- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

American Library Association cataloging misinformation

My grandmother always said, "When your opponent begins to lie, that's when you know you are winning."

In the March 16 article "Libraries register gripes over porn," Judith Krug, an American Library Association (ALA) official, states that of the 47 Minneapolis Public Library staff members who signed a letter protesting the pornography seen daily on our computer terminals, "only one is a librarian." Of the four names published in a Feb. 12 letter to the editor on the subject in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, three were librarians. (The newspaper could not include all 47 names.) Furthermore, in my department alone, six of our eight librarians signed the letter.

We cannot imagine where she got her information, but it is erroneous at best. Let us hope it was not an intentional misstatement, made in an attempt to discredit the 47 signers. Let us also hope this is not indicative of the reliability of statements coming from the ALA on this issue. Whether the ALA likes it or not, with the advent of the Internet on library terminals, pornography has become a major problem for us.

I also would like to make the point that rank and status mean nothing when you stand in your workplace and see a hard-core pornographic image before you. We must be just as respectful of the concerns of a young shelver as of the most experienced and high-ranking librarian. None of us deserves to work in this kind if environment. Nor does the public deserve exposure to such offensive material when visiting the local library.

WENDY W. ADAMSON

Minneapolis

This letter represents the opinion of librarian Wendy Adamson and should not be considered an official response from the Minneapolis Public Library.

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In "Libraries register gripes over porn," we see what appears to be a classic disinformation campaign at work. Judith Krug, an American Library Association (ALA) official, declares that there were over 30 complaints about Internet porn in public libraries nationwide in 1998 and 1999. She says she can't imagine where David Burt of Filtering Facts gets his information when he asserts that there were thousands of complaints. I would suggest that Ms. Krug try her local library. That's what Mr. Burt did, and that's what I did.

In February I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Prince William County Public Library system. In response, I received approximately 30 incident reports from our one system. Given this fact, it is difficult to believe that Ms. Krug or the ALA made a very thorough search. If the Prince William County Public Library is average for this type of thing, it can be assumed that hundreds of thousands of incidents occur in America's libraries each year.

I think it also can be assumed that the ALA is no longer a reliable source of information, having clearly sided with the pornographer against American families on this one.

ROBERT S. FITZSIMMONDS

Manassas

It may be too early to close Filegate

I was somewhat puzzled by your editorial on independent counsel Robert W. Ray's recent report to the court regarding Filegate ("Closing Filegate?" March 21). From news accounts I have read, Mr. Ray claimed that he had no jurisdiction to prosecute a number of the low-level persons involved in the misuse of these files because of the statutory provisions of the Privacy Act. Because only misdemeanors were at stake, Mr. Ray argued that he could not prosecute.

Your editorial made no mention of this conclusion. It seems like a strange claim to me, but perhaps Mr. Ray is correct. At the least, it needs to be examined if only to see whether Mr. Ray is upholding his responsibilities and his duty to hundreds of persons whose personnel files still reside in the White House.

Finally, even if Mr. Ray is correct regarding the Privacy Act's provisions, how was Nixon White House official Charles Colson sent to prison for misuse of one file? Numerous laws deal with the misuse of government property. It is difficult for me to believe that whatever law applied to Mr. Colson is not still available for use against D. Craig Livingstone et al.

CHRISTOPHER M. GACEK

Alexandria

Bill ending Maryland's inheritance tax suffers from a defect

The Maryland House of Delegates deserves praise for recognizing the inequity of the Maryland inheritance tax and passing House Bill 13 sponsored by Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat, and Delegate Obie Patterson, Prince George's County Democrat by a vote of 138 to zero, which would eliminate it after two years.

The bill, however, has a major defect, which should be corrected before the Senate takes action on the measure.

An amendment was added that provides for an increase in probate fees to support funding for the offices of the Registers of Wills. The Registers of Wills' offices should be funded from the general fund like other agencies, rather than a specific increase in probate fees, which in some cases may be increased by as much as 300 percent.

We need truth in packaging for this legislation. Let us repeal the Maryland inheritance tax, as 20 other states have repealed their inheritance taxes since 1980, leaving only 13 states that still impose this tax.

We owe this relief to our seniors and their survivors. Let's not weigh this worthy goal down with a bill providing a special benefit for the Registers of Wills. The Senate should reject this provision. We need a clean bill passing both the House and Senate that provides relief to Marylanders by repealing the inheritance tax.

JAMES L. MARTIN

President

60 Plus Association

Arlington

Column unfairly attacks our jury system

In his column, "Identifying the real lawmakers" (Commentary, March 11), Duane Parde expresses dismay about a "group of people with increasing power over day-to-day existence" trial lawyers.

But the facts Mr. Parde left out of his column show that he is really attacking citizen juries, not lawyers. Here, for instance, is the real story about the Chevy Malibu case and the $4.9 billion verdict which consists mostly of punitive damages that a California jury handed down against General Motors.

When six passengers in a Chevy Malibu were hit from behind, the car's gas tank which was located outside the vehicle's frame exploded. All of the occupants suffered massive, disfiguring burns. Testimony proved that GM knew the gas tank's placement would cause some cars to explode upon impact. GM knew its faulty design would kill. But instead of altering its design for a cost of $8.49 per car GM decided to risk its customers' lives for profit.

Punitive damages are meant to punish wrongdoers like GM. These "exemplary" damages, according to Barron's Law Dictionary, are "excess enhancement to the injured … awarded only in instances of malicious and willful misconduct."

Limiting or eliminating punitive damages rewards those who are willing to hurt consumers and discards an effective deterrent against companies that put profit ahead of safety.

Mr. Parde conveniently forgot to mention these facts about punitive damage awards: According to the Department of Justice, punitive damages are awarded on just 1.8 percent of all civil cases that go to trial; the median punitive damage award is only $50,000. The GM punitive damages award, like most others, has been reduced on appeal to less than one quarter of the original amount.

It's a shame Mr. Padre distorts the facts to try to make his point. Those who engage in legitimate discussions about public policy respect their audience by giving them the whole truth. Mr. Padre shows a lack of respect for courageous and responsible jurors who acted properly when they were allowed to consider all of the relevant facts.

Juries are the bulwark of our civil justice system and should be appreciated for their independence and ability to discharge justice.

RICHARD H. MIDDLETON JR.

President

Association of Trial Lawyers of America

Washington

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