U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Higgins ruled that the First Amendment only applies in cases where a government body denies access to information that is generally given to the public. Since no one before Davidian had the smart idea to ask for the cookies, then denying him access therefore did not violate the Pit's rights under state law or the First and Fourteenth ammendments.
"The plaintiffs argue that the Tennessee Public Records Act grants the public access to the records at issue in this case," Higgins wrote. "While this may be true and could consequently result in a violation of state law, that Act does not, in an of itself, mean that the City of Cookeville has, in actuality, traditionally allowed the public access to the records at issue."
The Pit's request was earlier rejected by the Tennessee state attorney general's office, which ruled that cookies were the equivalent of inaccessible temporary files.
Higgins also dismissed Davidian's argument that the city violated his rights when it refused to link to the Putnam Pit on the official Cookeville Web site, even though two local businesses at the time had links. The judge ruled that the site didn't constitute a public forum, and therefore city officials weren't guilty of snuffing the Pit's protected speech.
Davidian, who has several other lawsuits against city officials in the works, says he'll appeal.
"When the government has money they can spend it all to try to thwart legitimate journalism," he told the New York Times. "You may not like our tone, you may not like our politics, you many not like our graphics, but we intend to get the truth."
Davidian, a 20-year journalism veteran who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., first tangled with Cookeville bureaucrats in 1995 when he came to investigate an alleged arson attack in which a woman named Darlene Eldridge was killed. The experience left him outraged at the corruption in small-town Tennessee, so he launched a newspaper "to create an atmosphere in which corruption cannot exist."
"There's an incredible abuse of authority by the government," the Pit editor told TABLOID late last year. "We're trying to make them understand they can't do this anymore."
Davidian's groundbreaking legal actions -- he is also fighting for the right to publish transcripts from the State of Minnesota v. Philip Morris -- have attracted the attention of the federal government, even if most newspapers remain oblivious.
"Federal employees should think about the trail they leave when surfing the Internet at work," wrote Robert Gellman, former chief counsel to the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Information, Justice, Transportation and Agriculture, in a cautionary July 13 article for Government Computer News.
"Any federal employee doing something on the Net that would not look good in a Washington Post article should learn how to use those tools. On the other side, enterprising reporters should make their FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests before too many federal employees learn how to hide their Internet trails. It may be a race to see who can act first, the requesters or the erasers."
The legal struggle marks another signpost in Davidian's colorful career.
"I know what unbridled authority is like," he wrote in a 1997 editorial. "As a young man I was convicted of smuggling hashish and for getting a passport under a false name. I've been arrested for speaking against police brutality. From 1969 to 1972, I slept on the floor of a Lebanese prison after buying hashish from the prime minister's family. I've been beaten, locked in an underground cell for weeks at a time and threatened with death."Related Articles:
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