This 2014 booking photo released by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department shows Mark “Chris” Sevier after being arrested for threatening harassment against country singer John Rich. (Metropolitan Nashville Police Department via AP)
NASHVILLE – Two Tennessee lawmakers have enacted laws to force news outlets to report criminal charges or civil lawsuits in order to follow up on the outcome of the cases if the articles so request.
If they refuse, newspaper, television, radio, and web-based news agencies run the risk of $ 10,000 court-ordered damages, attorney’s fees, and “other forms of just and injunctions” as required by law.
Experts say the Bill, known as the “Stop Guilt By Accusation Act,” alleging “defamation in kind” violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
“This bill is unconstitutional. It’s not a close call,” said Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University. “The US Supreme Court made a clear ruling that you cannot force a speech. That is the governing phrase. The first amendment protects not only your speech, but also your right not to speak.”
Paulson, a lawyer, former reporter, and one-time editor-in-chief of USA Today, also noted, “Legislators cannot impose publication obligations on news organizations. Nor can they force lawmakers to apologize for introducing a clearly unconstitutional law.”
Paul McAdoo, a Nashville attorney and lawyer for the Tennessee Justice Initiative for the Reporters’ Committee on Freedom of the Press, called the bill “constitutionally suspect.” It “compels publication, and compulsory publication by the government is constitutionally problematic,” added McAdoo. “Especially when it comes with a fine.”
He cited a 1974 unanimous decision by the US Supreme Court repealing a Florida law granting newspapers the right to respond to political candidates whose personal character or official record had been criticized.
Similar or identical “Guilt by Accusation Act” laws have been unsuccessfully promoted in Mississippi and Rhode Island in recent years.
In addition to the introduction of the law in Tennessee this year, another “Guilt by Accusation Act” is due for legislature in New Hampshire this year. And there’s a Stop Guilt by Accusation Act pending in Maine law.
Constitutional issues are not deterring the law’s two Conservative sponsors, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, and Senator Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma. They introduced the legislation as House Bill 1219 / Senate Bill 1297.
“You know what? I think you ask a lot of lawyers, line them all up, some would say it’s unconstitutional, some would say it’s unconstitutional, some would probably have a mix,” said Lynn of the Times Free Press. “There are different opinions.”
Bowling said, “It’s all about making sure someone’s reputation, indeed their life, is somehow restored because it’s difficult to find one person at a time looking at you and saying, ‘Wasn’t that your front page picture or not “Isn’t that your picture on the news broadcast or whatever? And they say,” No, I’m innocent. “You know, for sure. It’s just inequality.”
Paulson said news organizations usually follow up on their previous coverage when cases are dismissed, defendants are acquitted by juries, or there are bargains that reduce the original charges.
The Mississippi and Rhode Island bills have been linked to a former Nashville attorney – Vanderbilt University Law School graduate, songwriter, and anti-gay activist Mark Christopher “Chris” Sevier.
Sevier, whose cell phone message box was full and unresponsive to emails and text messages from a reporter, made headlines in the past by suing his computer to legally marry his computer to protest same-sex marriage.
In 2011, Sevier’s legal license was given “disability status” by the Tennessee Supreme Court, which found that “due to an intellectual disability or illness” under the current order “indefinitely and until further order from that court.” “”
Back in 2013, Sevier was charged by Metro Nashville police on stalking and other charges involving country superstar John Rich and, separately, a 17-year-old girl who worked in an ice cream parlor.
He was later convicted of reduced harassment charges and ordered to stay away from Rich, the girl and an assistant prosecutor, according to the Davidson County Criminal Court website.
Lynn said she couldn’t remember the name of the person who brought her the bill and said that her administrative assistant, who was out of the office due to family issues, would have the information.
“I spoke to him and he told me he was an assistant to the prosecutor,” said Lynn. “And he gave someone else a bill, two bills to two other lawmakers.”
Lynn was briefed by a reporter on the 2013 stalking allegations involving Rich and the 17-year-old girl.
Bowling, the Senate sponsor, remembered speaking to some Memphis people about the legislation, and their administrative assistant remembered getting the legislation from Lynn’s office.
Rich and Sevier, the owner of Severe Records, had quarreled in the past. Among other things, Sevier Rich had sued Rich in 2008 for copyright infringement, reported WZTV-TV in Nashville in a story from 2014 about the stalking charge. The station also reported that Sevier, who served in the Tennessee National Guard during the Iraq War, suffered from PTSD.
Sevier previously sued Apple in the US District Court in Nashville, blaming the lack of filters on his computer for a pornography addiction that he blamed for ruining his marriage.
He has also promoted legislation in Tennessee and other states known as The Human Trafficking Prevention Act. Trying to have a porn filter for laptops, cell phones, routers and similar devices that are connected to the internet is trying. Consumers would have to pay $ 20 to remove it.
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported on two bills introduced into the Arkansas legislature in 2019, including the $ 20 bill for porn filter fees. The article stated that Sevier threatened to sue the newspaper for defamation during an interview.
The newspaper also quoted a John Gunter Jr., who works with Sevier to promote the bill, who made similar legal threats during an interview and promised to “burn your paper”. An attempt to reach Gunter on Saturday was unsuccessful.
In 2017, The Daily Beast reported on Sevier’s efforts to bring about the anti-trafficking bill. The article noted that Sevier was arrested and subsequently convicted in Texas in 2011 for assaulting his father-in-law during a visitation battle involving Sevier’s then 7-month-old son. Sevier attempted to take in the child during a supervised visit, The Daily Beast reported, and the baby was injured in the altercation.
Asked about the Guilt by Accusation Act during a video meeting with the Tennessee Press Association last month, Lt. Gov. Republican Senate spokesman Randy McNally, “often bills are submitted that never get anywhere.” that sponsors don’t even chase them. Sometimes they are changed dramatically in committees. “
McNally said the questions the legislation raises “would certainly be very complex. I can imagine they would end up under the chair on our judicial committee [Mike] Bell jar. And I don’t think it would survive, I don’t know for sure, I think it would have trouble. “
Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @ AndySher1.
Comments are closed.