City of Dallas Administrative Action 00 - 2442
Shut down pro-neighborhood websites?

Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson
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on these media websites . . .

(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.

BarkingDogs.org owns a number of web domain names - click here for the list

Dallas City Council Member Donna Blumer released the legal research materials on Tuesday evening, but we still do not know who asked for the research yet - read more here.

The Dallas Morning News weighs in with an editorial about the controversy - click here.

 

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.

Services Rendered Itemization
What questions were asked...
Research rules for assignment of domain names and suffixes
Research rules for domain name selection; telephone conference with Tom Perkins on status of same
Research rules for domain name selection and draft memorandum on same

Telephone conference with Madeleine Johnson about memorandum on domain name issues

Research issues concerning the proper jurisdicational forum for challenges to defamatory internet materials and related choice-of-law rules
Research issues concerning the proper jurisdictional forum for challenges to defamatory internet materials and related choice-of-law rules; draft memo on same; telephone conference with Madeleine Johnson on follow-up to domain name disputes; draft supplement on same
Research forum and enforcement of foreign-judgment issues concerning defamatory internet materials; telephone conference with Madeleine Johnson's office on follow-up to domain name dispute resolution matter; complete draft of memo on defamatory internet materials

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:

This letter follows our telephone discussion earlier today. It is my understanding that the City, through your office, is interested in obtaining information based on legal research into issues concerning the interaction of the Internet and the First Amendment. I would be pleased to conduct that legal research for the City and produce a legal memorandum based on it, as well as provide such other product as might be requested.

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:

Mayor Pro Tem
Mary Poss
Mayor
Ron Kirk
Council Member
Leo V. Chaney

BD regularly skewers Poss for her business-at-all-cost / screw-the neighborhood positions, especially after the Aw Shucks debacle; regularly ignores Open Record Requests; has City Staff do dirty work for her; mayor-wannabe in 2003.

Dallas.org features her campaign financial records as well as her out-of-both-sides-of-the-mouth explanation of why she voted to allow the desecration of historically significant Swiss Avenue homes.

Mary Poss has posted a response to the various NetActivism stories - sort of. Click here.

Openly admits that he does not know how to surf the Internet, yet wants to impose a sales tax program on Internet-based transactions.

Kirk has been criticized for ignoring the daily (read: potholes) needs of the City in favor of big ticket (personal) legacy (read: Bridges over the Trinity, 2012 Olympics) items, a complete lack of ethics and his wife sitting on the Board of Directors for a Tom Hicks company (and earning $500,000 in stock options now worth $1.2 million) while the City debated the AArenaDeal.

Kirk's ethics have been challenged on Dallas.org and other websites, as well as BarkingDogs.org

Chaney has big problems with DallasArena.com, which regularly skewers for holding a job at DISD and yet putting in a 40-hour plus week at City Hall.

DallasArena.Com also questions his shakedown tactics to bring money to South Dallas and the recent renaming of Starplex as Smirnoff Center.

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.

First Amendment

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,

This is a private website. It is not affiliated with or endorsed by the City of Dallas. The material on this website does not necessarily represent the views of any City official or the City of Dallas. Material on this website, including outside submissions, are subject to our Accuracy Policy. E-mail may be sent to Dallas@dallas.org.

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.

If you read Fast Company magazine, then click here to see the parody site, which focuses on failed dot.com business issues.

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:

. . . a situation in which some entity registers a domain name with one of now-several private domain name registrars with the intent not much to actually use it as a website but instead to hold the domain name for future sale to an entity who has a reason to want the domain name for its own website.

In other words, cybersquatters rush to register a theretofore unregistered domain name that has little or no relation to themselves or their endeavors with plans to benefit commercially by selling it to someone the domain name suits far better.

For the record, BarkingDogs.org/GraphicChoices.com owns the following web domain names:

barkingdogs.org
possformayor.com
aviadelman.net/com/org
dallascitylimits.org
thecityofdallas.net
kirkforsenate.com
barkingdogsdallas.org
possforcongress.com
dallascitycouncil.org

LowerGreenville.org is owned by Allen Gwinn (Dallas.org)
and licensed/linked to BarkingDogs.org

This is not cybersquatting - this is called planning ahead.