Monthly Archives: February 2009

In Contentious Vote, City Council Approves Speaker’s Choice For Clerk

By Kieran K. Meadows

The City Council approved Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) appointment of Michael McSweeney to the position of city clerk on Thursday, by a 32-16 vote. McSweeney, of Queens, has been the acting city clerk since the fall.

The vote was contentious—all but one member of the Council’s Brooklyn delegation voted no. They were joined by one Council member from the Bronx. The outcome exposed the ongoing conflict between borough delegations, but particularly between Brooklyn and the speaker.

Brooklyn Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, along with Bronx Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, had hoped to postpone the vote. They had been hoping to work out an agreement with the speaker regarding the city clerk position at a later date.

McSweeney is a former aide of Queens County Democratic Chair and U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley. Although Brooklyn has the largest delegation in the council, Quinn became speaker in 2006 by putting together a coalition between Manhattan and Queens. By giving the city clerk position to a Queens resident, the speaker is likely politically paying back the borough for its support.

The city clerk appoints the deputy city clerks in each borough, and they control a number of jobs. The clerk’s salary is also a handsome $185,700 – a nice reward for a loyal party player.

“When you deal with patronage, it’s a plum spot, because those are appointed jobs,” said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), as he stood in the lobby of City Hall before the vote. “It’s been said that that is the mother’s milk of politics, and quite frankly, it’s in full effect right here. There’s tons of meetings with the speaker, with the county [party] leaders in trying to come to an agreement on who will be the next city clerk.”

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Despite Obstacles, Community Organization Remains Upbeat

By Kieran K. Meadows

Rebecca Fishburne waited outside a large brick-red building on Valentine’s Day morning in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She was waiting for a mobile HIV testing van to arrive, but the van was running an hour late. Despite the bitter cold, Fishburne, the organizer of the free “HIV Testing Day,” wasn’t discouraged.

Instead, she remained calm, determined to hold a successful community event.

“You just have to take a deep breath, relax, and keep it moving,” said Fishburne, a community health coordinator with the local organization and sponsor of the event, the Red Hook Initiative. “If you don’t, then you’ll freak over everything.”

Fishburne’s calm and positive attitude while waiting for the van is a perfect analogy for the Red Hook Initiative’s own current situation. The organization lost its Clinton Street headquarters of five years last November, and is now waiting to move into a larger space in the heart of the neighborhood. But the new space needs to be renovated before the group, which provides numerous programs and services to hundreds of youth and adults each month, most of whom live in public housing, can move in. The cost of the renovation is over $300,000. Fundraising that much money takes awhile, even in better economic times.

Despite the obstacles resulting from the upcoming move, the Initiative’s employees are coping well and spirits are strong.

“The Red Hook Initiative does a lot for the community,” said Debbie Jackson, a diabetes health educator. “We’re going to survive no matter what. We’re making it happen.”

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Brooklyn Residents Unaware Bus Service May Be Cut

By Kieran K. Meadows

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority revealed yesterday that its budget shortfall is almost $2 billion due to $650 million in declining real estate tax and fare revenues. A decrease in ridership in January also contributed to the agency’s financial problems. The MTA has proposed wide-ranging service cuts and fare increases to take effect in late spring, but now the cuts may be deeper than previously thought, even if the agency receives bailout money from the state.

The likelihood of bus service cuts is devastating to some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, where at least five routes could be eliminated. The MTA has been trying to get the word out by posting signs onboard buses to announce public hearings about the cuts.

Still, the news hasn’t yet reached some of the people who would be most affected.

“I didn’t hear about that,” said J Roberts, of Flatbush, seated at the back of the B77 bus with her 8-year-old son, Trévon. Roberts uses two routes that would be affected by the cuts, the B77 and the B75, to take her son to the YMCA on Ninth Street on weekends.

The B77 and the B75 serve Red Hook, an isolated neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn known for its lack of convenient access to public transportation. The B75, which stops at the edge of the neighborhood, is used by Red Hook residents to go downtown and also to Park Slope and Kensington in the other direction. This route is slated be eliminated altogether.

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Live-Blogging the NYCLA Forum on Protecting Journalists and Their Confidential Sources

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009, the New York County Lawyers’ Association sponsored a public forum called “Protecting Journalists and Their Confidential Sources: A Matter of Privilege.” The event brought together lawyers and journalists, both on the panel and in the audience, to discuss the legal risks reporters face when dealing with sources that wish to remain anonymous. To get a basic understanding of what reporter’s privilege is, you can watch this video from Media Law Resource Center attorney Maherin Gangat.

The panelists at the NYCLA forum

L-R: Ann B. Lesk (NYCLA president), John Zucker, Judith Miller, Eve Burton, George Freeman, Joshua Kors, Carl Unegbu, Olivera Medenica (NYCHA Entertainment, Media, IP, Sport Law Section program chair)

Speakers:

Judith Miller, The Manhattan Institute (formerly of The New York Times)
Eve Burton, vice president and general counsel, The Hearst Corporation
George Freeman, assistant general counsel, The New York Times
Joshua Kors, investigative reporter, The Nation magazine
John Zucker, vice president, Law and Regulation, ABC, Inc.

Moderator:

Carl Unegbu, freelance journalist and NYCLA committee member

Sponsor: NYCLA’s Entertainment, Media, Intellectual Property and Sports Law Section
Co-Sponsors: NYCLA’s Civil Rights and Liberties Committee and Criminal Justice Section

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8:15 p.m.: WRAP – The forum is over and people are milling around talking to each other. General consensus: this area of media law is still very unclear and there are disagreements about what is necessary in terms of privilege. But the room is filled with the buzz of conversation, so at the very least, the discussion is continuing; and with the introduction of a federal shield law in Congress next week, I’m sure that discussion will continue.

8:11 p.m.: A questioner in the back row with an extremely cutting (and loud) voice (I admire his projection abilities) asks about how the discussion of reporter’s privilege could relate to the idea of executive privilege. Burton, in her response, says that from a legal standpoint, both privileges relate to the broad power grab by the powers vested in Article II of the Constitution (the Executive Branch) in the last eight years.

8:06 p.m.: In response to a question about timeliness of this issue, Zucker brings up a current case of a Detroit Free Press reporter who will not divulge his sources.

8:00 p.m.: Miller says that if a source lies to you, then you don’t publish it. Some murmurs in the room. She then qualifies it by saying when they “knowingly lie” to you and whether or not you’re able to know that they did.

7:56 p.m.: The question of qualified promises to sources comes up – as in “I’ll give you confidentiality until I get in trouble with the law.” Miller and Kors agree that sources will dry up unless the promise is a full promise of confidentiality. The questioner wonders out loud, then, what’s the point of the federal shield law?

7:52 p.m.: The radiator to stage right, keeps moaning slightly, on and off. I wonder if it might get worse and become a real nuisance.

NYCLA forum

7:48 p.m.: In response to the first question asked, George Freeman speaks about differences in the versions of the law in Congress. The last Senate version of the shield law only protects reporters and sources when it comes to confidential sources. However, the last House version protected any communications between reporter and source, confidential or not.

7:45 p.m.: The moderator opens the floor for questions from the audience. First one goes to a criminal defense lawyer sitting in the front row.

7:41 p.m.: First mention of the new Obama Administration by:…. *drumroll* John Zucker. He hopes that the new administration won’t go after journalists the way the Bush Administration did.

7:40 p.m.: As journalists, we need to consider whether or not we are being mouthpieces for an anonymous source who wants to disseminate false info, Kors says. But, he continues, it’s our job to make sure the information is true.

7:36 p.m.: Federal Shield Law actually adds something to state laws with regard to a leak investigation.

7:30 p.m.: Eve Burton says that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is worried that terrorists will try to claim this privilege. Miller interrupts her and says twice, “she’s afraid of Al-Jazeera.” Burton thinks that the question of who qualifies as a journalist is really not as a big part of this issue as people make it out to be. She thinks there are other more interesting parts of the issue. But she doesn’t say what. I’d like to know what she’s thinking.

7:25 p.m.: Who qualifies as a journalist? It was like hot potato with this question – first directed to Kors, then passed to Miller, now to Freeman.

7:21 p.m.: Zucker ties his point into a little historical context. Nixon really wanted to go after the press in the late 1960s. Despite the Supreme Court Branzburg decision against the press, state courts in the ‘70s were generally supportive, but now the pendulum has swung against journalists.

7:18 p.m.: Zucker gets his first shot – he’s speaking about national security and a federal shield law. He makes a very good point that most information re: national security is classified. And since it would be illegal for anyone to give reporters this information, this is one area where we definitely need a federal shield law.

7:15 p.m.: Judith Miller would make the same decision (to not reveal that Scooter Libby was her anonymous source, and go to jail as a consequence) that she made a few years ago if she had to do it again.

Judith Miller sign at NYCLA forum

AUDIO: Listen to Judith Miller after the forum talk about why she would make the same decision today

7:12 p.m.: We’re getting toward an hour into the forum and I’m starting to wonder if John Zucker is getting a little annoyed that he hasn’t been given an opportunity to speak yet. He’s all the way that the end of the panel. Literally and figuratively.

7:08 p.m.: First question from the moderator: Who is the privilege given to? Judith Miller thinks that “it is the source’s privilege.” Miller says that she never wrote anything with the information she had gotten from her confidential source (now known it was Scooter Libby). She wishes she had. After some of the discredited WMD reporting, I’m sure some in the audience were thinking they were glad she didn’t.

7:06 p.m.: Reporters are saying “it’s just not worth it” to publish stories when you have no protection. It stops the free flow of information.

7:04 p.m.: The purpose of the federal shield law is meant to “mesh” with the state shield laws. And it’s not an absolute privilege. It’s a balancing act. It’s the judge’s job to balance. What’s the interest of the government? Versus what’s the interest of the people?” says Eve Burton.

6:55 p.m.: The press are the government’s watchdogs, “not their lapdogs,” says George Freeman. He’s talking now about the Branzburg decision as precedent and talks about the three-part test.

6:52 p.m.: A Federal Shield Law will be introduced in Congress next week, says George Freeman. This privilege doesn’t only protect one person; it protects all of us. It enables all of us to get more information. If sources are afraid to talk to reporters, we’re just going to get news and information from the powerful in society. One could argue that this privilege is more important than a doctor-patient privilege.

VIDEO: Watch George Freeman after the forum talk about a federal shield law

6:46 p.m.: (How do you corroborate a confidential source? ) How do decide when to grant anonymity to a source? “First you have to question his motives,” Kors says.

6:40 p.m.: Joshua Kors sets up a presentation related to his reporting on veterans’ issues; it’s a Bob Woodruff package on ABC’s World News Tonight with Charlie Gibson. (Warning: The clip loads very slowly.)

6:37 p.m.: Tonight’s forum is about “We the People,” says moderator Carl Unegbu. Tonight we are discussing the question “why should journalists have a privilege not available to any other citizen?”

6:32 p.m.: The introductions continue. Olivera Medenica, Esq. asks how many in the audience are lawyers – about half the people in the room raise their hands. She also asks how many journalists there are – a number of people raise their hands, but they are outnumbered by the lawyers.

6:28 p.m.: The public forum begins with introductions of the panelists.

George Freeman (R) talks to a criminal defense attorney before the forum.

George Freeman (R) talks to a criminal defense attorney before the forum.

6:12 p.m.: The public forum is running a little late. The beautiful room (with three crystal chandeliers!) is filling up slowly and Judith Miller just arrived. The weather here in downtown Manhattan is atrocious this evening: Huge wet snowflakes that are not sticking.

NYCLA room

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