Legal Learning Differences

Somebody on the Dallas City Council skipped school the day they taught the U.S. Constitution

Hicks concludes his treatise: "Because of the high standards set by the First Amendment in the United States, it is highly unlikely a libel judgment obtained in some foreign country for Internet libel could ever be enforced in the United States."

What is the Latin word for duh?

No Web sites are mentioned by name in Hicks' report to Johnson, but three in particular are likely targets. One is Avi Adelman's muscular community-activism site, Barkingdogs.org. Another is Sharon Boyd's site, Dallasarena.com. The third (in alphabetical order) is Fred Gwinn's Dallas.org.

Who'll shut the dog up? Avi Adelman's Web site, featuring photos of whizzing men near Lower Greenville, makes someone at City Hall unhappy.
Peter Calvin
Who'll shut the dog up? Avi Adelman's Web site, featuring photos of whizzing men near Lower Greenville, makes someone at City Hall unhappy.

Gwinn's site has been presenting an ongoing investigation of council member Mary Poss' campaign finances. I'm not going to vouch for somebody else's reporting, but I will say that the Poss story on Dallas.org raises some very tough questions.

Adelman's site sometimes carries pictures of drunken louts on Lower Greenville urinating on people's lawns--his way of making the point that the city and the police are not adequately protecting the neighborhoods that abut the Lower Greenville entertainment district. Adelman also has published some very pointed stories about businesses on Greenville that seem to get away with zoning violations forever and ever.

Sharon Boyd goes after everybody at City Hall. Lately she has been on the warpath against Councilman Leo Chaney, who is a full-time employee of the school district. Boyd thinks it's wrong for the school district to pay somebody to work full time at City Hall. My own caveat here is that Leo Chaney is one of the smarter, politically more sophisticated members of the council. But Boyd certainly has every right to raise hell about him if she wants to. She's an American.

Chaney told me he had nothing to do with asking Johnson to find a way to shut down the Web sites. He said he doesn't even look at them. "As God is my witness, I don't have time or the energy to read these Web sites," he said. "I didn't even know one of my colleagues had requested that."

Poss told me that she was one of "several council members and staff" who had posed questions about the Internet sites to Johnson. She said her concerns were technical issues related to "domain names" and had nothing to do with libel.

Brett Shipp on Channel 8 did a good story on this, as did the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But the Morning News gave the story its trademarked belated and begrudging acknowledgment--coverage deep inside the paper, written in that marble-mouthed Morning News journalese that never tells you what's really happening, under a headline whose subliminal message was, "Nothing going on here, show's over, return to your homes."

Unfortunately, that's what many council members have been trained to think is fair coverage. That's what's wrong with this picture. Many of them suffer from morbidly thin skin, because they're not used to having anybody take real shots at them.

The Web site owners are in the process of pursuing a legal demand under the Texas Public Information Act for the name or names of the council members who asked Johnson to pay a lawyer in Austin to find a way to deprive them of their Constitutional rights. Johnson, citing the same attorney-client privilege she told me about, is refusing to release that information. The question is now before the Texas attorney general. Johnson, meanwhile, is firm about one aspect of all this: She says the question was asked; the answer is in; and no one is going to sue anybody in a foreign clime.

"The city certainly is not taking any action against any Web sites." OK. That's good. Maybe we owe her one for putting that piece of it away. But there's another piece waiting: We still need to know who on the council was behind it.

It's not a small matter. For one thing, this may be somebody who will want to run for higher office one day. And another thing the person who made this request might want to keep in mind about the concept of a foreign end-run around the Constitution: In some of those countries, very uncool things can happen to leaders who fall suddenly from grace.

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