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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Want to COver Our Student Gov Meetings? Then we'll shut down the presses!

Hey everybody! It's that rarest of First Amendment no-nos, the prior restraint.

The Montclarion, Montclair State University's student-run newspaper, was prevented from publishing its first issue of the semester, due to a Jan. 22 budget freeze by its parent, the Student Government Association (SGA).

SGA bookkeeper Pamela Mitchell contacted the publishing company, Wall, N.J.-based RFM Printing, to inform them of the funding suspension and to instruct them not to publish the Jan. 24 issue of the paper, or any subsequent issues, until further notice. The production coordinator who spoke to Mitchell recited notes she had from the conversation.

"It was very matter of fact," said the employee. "[I was told] do not print an issue until further notice."

The freeze was initiated through an undated letter addressed to Montclarion Editor-in-Chief Karl de Vries on Tuesday, Jan. 22, the first day of spring semester classes. The reasons cited were related to a legal counsel agreement between The Montclarion and its former attorney on Jan. 19, 2007.

Attorney Sal M. Anderton, who represented The Montclarion for nearly a year, was fired by SGA President Ron Chicken in December . Anderton advised the newspaper in its pursuit against the SGA for what The Montclarion maintains is a closed session practice in violation of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act.

The budget freeze letter, signed by Chicken and SGA Treasurer Melissa Revesz, claimed an improper legal service contract, a violational "expenditure of funds," and the denial of The Montclarion to submit the correspondences between the newspaper and the attorney.

The Montclarion's position is that the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. The paper will continue to refuse the request. Chicken requested the records verbally on Nov. 14, again on Dec. 5 and in a letter on Dec. 13.

Last year's SGA President and Treasurer approved the payment of Anderton's $5,000 retainer fee. The fee was drawn from the SGA's own budget, from a line previously designated and approved by the legislature as "Montclarion Legal Fees."

"Technically that's the contract," said Angelo Lilla, former SGA President, of the purchase requisite he signed approving the retainer fee. "It's a document with two signatures approving and showing proof that we understand and agree to the terms of payment."

Chicken established in December that The Montclarion would receive legal counsel and advice, if necessary, from SGA attorney Aaron Easley. The Montclarion must submit legal queries for Easley through Chicken and is not permitted to access him directly.

More here.

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