Monday, July 08, 2002

Residents keep ringing relief

Ind. judge upholds telemarketing no-call list as Ky.'s goes into effect

The Associated Press

        EVANSVILLE, Ind. — As Kentuckians eagerly await the beginning of the state's “no-call” list for telemarketers, scheduled to go into effect July 15, a judge in a neighboring state has upheld a similar ruling.

        A judge has rejected arguments by a telemarketer that Indiana's no-call list is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

        The ruling is the first by a judge regarding the list, which went into effect Jan. 1. More than 1 million Hoosiers have joined the list in an attempt to avoid unwanted calls from telemarketers.

        In Kentucky, about one third of the state's 4 million residents have alreay signed up for the “no-call” list, maintained and promoted by Attorney General Ben Chandler's office. The Kentucky law, which was toughened, closing loopholes for telemarketers, goes into effect July 15.

        Twenty states — including Indiana and Kentucky — have similar lists and many attach civil penalties.

        Ohio has no state-sponsored no-call list. Business lobbies helped defeat a proposal that made the rounds in Columbus a few years ago. Ohio consumers can, however, sign up on national no-call registries. In the Indiana case, Evansville-based Kirby vacuum distributor Steve Martin filed suit against the law, also claiming that it provided unfair exemptions to select groups like insurance and real estate agents and newspapers.

        Vanderburgh Circuit Court Judge Carl Heldt issued a ruling Friday in which he disagreed with Mr. Martin's contention that his free speech rights had been violated.

        “Although the First Amendment imposes strict limitations on government actions that interfere with the free exchange of ideas, the First Amendment does not stand as an impediment to private decisions to give audience to certain types of speech while avoiding others,” the ruling said.

        In its lawsuit, filed Jan. 9, Mr. Martin's company said it was not selling anything over the phone by making calls to offer a rug-shampooer demonstration.

        Mr. Heldt said that even in using the phone to set a time for a demonstration, calls made by Mr. Martin's company produced enough information to be considered as sales calls under the law.

        Mr. Heldt also declared Mr. Martin had no cause to claim that his company's constitutional rights equal protection were violated because the Indiana law exempted calls by insurance agents, real-estate agents, charities and newspaper subscription solicitation.

        Charitable organization calls are required under the law to be made by a volunteer or a member of the organization and are protected under the law in part because charitable soliciting is not “pure commercial speech,” the judge ruled.

        State Attorney General Steve Carter, whose office maintains the no-call list, praised the ruling.

        “I have said all along that I don't think the Constitution would require that people be defenseless against the annoying ring of the telephone,” Mr. Carter said.

        Attorneys for Mr. Martin said they were reviewing Mr. Heldt's decision.

        “Right now, as far as the appeals issue is concerned, that's being discussed with our client,” attorney Doug Walton said.

        A federal lawsuit filed against the no-call list in April is awaiting court action.

        In that case, organizations representing state police, disabled veterans, police chiefs and school prayer advocates argue their First Amendment rights are violated by the law.

        The state law, they claim, bars them from speaking for their causes, raising money and contacting past supporters.


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