Here we go again in our never-ending quest for your right to know. Up against the gale force of obstreperous bureaucrats and their arsenal of obfuscation, dalliance and outright deception.
Return with us now to those ornate halls of federal justice where we can hear the grinding sound of the shredder swallowing and mutilating the First Amendment's admonition that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... "
This is where earlier this month Senior U.S. District Court Judge Lloyd George permanently barred Irwin Schiff, author and convicted tax evader, from selling books advising people that there really is no law requiring them to pay federal income taxes. George ruled Schiff and his partner in crime "cannot promote tax fraud schemes from within prison or when they are released."
It is hard to win an argument you are not allowed to make. The 80-year-old Schiff has been bound, gagged and stuffed in prison, his voice of dissent against the checkered history of the creation of the Internal Revenue Service silenced.
On the occasion of this triumphant censorship, Justice Department lawyer Nathan Hochman said in a statement, "The Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department have strong civil and criminal enforcement tools available to stop tax defiers who promote fraudulent schemes."
Among Schiff's banned books is one titled: "The Federal Mafia: How the Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes."
It is one thing to not pay your taxes. But now you, by order of your betters in the federal judiciary, may not amuse yourself by curling up for a few hours with the rantings of a delusional old man.
So, if I were to pen a column recommending that everyone immediately stop deducting income tax withholding from our paychecks, instead depositing the same amount in an interest bearing savings account until April 15, would I be visited by the feds for encouraging the stanching of the flow of revenue to the IRS? Just the rantings of a delusional old man, but ...
-- -- --
Meanwhile, over at the equally ornate halls of the bureau of youth indoctrination otherwise known as the Clark County School District, a citizen is being told that the right to inspect public documents, as guaranteed by Nevada Revised Statute 239, will cost her $4,000, because the school board member e-mail and cell phone records she is seeking may contain some private information.
School district attorney Bill Hoffman said the private records would need to be separated from the public records and that would take a lot of time for "some poor clerk."
The law clearly says, "A governmental entity that has legal custody or control of a public book or record shall not deny a request ... to inspect or copy a public book or record on the basis that the requested public book or record contains information that is confidential if the governmental entity can redact, delete, conceal or separate the confidential information from the information included in the public book or record that is not otherwise confidential."
It does not say the governmental entity may recreate a de facto exemption to the law by charging $4,000.
Of course, the cheapest way to solve the problem is to never commingle public and private records. Better yet, presume that any recorded communication with an elected official is public.
Might that poor clerk decide that the mother calling and asking about her child's failing grades is private, but also the contractor calling to discuss a campaign fundraiser as soon as a few pesky contract details are suitably settled?
-- -- --
Down at the equally ornate halls of the Regional "Justice" Center -- the ones that echo from emptiness every Friday afternoon ...
The Review-Journal and The Associated Press have filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court to try to establish precedent that juror questionnaires, such as those filled out by potential jurors in the O.J. Simpson burglary trial, are indeed part of the public trial record.
Judge Jackie Glass eventually released the blank jury questionnaire but did not release the ones filled in by the jurors until after the trial was over, and then they were heavily redacted.
The petition asks the court to "take the opportunity to address the important procedural and substantive safeguards that attach to the public's and media's First Amendment right of access to judicial proceedings so that Nevada's lower courts will be properly guided when confronted with similar issues that will inevitably arise in the future."
Thus ends another episode in this epic saga of the forces of light vs. the legion of darkness.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at email@example.com.