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Published: Wednesday, 1/17/2007

Mayor must allow WSPD into news conferences

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A federal judge yesterday ordered Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to allow WSPD-AM radio reporter and talk show host Kevin Milliken into city news conferences.

In issuing a temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge James Carr said city officials must give advance notice to the radio station about upcoming news events as they do for other area media organizations.

The request for the restraining order was made in a lawsuit the radio station filed against the city, accusing the mayor and his spokesman, Brian Schwartz, of engaging in discriminatory practices and violating Mr. Milliken's constitutional rights.

The suit stems from a feud between WSPD and the mayor's office. Last week, Mr. Milliken and two talk show hosts from the station forced their way into a news conference at the mayor's office in Government Center. A day earlier, Mr. Milliken was barred from a news conference because he wasn't viewed as an "objective reporter."

The lawsuit alleges that Mayor Finkbeiner began treating WSPD differently than other media outlets last summer by withholding notices of news conferences after the radio station criticized the mayor about a proposed plan to build a bike path in the city's south end.

The radio station claims Mayor Finkbeiner also "forbade" Mr. Milliken from attending public news conferences held by city officials that other media representatives were allowed to cover.

The lawsuit also cites last week's highly publicized incidents involving Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Milliken.

Adam Loukx, an attorney with the Toledo law department, gave his assurances to the court that the plaintiffs would be allowed to attend upcoming news conferences.

However, he wouldn't voluntarily consent to having the restraining order imposed in the case.

Attorney Thomas Pletz, of the Toledo law firm Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, which represents the radio station, made arguments to the court for the restraining order.

In response to the allegations, Judge Carr said that any exclusion of a news organization from providing coverage of a news conference is "troublesome'' and that the interests of the public would be served by issuing the restraining order.

Mr. Milliken and Andy Stuart, vice president and marketing manager of the Clear Channel Communications, which owns WSPD, attended the hearing.

"We are so very pleased that the court found in our favor because it is such an obvious fact, even to little school children who are studying the Bill of Rights for the first time, that the freedom of the press is one of the most cherished rights of our society," Mr. Stuart said.

Mr. Schwartz, who was in the courtroom for the hearing, wouldn't answer afterward whether the city would comply with the judge's order or allegations made by the radio station in the complaint.

"This is a matter of pending litigation," he said. "I am not going to comment on the validity of their complaint."

A hearing on the plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction was scheduled for Jan. 26.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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