Radio Free Brattleboro Raided Today

I didn’t see this coming, since, as John pointed out, Radio Free Brattleboro‘s case with the FCC is still pending in court, and the Feds only recently asked for a summary judgement. In fact, last year, the judge in the case ruled against the FCC’s request for an injunction to shut down the station while the case was pending.

Nevertheless, the station has been shut down:

At 6:58 this morning, June 22, 2005, armed with a warrant issued by a Burlington magistrate, United States Marshals entered the studios of radio free brattleboro and seized its broadcasting equipment. The seizure of equipment and shutdown of rfbÂ’s local broadcasts under authority of a warrant issued in Burlington comes while an action is still pending before Judge J. Garvan Murtha in the federal court in Brattleboro.

Click through to read the rest of RFB’s press release:

In March of 2004 radio free brattleboro filed for an injunction in the District Court in Brattleboro, asking the Court to prohibit the FCC from seizing equipment. The United States District Attorney, representing the FCC, filed a reciprocal action for injunction to shut down the radio station. These dueling actions were finally whittled down to one action and the rfb request for injunction was dropped, due to the following statement in a filing made by the United States:

In its suit, rfb seeks to enjoin the FCC from seizing its equipment or from stopping it from broadcasting without a hearing. Because neither of these eventualities are threatened, the suit is essentially moot. The FCC has chosen not to try to seize the equipment of rfb but to proceed by way of a preliminary injunction. Thus, there is no controversy about imminent seizure of equipment for this Court to remedy or enjoin. Moreover, since rfb is receiving a hearing on March 15 [2004], it will not be stopped from broadcasting without a hearing. Thus, the matters that it asks to be remedied do not need a remedy.

This constituted the GovernmentÂ’s assurance that it contemplated no seizure of rfbÂ’s equipment and rfb did drop its own action for an injunction.

In April of 2005, with matters still pending in the U.S. District Court in Brattleboro, rfb received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Burlington stating that the FCC was “prepared to pursue other law enforcement remedies . . . .” Rfb was puzzled by this new threat, as it had dropped its original action for an injunction because of the Government’s assurance that the regular court process in Brattleboro would be the venue for the dispute. Accordingly, rfb replied to the U.S. Attorney’s office stating:

The radio station has continued operating because the FCC’s complaint to the court has yet to receive a ruling either on the preliminary or permanent injunctions you [FCC] seek. Your review of the file doubtless informs you that rfb originally applied for an injunction to bar the FCC from exactly the action you now contemplate, under 47 U.S.C. § 510. The station voluntarily agreed to a dismissal of its complaint for injunction because of the pending injunction petition put in by the FCC. In the given posture, I do not believe this district court or any appeals court will say that rfb was obliged to shut down: shut-down is precisely the question for which we await the judge’s answer. Your threatened action is, therefore, an end run, is it not?

On May 3, 2005, the Government filed for summary judgment in the case pending in Brattleboro. Radio free brattleboro responded to that motion and therefore the FCCÂ’s case asking for an injunction to shut down rfb remains, today, in the hands of Judge Murtha in Brattleboro.

Radio free brattleboro’s attorney, James Maxwell, commented: “This is on one level no surprise. The FCC has run out of patience with the regular court process in Brattleboro and has gone elsewhere for the relief it seeks, namely, a chance to get the U.S. Marshals into the station to grab the equipment. Radio free brattleboro has a case with substantial and legitimate legal issues pending in the federal court here in Brattleboro, and the station has also applied to the FCC for a waiver to broadcast, and it has repeatedly stated that when the newly licensed 100-watt station is up and running it would step aside. Rfb does not operate in defiance of government but rather from the belief of its members and listeners that community radio is essential to good government and democratic process. Radio free brattleboro has always stressed to the public and to the FCC that it will adhere to FCC guidelines and will serve the public whether licensed or not. Nevertheless, it is very much a surprise that the FCC has done an end run around the court here in Brattleboro and obtained a warrant from Burlington—even while diverting our attention by applying for summary judgment here. It has undertaken these clever maneuvers, in my opinion, not because it must shut down the station but because it can shut down the station. For there is no harm whatsoever being done by rfb, while there surely is harm being done to a civil society by the broadcast and cable and satellite conglomerates whose idea of serving the public is to process entertainment, information and advertisements for mass consumption, which is to say for no one at all. It’s a sad and disappointing day, but of course we will explore our options.”