Off Limits

Hey, barkeep!

This year's accolade, which comes in the wake of a 2000 win for snaps taken after the killings at Columbine High School, rewarded the News and its shutterbugs for their spectacular work during last year's wildfires.

On April 7, as champagne flowed in the newsroom for what one wag believes was the first time since the News obtained the right to run the "Garfield" comic strip formerly seen in the Denver Post, a slide show of evocative shots, complete with audio commentary by director of photography Janet Reeves, appeared on the Rocky's Web site, www.rockymountainnews.com. But locals may be disappointed that the gallery doesn't include the single best-known image from the summer of smoke: the June 24 front-page pic by staffer Barry Gutierrez that found Durango resident Fred Finlay sitting amid his burned belongings, one testicle apparently dangling from his shorts. In the days that followed, Reeves and News editor John Temple argued that the private area in question was actually "an unfortunate convergence of shadows," but Finlay thought otherwise. After Fox radio producer Kathy Lee tracked Finlay down and showed him the photo, he said, "Those would be my balls. My one ball."

For future reference: When it comes to testicles or Pulitzers, two is better than one.School daze:The extracurricular activities at Metro State are getting pretty wild. Six weeks ago, Brotha Seku (né Stephen Evans), the former Student Government Assembly president, was expelled until 2004 for his third student code-of-conduct violation in thirty years and was threatening to sue the school ("Off Limits," March 6). Since then, the fiery fifty-year-old student has hired fiery -- and very successful -- Denver defense attorney Walter Gerash to represent him and reopen his February 28 hearing.

Judicial officer Elyse Yamauchihad stopped those proceedings after Seku invited in reporters from The Metropolitan, a student newspaper. Although journalists Noelle Leavitt and Lindsay Sandhamand photographer Danny Holland had obtained a waiver from Seku giving them access to all of his student records and to the hearing, Yamauchi told them the meeting was closed. Holland snapped some images and the reporters tried to assert their rights under Colorado's open-meetings law, but Yamauchi repeated that the meeting was closed, threatened to bring the student journalists up on code-of-conduct charges if they didn't beat a hasty retreat -- and then called the campus police.

The students left, the hearing ended. And on March 17, Yamauchi filed complaints against them anyway.

Now the student journalists have their own attorney, Eileen Kiernan-Johnson, of Faegre & Benson. The First Amendment specialist is helping them pro bono, not only in fighting their charges -- which none of the students have seen, since Metro's student handbook does not require the judicial officer to prove the accused with copies -- but also in reopening the Seku investigation.

"We took the case to hold the Metro judicial panel accountable," Kiernan-Johnson says. "We disagree that they're governed by internal policy, as Elyse Yamauchi said; the law makes clear that they are bound to state law. And we're troubled by the charges brought against the student journalists. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing."

They are also considering suing the school. Human-services professor Shawn Worthy, who is serving as judicial officer on the case, wrote Leavitt that "Yamauchi is willing to resolve this matter informally, assuming you are willing to take responsibility and work on a positive outcome and resolution to this matter." Leavitt and the other journalists, however, believe they are working on a positive outcome: the public's right to know, as well as their own.

"Everything has been vague," Leavitt says. "Nothing has cited Colorado law, just the handbook. They're giving us an argument based on a student handbook, and we're giving them one based on the law."

Deb Hurley-Brobst, the resident open-meetings/open-records expert at Metro's journalism department, agrees that the Metropolitan's staffers should have been given access to Seku's hearing. "Based on my reading of the law," she says, "because they had Brother Seku's permission to be there, they should have been allowed in." But the department doesn't advise the paper, at least not officially. "They are a student newspaper, and technically, as faculty, we are employed by the administration," Hurley explains. "We don't want to hinder in any way their First Amendment rights."

The Metropolitan can't subsidize its staffers' cause financially, since the paper is partially funded by student fees. But it can support them with ink -- and plenty of that will be spilled after the student journalists' first hearing on the still-unspecified charges, set for this week.

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