Book at Center of Tattered Cover Fight Irrelevant to Police Case

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On behalf of his client, the lawyer representing the customer at the center of a landmark case involving Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store and its fight to protect the privacy of customer records recently authorized Tattered Cover's legal counsel to reveal the name of the book that had been sought by law enforcement officials for more than two years. The title, Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshall, had nothing to do with the case involving a methamphetamine lab. Bookstore owner Joyce Meskis, who knew the name of the book, chose to fight in court to protect the privacy of her customers' records. "You cannot pick and choose your times [to protect purchase records]," Meskis told BTW. "[A bookstore's] role is to protect the privacy of the customer."

In the well-publicized case, Denver's North Metro Drug Task Force had sought the suspect's book purchase records from the Tattered Cover after finding the bookstore's mailing envelope in a trash bin outside a methamphetamine lab. Meskis refused to turn the customer records over, and the case went to court. On April 8, 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the bookstore did not have to turn the records over.

Meskis explained that, despite the book's fairly innocuous subject matter, not turning over the records was a Constitutional issue, as well as one of principle.

The title of the book was not widely known until last Tuesday. Dan Bowen, the public defender who represented the defendant (who was eventually convicted), gave permission to Tattered Cover's lawyer, Dan Recht, to reveal the name of the book during a panel discussion following a screening of a documentary about the case titled Reading Your Rights.

The revelation of the book title was one highlight of Tuesday's panel discussion, which began with a screening of the 19-minute Reading Your Rights, by the Just Media Fund, an organization that helps develop media that focuses on social justice issues.

Henry Ansbacher, Just Media's executive director, told BTW that the film chronicles the Tattered Cover case, and "tries to take an even-handed, balanced approach," he explained. "We spent time with Joyce and with Lori Moriarity [commander of the North Metro Drug Task Force], both dedicated women who happened to come down on opposite sides."

Ansbacher said that Just Media Fund decided to make the documentary because "it's a very timely story, with the war on drugs and terrorism, our civil liberties have come under attack," he explained. "This is one of the first cases that addressed that. We have to be ever vigilant against these incursions against our civil liberties."

In related news, in recognition of her role as an advocate for free expression, on April 7, Meskis received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community. Distinguished poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti was also honored with an Authors Guild Award.