Schick vs. hick
Want to enrage this guy in Georgia? Copy 21 pages of public records to your own website.
Somewhere in those pages are four that so offend Georgia’s Attorney General, he’s demanding a college journalist erase them from his personal blog. Last week, he asked a judge to force the kid to do it.
So what does Attorney General Sam Olens fear the public will learn? NSA snooping secrets? Benghazi scandal evidence? The recipe for Coca-Cola? (Coke is based in downtown Atlanta.)
“The four pages of documents,” says the motion Olens’ office filed last Wednesday, “contain the names of a number of individuals who applied for the position of president at one of the Board of Regents’ colleges or universities. None of these individuals was selected as a finalist for the position for which they applied.”
That’s right, Olens doesn’t want you to know the names of people who applied for a job and didn’t get it.
Perhaps Olens wants to spare those fine folks the embarrassment of everyone knowing they were passed over. Then again, they were outed only on an obscure blog written by a University of Georgia journalism student named David Schick.
So how did Schick get those names? Simple. He asked for them.
Olens’ motion contends Georgia officials “improperly” released those names, buried in 700 pages of public records Schick had been requesting for nearly a year.
Want to enrage this attorney in Washington, DC? Whisper “Sam Olens” in his ear.
“It’s outrageous that Attorney General Sam Olens apparently doesn’t understand basic principles of First Amendment law that have been set in concrete for decades,” says Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.
“The Supreme Court has said again and again and again that journalists have an absolute right to publish information they obtain without breaking the law, and no court can order them to stop the presses – much less the more drastic step of ‘unpublishing’ something distributed months earlier.”
What angers LoMonte is the triviality of it all.
“States have been conducting college presidential searches in the open for many, many years,” he says. “The idea that there’s some privacy right in being a candidate for college president that overrides the First Amendment is frankly nutty.”
LoMonte concludes, “Courts can’t stop a journalist even from publishing leaked classified documents or the names of rape victims, and the evaluation of candidates for college president looks like pretty small beans next to those. I’m certain that the judge will laugh this motion right out of his courtroom.”
Want to assist David Schick? Annoy Sam Olens.
Click the image below to view 21 pages of public records from Schick’s original 700-page request (more on that in a minute). Then post them on your own website and tell Olens about it. I just did…
Mr. Olens: I heard about your office’s motion to compel a college journalist to remove four pages of public records from his website. Since the motion didn’t specify exactly which pages those were, and since David Schick and his attorney won’t tell me – it’s “pending litigation,” after all – I’ve discovered 21 pages that qualify. Since I’m reasonably sure the four pages that offend you are among them, I’m posting the 21-page PDF to my blog and asking others to do the same with their blogs.
The reasoning here is simple.
If many others post the PDF, the judge will likely conclude it makes no sense to grant Olens’ motion. Because as often happens in these cases, Olens’ heavy-handed tactics have made those public records even more public.
So what did Schick want with 700 pages of records? I wrote about Schick last year, when he was investigating a $16 million budget shortfall at Georgia Perimeter College – where he went to school, and where his newspaper adviser was laid off due to budget cuts.
Obviously, administrators weren’t keen on Schick’s digging, and they stymied him at every turn. As I wrote last April…
First, the school charged him $2,963 to forward him emails. When he got a volunteer lawyer who threatened to sue, the price tag was knocked down to $291. But then administrators printed out each email and then re-scanned them – which meant Schick couldn’t search them for keywords.
Undaunted, Schick secured a pro bono attorney in Atlanta-based Daniel Levitas and sued the Georgia Board of Regents for “failing to produce public records.” After a 2 1/2-day trial in April, Schick and Levitas are awaiting the judge’s verdict.
How long will that take?
“I have no way of knowing,” Levitas says. “There may be a decision very soon or there may not be a decision for many months. Following the trial, we’ve received no instruction from the judge.”
That might seem like the wheels of justice grinding exceedingly slow, but Levitas says it was a speedy trial that the judge “rocket-docketed.”
He also doesn’t know when the judge will rule on Olens’ motion. But Schick, who now attends the University of Georgia and is president of the school’s SPJ/ONA chapter, is more patient than most journalists. In fact, he says this experience has emboldened him to become an attorney himself.
He already speaks like one. I asked him what he could say, given that we have no idea when the “pending” will end on the case and the motion. He replied via email with this lawyerly statement…
This is a rather extraordinary motion and raises profound First Amendment concerns of prior restraint and government censorship. Time and time again, the right of journalists to publish controversial and even classified government documents has been supported by the courts. The ability to publish controversial information — even information that allegedly jeopardizes the supposed “privacy rights” of individuals — is a cornerstone of press freedom in our democracy.
He concluded like this: “I look forward to responding further in the proper forum — in court by and through my attorney.”
When Schick passes the bar, I got to keep him on speed dial. Because I might want to hire him to represent me someday.