News organizations file lawsuit over Scalia speech flap

News Media Update MISSISSIPPI Confidentiality/Privilege

News organizations file lawsuit over Scalia speech flap

The Associated Press and a Mississippi newspaper allege that the U.S. Marshals Service violated two reporters’ constitutional rights when a marshal seized and erased their tape recorders during a speech by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

May 10, 2004 — The Associated Press and The Hattiesburg American filed a civil rights lawsuit yesterday in Jackson, Miss., in response to an incident last month involving the seizure and erasure of two journalists’ tape recorders by a U.S. marshal.

The federal lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Marshals Service, claims Deputy Marshal Melanie Rube violated the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, which protects the press against searches and seizures of work product materials. The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth Amendment requires due process of law.

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The incident that led to the claims occurred on April 7 during a speech by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg, Miss. Reporters Antoinette Konz of the American and Denise Grones of the AP had their audio recorders seized by Rube in the middle of Scalia’s speech. Rube erased Grones’s recording and forced Konz to erase her tape.

Scalia, who has long forbidden the recording of his speeches — although no announcement of his policy was made at the Hattiesburg event — was speaking about the virtues of the Constitution at the time of the incident.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Rube’s actions violated the Constitution and the Privacy Protection Act, and asks the court to bar the Marshals Service from a repeat of the incident. According to an article in today’s American , Luther Munford, an attorney representing the newspaper and the AP, said the media companies are seeking “a judgment that tells the U.S. Marshals Service and, in effect, other law enforcement agencies, not to do this again.” The lawsuit also seeks $1,000 in damages for Konz and Grones.

The American is owned by Gannett Co.

Rube’s actions sparked a nationwide furor and prompted Scalia to apologize to the reporters. He also promised to change his personal policy against the taping of his speeches. Print reporters will now be allowed to record Scalia’s remarks, although broadcast journalists will be asked to respect his right “not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so,” he said.

(The Hattiesburg American v. U.S. Marshals Service; Media Counsel: Luther Munford, Phelps Dunbar, Jackson, Miss.)KM

Related stories:

Justice Scalia issues apologies over destruction of tapes (4/13/2004)
U.S. Marshal orders reporters to erase recordings of Scalia speech (4/8/2004)


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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