Lawyers seek ruling on tape recording

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2000

City Attorney John Corso told a Juneau court Tuesday that tape-recording noise mediation meetings could be "obtrusive or disruptive."

Corso also argued at Tuesday's Superior Court hearing that flightseeing noise mediation meetings should not be considered public because the mediation committee "is not a governmental entity."

"It has no authority to make policy or recommendations," he said. "It is a largely informal, self-appointed group that is attempting to find its own solutions to a problem that the city and borough is not capable of solving."

Corso's arguments were made before retired Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz in response to a lawsuit filed by Hugh Malone, who wants to be able to tape-record the meetings.

"What are your reasons for precluding (tape recorders)?" Rabinowitz asked Corso.

"The main danger is that people are less likely to be candid when they have a tape recorder stuck in their face," Corso said.

Another danger was that recordings produce "snippets" the news media may use out of context, he said.

Rabinowitz asked what Corso thought of the "old-style court reporter that took verbatim" records.

"The closer it gets to a verbatim transcript, the scarier it gets for people," Corso said.

Malone, a former speaker of the Alaska House, contends meetings hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, the city and by Seattle-based Triangle Associates mediation consultant Lois Schwennesen are public and tape-recording should be allowed.

Schwennesen shut down an Oct. 31 meeting when Malone attempted to tape-record. At a Nov. 6 session, another would-be-taper, Donn Liston, was asked to leave. Schwennesen canceled a planned Dec. 6 meeting when recording again became an issue.

Attorney Joe Geldhof, representing Malone, argued that because CBJ funds are being expended on the meetings, they must be conducted in an open manner. City staff has suggested that "Mr. Malone may go to jail if he attempts to participate in or tape-record or observe meetings," Geldhof said.

The mediator said she would call out law enforcement officials if Malone tries to record on federal property, Geldhof said.

Money spent does not define "public meetings," Corso said.

The Forest Service contributed $180,000 toward the mediation effort while CBJ's contribution was $80,000. The Forest Service has a role in flightseeing because it issues permits specifying the number of landings allowed on federal property.

Because the next mediation meeting was scheduled for this morning, Corso requested a preliminary ruling as soon as possible. Schwennesen rescheduled that meeting, however, for 3:30 this afternoon, pending Rabinowitz's finding.

"The (Wednesday morning) meeting will not be closed to the public nor will tape-recording be eliminated, but (at) meetings Thursday and Friday, participants may preclude tape-recording," Corso said.

This afternoon's meeting will be open to the public and to tape-recording, Schwennesen said.

Rabinowitz took the matter under advisement.

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