We recently promised to report something so shocking, so scandalous, it simply defies the imagination – stretches the bounds of believability!
When we learned of it, after reviving from a group faint that an Openness/Accountability Park Reform/Park Watch candidate would “prepare and disseminate campaign material that contained false statements” and that the “violations were multiple and were committed knowingly or with reckless disregard of the truth” we had to go back and confirm the facts.
We found them here: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=mn&vol=apppub%5C0701%5Copa052393-0123&invol=1
Jim Bernstein was recruited by Michael Guest’s Minneapolis Citizens for Park Board Reform to run against incumbent Park Commissioner Bob Fine. Mr. Bernstein was endorsed by Park Reform, as well as Park Watch. They armed him with their imaginative claims, “Bernstein relied upon widely distributed literature published by Minneapolis Citizens for Park Board Reform.”
He produced campaign flyers and placed newspaper ads that contained some very inventive allegations against Commissioner Fine:
“(1) More funding for speedy removal of trees infected by Dutch Elm disease and replant new trees? – Doesn’t Support;
(2) Provide superintendent with a $500,000 slush fund? – Yes!; and
(3) Fund and finish Lake of the Isles restoration? – Not a priority. “
Commissioner Fine knew these statements were false, and in the interest of simple fairness, brought this to the attention of the Office of Administrative Hearings. Mr. Bernstein came represented by political heavyweights Alan W. Weinblatt, Jyotsna Asha Sharma, Luke M. Kuhl, Weinblatt & Gaylord PLC.
Mr. Fine represented himself, armed only with the truth.
Mr. Fine provided documentation to prove the Mr. Bernstein’s claims were false. Mr. Bernstein provided witnesses, like Michael Guest.
The Openness/Accountability Reform/Watch candidate argued that his statements, made during an election campaign, criticizing his opponent, an elected public official, were completely protected by the First Amendment. As we know, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides in relevant part that, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .”
Bernstein is correct in his assertion that political speech receives even greater protection under the First Amendment. In fact, constitutional protections for speech and press were fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for bringing about political and social changes desired by the people!
“[I]n order to protect a vigorous marketplace in political ideas and contentions, we ought to accept the proposition that those who place themselves in a political arena must accept a degree of derogation that others need not.” Ollman v. Evans, 750 F.2d 970, 1002 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (Bork, J., concurring).
Political speech is protected under the First Amendment, but this protection is not absolute. It does not confer an absolute right to speak or publish, without responsibility, whatever one may choose, or an unrestricted and unbridled license that gives immunity for every possible use of language. In other words, you can’t just, well, you can just spout crapola.
Openness/Accountability/Reform/Watch candidate Bernstein argued that the First Amendment protected his “statements of opinion.” This protection exists because SUPPOSEDLY THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FALSE OPINION. He cited Kennedy v. Voss, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision 304 N.W.2d 299, 300 (Minn.1981) (discussing predecessor statute, Minn. Stat. § 210A.04 (1980)) in which a candidate used a fact – an incumbent’s “no” vote on a county budget – to infer that the incumbent did not support any of the individual items in the budget. The incumbent supported various items in the budget, however, voted “no” because the budget included an appropriation with which the incumbent disagreed.
The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the inferences, even though EXTREME AND ILLOGICAL, did not come within the purview of the statute. It’s a pretty low standard.
How low is it? So low it has to look up to see a snake’s belly.
Well… Commissioner Fine never engaged in a blanket vote against any of the programs commented on in Bernstein’s statements. Instead, Park Board records, which Bernstein admittedly reviewed, indicated Commissioner Fine’s SUPPORT of Dutch Elm disease funding and the Lake-of-the-Isles project. Park Board records also indicated the FALSITY of Bernstein’s statement regarding the “slush fund.”
“(1) More funding for speedy removal of trees infected by Dutch Elm disease and replant new trees? – Doesn’t Support”
The Office of Administrative Hearings found this statement to be a false fact, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed. They ruled that Bernstein knew his statement was false or made the statement with reckless disregard of whether or not it was false. False, reckless disregard, snake’s belly.
“(2) Provide superintendent with a $500,000 slush fund? – Yes!”
The Office of Administrative Hearings found this statement to be a false factual assertion, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed. They ruled that Bernstein knew his statement was false or made the statement with reckless disregard of whether or not it was false. False, reckless disregard, snake’s belly.
“(3) Fund and finish Lake of the Isles restoration? – Not a priority. “
The Office of Administrative Hearings found this to be a false statement, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed. They ruled that Bernstein acted with reckless disregard by publishing and disseminating this statement. False, reckless disregard, snake’s belly.
To review, Park Watch makes things up, Park Reform recruits candidates to spout their crapola, Park Reform and Park Watch endorse the candidates, then the candidates proceed to spout the crapola.
Heckava-reform-movement. A “reform” movement built on lies looks like a lot like a low-pile-of-crapola.
Our readers may be interested to learn that Mr. Bernstein is the Chair of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, and that he voted to put a referendum on the ballot to eliminate the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
In the interest of “openness and accountability,” the standard by which Minneapolis Citizens for Park Board Reform recruited this candidate, calling him “an impressive fellow” and by which they and Park Watch endorsed this candidate, we call on Park Watch to report this story, albeit four years after the fact.
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