of Dallas Administrative Action 00 - 2442
(December 22, 2000) The City of Dallas has paid an attorney nearly $4,000 for legal research as part of ongoing efforts by unknown membesr of the Dallas City Council to shut down pro-neighborhood websites, possibly seize a website domain name that is embarassing the City of Dallas on the World Wide Web, and sue these websites for publishing what the City and unknown City Council members consider defamatory materials.
The City Attorney is also refusing to identify the City Council member (or members) who requested this research, claiming (in their letter to the Texas Attorney General) that this would:
. . . violate the attorney-client privilege by revealing the identity of a client (Dallas City Council member) and the confidential communications the client made to his / her attorney (Dallas City Attorney) for the purpose of securing professional legal advice
Administrative Action 00-2442, issued by City Attorney Madeleine Johnson on August 9, 2000, authorized the City to issue a professional services contract with Max Renea Hicks, Attorney at Law, to conduct legal research into issues concerning the interaction of the Internet and the First Amendment.
Attorney-client privilige means never having to say which Council Member is mad at us?
The City has refused to release the documents under an Open Records Request made by Allen Gwinn (Dallas.org). Instead, they are claiming that the documents are exempted from disclosure under the Open Records Act and are confidential under attorney-client privilege. The City has forwarded the all the materials to the Texas Attorney General for his approval to withhold the material from release. The Attorney General must answer the request within 45 days.
Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson has denied, in statements to the media and Dallas City Council members, that this research was conducted with the intention of shutting down neighborhood websites but rather, was meant to research issues surrounding Internet domain names.
She also stated that there were concerns that websurfers would confuse Dallas.org with the City's official website, DallasCityHall.org.
The City's letter to the AG states:
Mr. Hicks' invoicing clearly details the research process he followed, offering a unique insight into what questions were being asked. That list is included in the sidebar.
Below the financial radar
The Administrative Action was reported to City Council in early August; Council approval was not required since the expenditure was less than the $15,000 cap as set by City policy.
The report was delivered by Hicks to the City Attorney's office on October 25th, 2000. His fees for the research were $3,675.
Barking Dog and Gwinn learned of this Administrative Action nearly three weeks ago. Immediately thereafter, we obtained copies of the Administrative Action form and a letter from Hicks to Johnson written on June 2, 2000, which included Hicks' professional résumé.
Hicks specializes in litigation and appellate actions, has extensive experience in North Texas federal courts and worked for the Office of the Attorney General of Texas 1993 - 1995 before going into private practice. His résumé includes litigation experience in technology, media defense, land use, constitutional law and federal civil litigation.
Hicks wrote in June:
BD has called and email'd Hicks, asking for a copy of the report, but the calls were not returned.
The exchange of correspondence took place at the same time the Dallas City Council was debating the stringent Ethics Code developed by the City's Ethics Commission. This website, along with Dallas.org and DallasArena.com, were very vocal in their criticism of Mayor Ron Kirk and others on the Council who eventually were able to pass an Ethics Code that had no teeth and even less reporting requirements than the State requires of any county official across the state.
The usual suspects . . .
Like the game of Clue, we are wondering which City Council member or members asked for this research and why?
Here are the usual suspects and a summary of their problems with neighborhood websites:
Can someone tell us Why?
For a lot less than $4,000, BD is prepared to provide the answer to these questions online for the City Attorney. We would hope she would send the money to the City's Code Enforcement Department with the request that a full code enforcement sweep be conducted on Lower Greenville as soon as possible.
Internet websites are protected by the same First Amendment principles as a newspaper, television or radio station. In all instances, Truth is the best defense.
This website, as well as other cyberhoods, has an Accuracy Pledge on the bottom of every page.
For example, Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans (under the direction of Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss, according to e-mail correspondence released by the City), recently wrote a five-page letter to BD rebutting claims made on this website (none of which he got right, we might add).
If the City has problems with the things they see on this or any other website, then maybe they should consider using this money to fix the problems presented online and not waste taxpayer money on pointless legal research on how to squelch critics.
Domain name issues
When Al Gore invented the Internet, Allen Gwinn was in the next room buying domain names. He purchased Dallas.org in 1992, well before anyone at Dallas City Hall heard the word website.
Many cities own a domain name, usually cityname.org, realizing that potential visitors or business opportunities are just a click away. Dallas never bought the rights to use its name online. CityOfDallas.com is registered to a company in Florida.
Gwinn's site attracts nearly 15,000 people a day simply due to its seniority and name. There is a disclaimer at the bottom of every page,
It is very likely that Dallas City officials, elected or otherwise, have realized that Gwinn's site has gone from just a hobby to a very neighborhood-oriented website. That means 15,000 people get what they must consider as a negative view of Dallas
That negative view is not going to help win this City the Olympics in 2012.
However, there is no legal justification or remedy available to the City. Madonna won the rights to her domain name, but Sting lost his case. There are numerous parody website names that mimic real company names, but they are perfectly legal.
Cybersquatting this isn't
There is a big difference between cybersquatting and owning domain names. Cybersquatters buy names as if they were commodities, with the sole purpose of selling them to the people who really want or need them, at a huge profit. Wallstreet.com recently sold for $8 million dollars!
However, people who buy names for future uses, in any number of imaginative ways, and have no intention of selling them to anyone, are not cybersquatters. BarkingDogs.org/GraphicChoices.com is not a cybersquatter - we will use the names we have purchased (see list) when we decide it is appropriate.
The City's research attorney defines cybersquatting as:
This is not cybersquatting - this is called planning ahead.