site for the South County animal shelter," wrote Supervisor Thomas F. Riley in a letter dated Jan. 18, 1983.

Riley died in 1998, with the issue still unresolved. And despite decades of plans and promises, Orange County still has essentially the same shelter, in the same spot, as it has since World War II.

"I honestly don't know what's taken so long," said Supervisor Bill Campbell, who this week asked county staffers to move forward on this in earnest.

"I've been to the shelter. I see the need."

Others have seen the need as well. The shelter has been the subject of two grand jury investigations over the last decade, finding, among other things, mismanagement, conflicts of interest, deficiencies in animal care and a disregard for public safety. Crowding was so bad that animals were euthanized ahead of schedule to gain space for new animals.

For more on this article, go the Orange County Register. Also, check out the March 7 entry OC columnist Steve Greenhut made to his Orange Punch blog calling for the privatization of this "Animal Auschwitz."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Finding something better to do in November

To many, the mere idea is anathema, and is just short of calling for the cancellation of Christmas. However, given that the latter has become just as commercialized as the former, this might not be such a bad idea.

Cancel the Presidential election!

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

Nothing could be better for the country than cancelling the 2008 election. Leave the office of the presidency empty.

I can see only one possible justification for having a president of the United States: to preside over the dismantling of the federal government. If you think this is a radical idea, think again. This is, in part, what people have long voted for, even if they never actually get it. I can hardly remember a time when a president has been elected who didn't promise to get the government off our backs.

In one way, this agenda makes no sense, of course. You don't hire a CEO to drive a company into bankruptcy. You don't appoint a pastor to shrink a congregation. Why should we expect a president to dismantle the thing that gives him power and fame, and his allies huge wealth?

Well, realistically, you can't. But it's the best hope we have within the framework of conventional politics.

For more on this opinion piece, go to

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Levine charged with three drug-related felonies

Waverly, Ohio – As promised, prosecutors have dismissed a sexual imposition charge against a former Mason County physician to focus on pursing drug-related charges against him.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, Dr. Jack M. Levine was scheduled to go on trial for sexual imposition. Levine was charged with the crime, a misdemeanor, in December after a female patient he was treating for addiction to prescription pain medication alleged he touched her inappropriately.

However, the Pike County Prosecutor’s Office asked that the charge be dismissed. On Feb. 19, it filed charges of information on alleged drug-related activity conducted by Levine discovered in the course of its investigation of the sexual imposition allegation.

According to Thomas Spetnagel, Levine’s attorney with the Chillicothe law firm of Spetnagel and McMahon, Levine was charged with one count each of illegal processing of drug documents, deception to obtain a dangerous drug and aggravated possession of drugs. On Feb. 20, Levine made an initial appearance in Pike County Court in which, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, was released on his own recognizance, Spetnagel said.

Though Anthony Moraleja, assistant Pike County prosecutor, was not immediately available for comment, he previously told reporters it was the state’s intention to present the charges to the grand jury on Thursday, Feb. 28. Regardless, Spetnagel said a probable cause hearing on the charges is scheduled for Monday, March 3 at 10:30 a.m. in County Court.

When asked if could comment on specifics of the allegations now leveled at his client, Spetnagel said he didn’t know the strength of the charges made. However, in talking with Levine, Spetnagel said, “He feels strongly that there are no substance to the charges against him.”

In Ohio , illegal processing of drug documents is an F5 felony which carries a penalty of 0-12 months in jail and maximum $2,500 fine. The deception to obtain, and aggravated possession are both F4 felonies that carry 0-18-months in jail, and a maximum $5,000 fine.

Likewise, F4 felonies carry a mandatory driver’s license suspension.