The Harris Column
The Putnam Pit v. Cookeville
Geoff Davidian got a fair trial before a good and honest judge and jury. 
And it happened in Cookeville

By SAMUEL J. HARRIS
Putnam Pit columnist

COOKEVILLE, TENN. -- On October 12, 2001, The Putnam Pit, Inc., formerly a Tennessee Corporation, and Geoffrey Davidian lost their trial seeking damages for the denial of a web link to the City of Cookeville's local links web page. You can read the Sixth Circuit's decision that sets forth the basic facts by clicking this link, http://pacer.ca6.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=00a0235p.06 or go to findlaw.com and search for the case of The Putnam Pit, Inc. vs. City of Cookeville under their court of appeals search engine.
The Court allowed for a fair trial, and the jury did their duty. Clearly justice works in America when due process is allowed to take its course. Despite a clean and smart trial, this web page, Geoff Davidian, and their counsel takes exception to the Court's characterization of the The Putnam Pit's seeking a link. Using due process to protect free speech is the essence of liberty in America. Even when the odds are difficult, the seeking of justice and the protection of our fundamental liberties against suppression by local government must be pursued.
Samuel J. Harris, left, confers with John Duffy
Cookeville attorney Samuel J. Harris, left, confers with Knoxville lawyer John Duffy outside the United States Court House in Cookeville on Friday, Oct. 12, following jury decision in Putnam Pit v. Cookeville
It is important to note that Mr. Davidian authorized settlement of a simple apology and less than half his legal fees a month before trial. The City of Cookeville chose to resolve this matter in court by a trial, as is the City's right. At the outbreak of this litigation in 1997, Mr. Davidian offered to settle for no money if he was allowed a local link, access to the parking ticket records in computer format, and access to the cookies letters. On December 10, 1997, before the initial case management conference, John Duffy, the City of Cookeville's counsel for the case, rejected the offer. Geoffrey Davidian will rightfully ridicule the waste of taxpayer's money by government leaders, who often react emotionally and on the advice of unimaginative counsel. The City of Cookeville made no steps to settle in light these offers. Mr. Davidian has since been allowed to access the city's parking ticket records in computer format as the result of the Tennessee Supreme Court's ruling in the Tennessean case against NES. You can find this case at http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/opinions/tsc/984/tenness.opn 

Mr. Davidian also obtained sufficient information about the City's internet usage that further pursuit of cookies as a public record was not worth the expenditure of resources. We believe that time will eventually establish such records of internet usage as being public records.

Now pay attention John Duffy, we did not win the links. But Mr. Davidian was allowed by the Court to have his day in Court before a very intelligent jury. This jury endured the hardships of a First Amendment trial because it was their duty. Americans are not the selfish, spoiled individuals that we sometimes appear to be. This jury was thoughtful and attentive. The jury may like Geoff Davidian and Jim Shipley, but I'm fairly confident they won't be letting District Attorney General Bill Gibson do any surgery or even give a hair cutting. The undeserving Cookeville City Council can be proud of Jim Shipley's victory, but it was won only because Mr. Shipley successfully managed the City in spite of some petty advice and a few silly moves which we have countered.

I may have let the Putnam Pit down at the very end. My wife, Lisa, is also an attorney. My co-counsel in the case, John Allen, and she critiqued my closing as disorganized. Apparently I gave better argument in the kitchen at home. I apologize to Putnam Pit supporters. The good news about being sick; I probably got Duffy sick. Mr. Duffy, I know we have teased you endlessly, but we do it in good humor. So you won't take that wrong, we were joking. Of course by Bill Gibson's understanding I'm not sure what we meant.

Now Jim Shipley may think we wasted the jury's time. He may not respect John Allen or Sam Harris in their role as legal counsel. I'm fairly sure he doesn't like the Putnam Pit. But determining whether the government is abusing its power must be checked by a jury from time to time. In fact, Judge Wiseman must know this case had to be submitted to a jury.

And a city manager [this was changed from what might have been construed as a direct communication about this case to Mr. Shipley; obviously Mr. Shipley should seek the advice of counsel for matters directly concerning the Putnam Pit case] should know this, both John Allen and I are capable of much better depositions than you experienced in this case. We attacked in deposition and on cross-examination only to the extent we believed appropriate. In reality, we don't care that you underestimate our efforts to give Mr. Davidian his day in court, we know we won by giving Mr. Davidian his due process under the law.

Maybe it was Pickett's Charge, a pointless direct attack on a fortified position at Gettysburg. Like General Longstreet, I had urged maneuverability for four years of this case. Like war combatants I am exhausted from the battle. Like the Lost Cause Movement of Southerners after the Civil War I am not persuaded that the City should have won. But it appears to be over.

Geoff Davidian got a fair trial before a good and honest judge and jury. And it happened in Cookeville.

Now contrary to Mr. Duffy and Mr. Gibson's assessment of the Putnam Pit, that is not the first positive thing written about Cookeville on the pages of the Putnam Pit. If however we hear the City of Cookeville or Bill Gibson say the Putnam Pit only says negative things about Cookeville we will know they are liars or are showing the capacity to talk while choosing to be ignorant of facts. To those of you who say this article was spiked with a negative tone, I respond "so what?" It is still protected speech under the Constitution of the United States of America.



Samuel J. Harris is a Cookeville attorney who represents The Putnam Pit in public records and civil rights matters. He writes opinions columns for The Pit but otherwise has no connection to the editorial decisions of this newspaper.