Brattleboro radio talks break down
By DANIEL BARLOW Southern Vermont Bureau | January 10,2006
BRATTLEBORO — Negotiations on a possible settlement between radio free brattleboro and the Federal Communications Commission recently collapsed and an attorney for the former 10-watt community station plans to ask a local judge for a new hearing.
Station lawyer James Maxwell said that negotiations on a possible settlement in the nearly three-year-old case between the unlicensed radio station and the media regulatory arm of the federal government have ended without a resolution.
Maxwell said he will ask U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha this week to hold a status conference on the case, six months after the judge asked the two sides to negotiate a deal.
"The talks have ended, but I really can't say any more," said Maxwell, a Brattleboro attorney who began representing the community station soon after it was forced to shut down for broadcasting without a license in the summer of 2003.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Drescher said Monday that he could not comment on "the status of the negotiations," but did not dispute Maxwell's statement. Drescher said two civil cases against rfb are still pending before judges in Brattleboro and Burlington.
Murtha asked the two sides to seek an agreement to end the Brattleboro civil case — launched against the station in early 2004 by the FCC — during a private status conference on July 26, 2005.
The request to end the case came a month after the FCC raided rfb's downtown studios, this time seizing all of its broadcasting equipment under a warrant obtained through a Burlington judge.
The seizure took rfb — a commercial-free, volunteer-driven nonprofit group — off the air permanently. Maxwell then launched a third suit in the case seeking the return of the equipment, a case that he recently asked be voluntarily dismissed.
Attorneys representing the FCC filed three motions in the case each asking for 30-day extensions to file a response to Maxwell's complaint. U.S. Attorney David Kirby wrote in a Nov. 1, 2005 request that the "parties' settlement negotiations have recently proceeded more slowly than anticipated, apparently due to demands on Plaintiff's counsel."
On Nov. 29, Maxwell filed a "notice of voluntary dismissal" asking that the station's civil case against the FCC be withdrawn. Murtha has not yet ruled on that motion and Maxwell did not return a call for comment Monday.
When asked about the dismissal of the suit, Drescher said Maxwell was "free to resubmit" the suit if he wished.
The controversial radio station launched in 1998 and broadcasted throughout the town of 12,000 without any problems until a Guilford resident lodged a complaint with the FCC in early 2003 that its signal was interfering with a Massachusetts public radio station.
Members of the station claimed the FCC, which at the time was not issuing any low-power FM licenses, served only large media corporations. Attorneys for the station have argued that a successful town meeting question and resolution of support from the Brattleboro Select Board comprised its authority to broadcast in the region.
Brattleboro Community Radio, a new group formed by another local nonprofit group, plans to begin broadcasting at 107.7 FM this spring after the FCC issued it a 100-watt license last year.
Contact Daniel Barlow at firstname.lastname@example.org.