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Posted Friday, March 7, 2008, at 12:14 PM

We don't like secrets in the news business, so two stories that have come to my attention this morning, I find disturbing.

The first one comes out of neighboring Murfreesboro, where school officials there are holding a meeting today that is closed to the public and the press over allegations of rape that supposedly occurred recently on a school bus.

But closing the meeting violates the state Sunshine Law, said Rick Hollow, the legal counsel with the Tennessee Press Association.

Hollow contends that Rutherford County Schools Director Harry Gill made both the meeting and the video a public concern by permitting those issues to be brought to the Board of Education this week.

While I can understand protecting the identity of the girl in question, there has to be ways to open this meeting to the public and reporters without exposing the alleged victim. What I find disturbing is the attitude of the head of the school system

Gill, however, disagreed with Hollow's interpretation of the law, said Evans, the system spokesman.

"Committee meetings on the staff level are typically always closed unless they have more than one board member on them," said Evans, noting that only board member Wayne Blair is serving on the bus safety committee. "However, the intent of the committee is to present options to Mr. Gill, so he can have a recommendation to the board by its next meeting, which is March 19."

Sorry, but this doesn't hold water. If any group is meeting to discuss options or recommendations they want to present to Gill, then they are contributing to the decision making process, and that sort of thing can not be closed to the public, according to Tennessee's Sunshine Law. In my opinion, the meeting should be made public, but not the tape if it reveals the child's identity.

Another case doesn't involve the Sunshine Law, but instead, the court system. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, a judge is trying to disbar an attorney in secret. Apparently, this fellow has been a busy bee in exposing crooked dealings in Knox County and this has seemingly upset some powerful people.

U.S. District Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier in January filed under seal proceedings to strip attorney Herbert S. Moncier of his right to practice law in federal courts in the Eastern District of Tennessee, a move that if successful likely would take from him the ability to handle federal cases nationwide.

Collier, who presides in Chattanooga, ordered every document filed in the case to be kept from public view. He instructed Moncier to notify - in secret - all federal judges before whom Moncier had pending cases of the disciplinary action.

He barred Moncier from publicly revealing the fight for his career, which kept Moncier from seeking the help of any legal advocacy groups. A day-long hearing was held Wednesday at Collier's direction by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee. However, no notice of that hearing was filed publicly, nor was it included in the daily list of cases to be heard, known as a public docket.

So how is the press to know of what's happening if this is kept off the docket entirely? This is frightening. These sort of measures have been seen in national security/terrorist cases, but this is the first time I've seen a judge try to keep a obviously politically charged case out of the public's view.

It reminds me of a case in England that I read about last month:

Last autumn a small English congregation was rocked by the news that two of its parishioners had fled abroad. A 56-year-old man had helped his pregnant wife to flee from social workers, who had already taken her son into care and were threatening to seize their baby.

Most people had no idea why. For the process that led this couple to such a desperate act was entirely secret. The local authority had warned the mother not to talk to her friends or even her MP. The judge who heard the arguments from social services sat in secret. The open-minded social workers who had initially been assigned to sort out a custody battle between the woman and her previous husband were replaced by others who seemed determined to build a guilty case against her. That is how the secret State operates. A monumental injustice has been perpetrated in this quiet corner of England; our laws are being used to try to cover it up.

Thank goodness this sort of thing doesn't happen here. What do you think about this issue?

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I could not agree with you more!

-- Posted by Disgusted on Mon, Mar 10, 2008, at 7:17 PM

I agree with Momof3&3step&1gran. It was really very disarming to hear the School Bd President say that he didn't see what the police saw in the video. I would think that the police have more experience of what charges etc should be filed than a local politician. I would think it at least he & others would be careful about labeling the children involved. As a professional who has worked with abuse victims they are already dismissing the the child who was assaulted and minimizing her experience which can seriously affect her future as a healthy adult and also they are not allowing th young man the appropriate care and treatment he needs.

-- Posted by crharris84 on Sat, Mar 8, 2008, at 9:37 AM

Good point.

But concealment (as opposed to discretion) tends to cause more problems than disclosure would.

("Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence."- Amiel)

We need to make sure everyone knows the difference between gossip/yellow journalism and making necessary revelations and the difference between providing information on a need-to-know basis and burying it when it should be shared.

Both sides need to be worthy of a mutual trust.

If we don't demand truth or if we are poor stewards of the facts we have,our right to be informed will be disregarded.

If those in power count on a cloak of secrecy to enable them to betray those they are meant to serve,they will find the public more than willing to add to the destruction they bring upon themselves with their dishonesty.

We should judge what we say by whether it is true,kind and necessary.

While it is clear that the false,cruel and unneeded should be left unuttered,it may be equally so that we transgress when we leave the true,kind and necessary unspoken.

We shouldn't fear being generous with the truth for as Josh Billings said:

"As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand."

-- Posted by quantumcat on Sat, Mar 8, 2008, at 3:30 AM

Didn't a school board member state on the news, that he seen the tape and it did not look like a rape charge to him.

If the police claims it is a rape charge, and a school board member saids it is not, may be a reason why it is having a private meeting. Maybe they are looking at the video, and making a decision that this is not actually a Rape and Battery, But a Sexual Assult charge. This child was not actually (Penetrated-"Raped") nor "Beaten", But forced upon with fondeling; "Sexually Assulted" different charge. Also they may be in the hot seat as to how this could happen, and are trying to figure out ways to cover themselves, ex. "Lawsuits". So they would not want the public in this type of meeting. Just a wild guess.

The other case, the same thing someone trying to cover their behinds. "But the truth will always come out one way or another" Don't mean nothing will be done about it; but it might. Sometimes Justice is unfair, under the hands of the wrong person in ruling.

-- Posted by Momof3&3step&1gran on Sat, Mar 8, 2008, at 12:03 AM

I'm not quite sure how we benefit from such secrecy.

"Behind-the-scene" violations such as unofficial meetings at least have the excuse that they were derived from normal chat or (a less acceptable reason) that including a public that's ignorant of the facts would just complicate matters.

(How are the people ever going to become less ignorant and more useful when they are kept out of the process?)

The cases cited go far beyond a private meeting to decide what color carpet goes down in a public building.

Officials decided that the public was to be excluded and that other agencies,their peers-and even their superiors had no right to examine the facts and interpret them on their own.

Whatever legitimate motives they might have held,once those who hold the public trust remove our system of checks and balances,the result is government that is unchecked and unbalanced.

Those who are stifling truth and hiding fact need to be drug from the darkness of these less-than-stellar chambers into the light where their actions can be scrutinized.

If their disposition of a case is appropriate,why not have a suitable amount of disclosure?

Cover-ups seem to do more damage than what they seek to conceal.

A "media circus" is usually succeeded by a carnival dominated by a freak show of distorted justice.

I'm not troubled by these news reports-even if the facts of the cases are as bad as they appear.

I'm concerned about what hasn't been exposed.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Fri, Mar 7, 2008, at 1:40 PM

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Brian Mosely is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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