Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Parkhouse v. Stringer: The Real Story

Landmark West!, Virginia Parkhouse, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer: What Really Happened

A recent New York Times article (April 12, 2008, Metro Section, pB1) tells thestory of Virginia Parkhouse-devoted preservationist, long-time Landmark West! volunteer, hardy citizen and, not coincidentally, target of small-minded, vindictive politicians. Click here for the"back story" behind the Times report...

In addition to a couple of minutes' worth of mandatory reading for any civic-minded New Yorker, you will find links to court papers filed by attorney Whitney North Seymour, Jr., defending Parkhouse against a NYC Department of Investigation subpoena issued after she testified at aLandmarks Preservation Commission public hearing in October 2006. You'll also find a link to a fascinating Amicus Curiae Brief filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in support of Parkhouse's first amendment rights. Excerpts from the brief are included below.

Excerpts from the New York Civil Liberties Union Amicus Curiae Brief (dated December 27, 2007) in Parkhouse v. Stringer

"Virginia Parkhouse has spoken as a private individual before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and now finds herself investigated and subpoenaed by the Department of Investigation of the City of New York ("DOI") for non-perjurious statements made at the hearing." (p. 2)

"The very purpose of the First Amendment is to foreclose public authority from assuming a guardianship of the public mind."(citing Supreme Court decision Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 419 (1988)). (p. 2)

"Exercise of subpoena power to demand an individual to account for their speech before a public commission subverts those constitutional values that allow the people to decide the merit of political debate. By forcing Ms. Parkhouse to testify under oath concerning her statements to a public commission and by threatening prosecution, DOI has burdened her right to free speech without any connection to a legitimate governmental interest." (p. 3)

"An individual's representations before a public commission are expression, pure political speech to which the most rigorous First Amendment protection applies." (p. 4)

"Much like the additional speech required in McIntyre, the subpoena issued to Ms. Parkhouse undoubtedly burdens her First Amendment right to speak before a commission concerning issues of public importance. The practical burden of compliance with a subpoena includes hiring an attorney, appearing before the DOI at the appointed time, and facing a battery of hostile questions under oath. Undoubtedly these increased personal costs would make even a civic-minded individual such as Ms. Parkhouse secondguess whether he or she should express their opinion before a public commission." (p. 8)

"The First Amendment interests in this case are not confined to the personal rights of [the recipients of a subpoena.] Although their rights do not rest lightly in the balance, far weightier than they are the public interests in First Amendment freedoms that stand or fall with the rights that these witnesses advance for themselves."(quoting decision Bursey v. United States, 466 F.2d 1059, 1083 (9thCir. 1972)). (p. 9)

"The First Amendment does not convey a "right" to the public to hear only a sanitized and government-approved version of the truth; rather the public holds a right to state what they believe the views of their leaders to be, even if those beliefs are mistaken." (p. 11)

"Any further investigation serves only a retributive interest in prosecuting Ms. Parkhouse for her speech." (p. 16)

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