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High Court will not hear journalist’s civil rights claim

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Nov 29, 2000    

High Court will not hear journalist’s civil rights claim

  • A free-lance journalist who claimed Tennessee city officials obstructed his newsgathering ultimately obtained the public documents, but will not get another day in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear free-lance journalist Geoffrey Davidian’s case contending that Cookeville, Tenn., officials violated his civil rights when they temporarily refused to provide him records because they did not like being bothered by him.

The high court on Nov. 27 denied certiorari of a decision reached in April by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.). The federal appeals court ruled that Cookeville had not actually chilled Davidian’s speech when it thwarted the writer’s efforts to obtain town information.

In May 1996 in his first issue of the short-lived The Putnam Pit, Davidian criticized Cookeville City Attorney Michael O’Mara for spending more than $8,000 to litigate against Davidian for a speeding ticket.

In June 1996, O’Mara told Davidian that because he had become increasingly demanding and belligerent, no more of his public records requests would be fulfilled. O’Mara pointed out that the Tennessee Open Records Act only gives citizens of the state a right to records. Davidian countered that the Cookeville city charter provides for disclosure of records to “the press.” O’Mara responded that The Putnam Pit was not a newspaper of general circulation.

After the Putnam County Chancery Court refused to recognize Davidian’s newspaper or grant Davidian the records (although it granted the records to his son, a Tennessee resident), he sued and lost in 1997 in federal district court where he said his civil rights under the First Amendment were violated when he was prevented from gathering the news.

The appeals panel found that Cookeville’s conduct did not rise to the level of a First Amendment retaliation claim. Davidian, who represented himself in the appeals process, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

(Davidian v. O’Mara) RD

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