A U.S. senator, a U.S. representative and a nonprofit First Amendment advocacy group each have sent a letter of complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice after one of its attorneys demanded she not be quoted or recorded by a Daily Iberian reporter at a public meeting. Further they express concern over the veiled threat the attorney used.
The complaint letters describe senior trial attorney Rachel Hranitzky’s behavior at a June 12 public meeting held inside New Iberia’s City Council chambers.
Before the meeting started, Hranitzky asked if there were any media present and told the Daily Iberian reporter he couldn’t quote or record her.
“You can quote those who speak, but you can’t quote me,” Hranitzky said, according to a story that ran in The Daily Iberian June 13.
When the reporter questioned her about the law that allowed such an assertion to be made, Hranitzky said the Department of Justice has special rules on how its attorneys can be quoted. But she cited no law or code that allowed for her demand.
She even tried to kick the reporter out because he questioned her, but eventually relented after he said he would not quote her, according to the June 13 story.
The Daily Iberian sent a complaint letter to the Justice Department on June 15 about Hranitzky’s actions. It was signed that it was received by the department on June 21. As of Saturday, the newspaper had received no response.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, sent his complaint letter to the Justice Department Friday and said he was unhappy The Daily Iberian had received no reply.
“I find it wholly unacceptable that our government, specifically the DOJ, has not responded to (managing editor Jeff Zeringue’s) complaint. I have yet to find the statutory authority that sanctions the actions of Ms. Hranitzky,” Landry said.
Landry added that he wants the Justice Department to respond to Zeringue and provide him with the “specific U.S. Code citation exempting the recording or reporting of Ms. Hranitzky at the June 12th public hearing.”
In a letter dated June 22, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, expressed his concerns about Hranit-zky’s demands at the meeting.
“I am formally requesting a response from you in regards to Hranitzky’s claims during this proceeding. Please provide the citation to any applicable law or code that would have prohibited the press from quoting Hranitzky during the June 12th public hearing,” Vitter said.
Both letters were sent to Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division, for which Hranitzky works.
Also the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent Perez a letter, dated June 22, about Hranitzky’s actions and their broader implications at the Justice Department.
“We are gravely concerned over any internal practice or policy of preventing journalists from recording or quoting statements made by DOJ officials in public meetings,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director of the First Amendment advocacy organization based in Arlington, Va.
In light of Hranitzky’s actions, Dalglish requested copies of any documents from the Justice Depart-ment that “state and/or explain this policy.”
“Re-stricting the public’s right to report on federal officials’ actions at public meetings clearly conflicts with the mandates of the First Amendment and state open government laws,” Dalglish said in her letter to Perez.
Dalglish asked that Perez along with Attorney General Eric Holder abandon the policy of demanding Justice Department attorneys not be quoted at public meetings.
Further Dalglish mentioned Hranitzky’s veiled threat to the reporter. Hranitzky said she could have the Justice Department call The Daily Iberian’s publisher or editors, saying “you don’t want to get on the Department of Justice’s bad side.”
Dalglish said these directives should stop.
“... and furthermore instruct DOJ officials to cease threatening reporters at public meetings,” she said.