Web writer threatens lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 24, 2006

WINDSOR – Were first amendment rights violated here last week during a press conference hosted by the Bertie Board of Education?

That’s what John Davis wants to know.

Davis, of Merry Hill, alleges his constitutional rights (freedom of the press) were violated when he was denied entry into Thursday’s press conference held at the Bertie County Public Schools central office.

Informing a Bertie Public Schools official that he was representing the Bertie County Patriot (an internet blog based in Colerain), Davis attempted to join reporters with three other media outlets (Bertie Ledger-Advance, WITN-TV and the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald) for the start of the 4 p.m. press conference. Another media representative from the Virginian-Pilot arrived after the start of the press conference and was admitted.

According to Davis, the Patriot uses internet technology to publicize news within Bertie County. He said the Patriot has joined other local news outlets in covering the recent events surrounding the desegregation issue and subsequent possible closings of three elementary schools in Bertie County.

Davis is one of the organizers of Community Schools n SOS, a group that is fighting to keep the three schools open. Dean Stephens, the owner of the Bertie County Patriot, is also involved with the SOS group.

At an SOS meeting held later on Thursday, Davis told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that he had spoken with an attorney and was advised his first amendment rights were violated.

“I identified myself as a representative of the Bertie County Patriot and was denied access to the press conference,” Davis said. “I will pursue this legally.”

Apparently, Davis was not the only person denied access to the press conference.

Bertie Assistant County Manager Morris Rascoe, who traditionally represents the county’s Board of Commissioners at Bertie Board of Education functions, was also turned away.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb, reached on Monday while vacationing in New Hampshire, confirmed that Rascoe attempted to gain admittance to the press conference, but was told he could not attend.