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Holding federal institutions accountable becoming harder 

(Part of an ongoing examination of threats to First Amendment freedoms by The Associated Press, the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors)

There are cracks in the curtains President Donald Trump tried to draw around the government early in his presidency, but the slivers of light aren't making it easier to hold federal officials accountable for their actions. Trump still refuses to divest from his real estate and hotel empire or release virtually any of his tax returns. His administration is vigorously pursuing whistleblowers. Among scores of vacant senior jobs in the government is an inspector general for the Department of Energy — led by Secretary Rick Perry, former governor of Texas — as it helps drive the region's recovery from Hurricane Harvey. Rebuilding from the deadly storm seems certain to be a $100 billion-plus endeavor involving multiple federal departments and an army of government contractors. If the ghosts of Katrina, Sandy and other big storms are guides, the bonanza of taxpayer dollars is a recipe for corruption. And that makes transparency and accountability all the more critical for a president who has bristled at the suggestion of either one.

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Request denied: States try to block access to public records 

(Part of an ongoing examination of threats to First Amendment freedoms by The Associated Press, the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors)

In February, Arkansas lawmakers marked the 50-year anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act with a resolution calling it "a shining example of open government" that had ensured access to vital public records for generations. They spent the following weeks debating and, in many cases approving, new exemptions to the law in what critics called an unprecedented attack on the public's right to know.When they were finished, universities could keep secret all information related to their police forces, including their size and the names and salaries of officers. Public schools could shield a host of facts related to security, including the identities of teachers carrying concealed weapons and emergency response plans. And state Capitol police could withhold anything they believed could be "detrimental to public safety" if made public.

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Kobach's use of private emails for Trump panel questioned 

A Kansas Press Association leader and a media attorney are accusing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach of flouting a year-old state open records law by using a private email account for his work as vice chairman of President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud. Max Kautsch, a Lawrence attorney who specializes in free speech and open government issues, said Kobach's contention that he is serving on the commission as a private citizen is "obviously totally insane," The Kansas City Star reported . And Doug Anstaett, the press association's executive director, said Kobach is "dead wrong." The 2016 law says that public officials' emails on public business are subject to disclosure under the Kansas Open Records Act even if they are on a private account or device.

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Judge says 'shadow insurance' documents can remain secret 

An Iowa judge has ruled that the details of "shadow insurance" subsidiaries created by several life insurers can remain confidential. Indiana University professor emeritus Joseph Belth sought the documents last year under Iowa's open records law, saying he believes they would expose risky financial practices that could bankrupt some insurers. Judge Lawrence McLellan sided Thursday, Sept. 15, with the industry and state regulators, saying the documents are part of the companies' "plans of operations" and exempt from disclosure. Companies such as TransAmerica have taken advantage of an Iowa law to transfer billions of dollars in liabilities to subsidiaries. Insurers say the arrangements free them from accounting rules mandating that they hold excess cash reserves.

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The Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times honored 

The Dallas Morning News and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times have been honored by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas for their open government reporting.

The newspapers on Thursday, Sept. 14, each won the Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award during the foundation's state conference in Austin. The Dallas Morning News, in the Class AA large market category, was recognized for reports exposing problems with the Texas child welfare system. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, in Class A, was honored for stories about the death of Naomi Villarreal, who was a victim of domestic violence. The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the foundation's former executive director. The competition is open to newspaper, broadcast and online journalism.

Colorado county updates online processing of pubic record requests

Colorado’s Boulder County has announced it has updated its online system for processing public records request. Using new software, elected county officials and their staff will "be able to offer greater transparency of public documents and to help improve access to records requested under the Colorado Open Records Act," officials said in a news release. People can access the web-based portal for people's requests for records from multiple Boulder County departments by going to the county's CORA webpage, Officials said the new website will allow people to submit public records requests, track the progress of the county's response and download electronic records that others have asked for. The website also provides a searchable archive of previously released requests and documents.

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Lawsuit by AP, others seek emails from Washington lawmakers 

A coalition of news organizations led by The Associated Press sued the Washington Legislature on Tuesday, Sept. 12, challenging lawmakers' claim that a tweak made more than two decades ago to the state's public records law excludes them from stricter disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials and agencies. Hundreds of important records are being withheld by the state House and Senate, the lawsuit says, depriving the public of information essential to knowing what is going on in state government.

"The public has a right to know what its elected officials are doing behind closed doors," AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano said.

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A timeline of the public records law in Washington state 

A coalition of news organizations led by The Associated Press is suing the Washington Legislature over its assertion that state lawmakers aren't required to turn over daily schedules, text messages, emails and other materials related to their work. Here's a look at a timeline of the public records law in the state:

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More than 30 applied for Nebraska patrol superintendent job 

The Nebraska State Patrol's new superintendent was chosen from a field of more than 30 candidates from around the nation. Harbor Police Chief John Bolduc of San Diego was unveiled last week as Gov. Pete Ricketts' choice to lead the agency. The governor's office released the applications of the four finalists on Monday after three inquiries and an open records request from The Associated Press. In his application letter, Bolduc pitched himself as a "cultural change agent" with management experience from several different law enforcement agencies. The other finalists were Michael A. Kopy, a staff inspector for the New York State Police's internal affairs bureau; Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Mike Jahnke; and Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Andrew "Buck" Duis.

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Court: Governments can't evade open meetings in small groups 

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday, Sept. 7, upheld a ruling that a government can't set up meetings of less than a majority of public officials to evade the state's Open Meetings Act. The court ruled 9-0 that the city of Columbus was wrong to set up pairs of meetings with the mayor and three city council members apiece in 2014, avoiding the city council's quorum of four members. Those meetings were to discuss an agreement between the city and an economic development agency and maintenance of public buildings. A reporter for The Commercial Dispatch newspaper found out about the meetings but was excluded. The reporter then filed an ethics complaint and the state Ethics Commission ruled that such "piecemeal" quorums were illegal. The city appealed to chancery court, and then again to the Supreme Court when Chancery Judge Kenneth Burns also ruled against the city.

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Judge: Emanuel does not have to turn over list of private emails in FOIA fight 

A Cook County judge has ruled that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not have to produce an index of private emails and text messages he sent and received, dealing a setback to the Chicago Tribune in its continuing fight with the city over the mayor's electronic communications. Judge Kathleen Pantle made the ruling Thursday, Sept. 8, in the Tribune's ongoing lawsuit that alleges Emanuel skirted the state's open records laws by refusing to release communications about city business that he had conducted through private accounts. Pantle, in a previous ruling, sided with the Tribune when she ruled that the state's public records law does not distinguish between official and personal accounts so long as the matter relates to government business. She later ordered the city to give to the Tribune an index of certain emails and text messages the mayor sent and received.

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Wisconsin AG's office has spent $83k on promotional material 

The Wisconsin attorney general's office has spent about $83,000 on promotional items since Republican Brad Schimel took office, including bags, pistol cases, candy and custom-made fortune cookies. The Associated Press obtained invoices through an open records request that show Schimel spent $6,269 on messenger bags, $6,000 on pistol cases, nearly $3,200 on candy and $100 on fortune cookies containing custom-ordered messages such as, "The time is right to make new friends" and "no one's been hurt from laughing too much." The spending also included nearly $10,000 for coins promoting Schimel's "kicking ass every day" mantra. The items had been purchased since January 2015. Most of it was handed out as gifts to attendees at DOJ conferences.

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Wisconsin's offer to Foxconn increased substantially 

Wisconsin's offer to Foxconn Technology Group to extend $3 billion in tax breaks was made in a handwritten deal that increased substantially before being signed by Gov. Scott Walker, documents released Thursday, Aug. 31, under the state's open records law showed. Walker's office released the documents to The Associated Press and other news organizations. One handwritten page, signed by Walker and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou on July 12, called for the Taiwanese company to invest up to $10 billion in the state in exchange for $3 billion in subsidies. That was two weeks before the deal was publicly announced. A June 26 letter from Walker's administration said the state's offer had increased substantially, but portions of a June 2 offer from the state to Foxconn were blacked out by Walker's office.

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Cop shot man in under a second after opening victim's door 

An Ohio police officer who killed an unarmed driver after a high-speed chase shot the man less than five seconds after getting out of his cruiser. Strongsville Officer Jason Miller shot 37-year-old Roy Evans Jr. about 4.7 seconds after exiting his cruiser, according to an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation summary released to the Associated Press through an open records request. A grand jury Tuesday, Aug. 29, declined to indict Miller over the shooting.The report provided more details about the March 7 shooting.

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Kettering, Ohio, police In fatal shooting: 5 questions we're asking 

Kettering, Ohio, police say a pipe bomb was found today during a search of the Dayton apartment on South McGee Street rented by Jason Hoops, the man that was shot and killed Sunday during a traffic stop near Craig Drive and East Bataan Drive. Hoops, 33, was shot and killed after Kettering police officer Jonathon McCoy called for a “Signal 99” for more officers to respond. Hoops had a Fairborn address on his driver’s license but was living in Dayton, Kettering police said. Kettering police Chief Chip Protsman asked for patience from residents and did not answer specific questions about the incident during a Monday press conference. This news organization is waiting for requests for open records related to McCoy and the shooting.

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Ohio cop seen punching man had past complaints, little discipline 

A white, Euclid, Ohio, police officer seen on video punching a black man more than a dozen times in a traffic stop has received multiple complaints about his behavior during his three years in the police department. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, Officer Michael Amiott received four letters of reprimand and one formal citizen complaint as a Euclid officer but was never disciplined beyond written citations. He was cited for pistol-whipping a driver with a handgun, mishandling evidence, losing his temper in front of his commanding officer and being involved in two crashes in police vehicles.

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Kansas pulls police officer's certification after complaint 

Kansas revoked the certification of a former police officer on Tuesday, Aug. 29, after a government watchdog's complaint about his 1995 California misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence. Former Marion police officer Michael A. Stone's last day on the job was Aug. 5. A five-page order from the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training was dated Aug. 9, but was not finalized until Tuesday in order to give him time to request a hearing. He did not contest the commission's action. Stone repeatedly struck his then wife, Misty Stone, in the face with his fist, and the officer who responded to the incident wrote that her face was reddened and slightly swollen, according to a police report on the incident obtained by AP through an open records request.

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Los Angeles Times: Little public information on device that skims cellphone data

Several years ago, little was known about the StingRay, a powerful surveillance device that imitates the function of a cell tower and captures the signals of nearby phones, allowing law enforcement officers to sweep through hundreds of messages, conversations and call logs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The secrecy around the technology, which can ensnare the personal data of criminals and bystanders alike, spurred lawsuits and demands for public records to uncover who was using it and the extent of its capabilities. In California, a 2015 law requires law enforcement agencies to seek permission at public meetings to buy the devices, and post rules for their use online. But a Los Angeles Times review of records from 20 of the state’s largest police and sheriff’s departments, plus the Alameda County district attorney’s office, found some agencies have been slow to follow or have ignored the law. Several that partner with federal agencies to work on cases are not subject to the law’s reporting requirements. The result is that little information on StingRay use is available to the public, making it hard to determine how wide a net the surveillance tools cast and what kind of data they gather. The Times reviewed more than 400 documents it received from public information requests, including grant proposals, purchase orders and memos on the use of StingRays and similar devices generically called “stingrays” or “dirtboxes.”

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Arizona Daily Star: Detective failed to investigate many abuse cases

A Tucson police detective who resigned from the department last year failed to properly investigate dozens of child sexual and vulnerable-adult abuse cases, allowing “dangerous suspects” to walk free, the Arizona Daily Star says police documents show. The Tucson Police Department’s office of professional standards began investigating Lisa Lopez in April 2016 after her supervisor suspected Lopez engaged in “serious investigative misconduct” during a vulnerable-adult case, according to documents from the investigation into the detective. A comprehensive review of Lopez’s past cases revealed 36 cases were mishandled or “lacked a full investigation,” according to the report, obtained by the Star through an open-records request. “It became very clear that Lopez intentionally and consciously made the decision to not properly investigate cases where children and vulnerable adults were victimized,” Lt. Eric Johnson wrote in his review of Lopez’s case.

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NRA's video message to 'elites': 'We're coming for you'

The election of President Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress meant the National Rifle Association could probably rest easy that gun laws wouldn't change for at least four years. But the NRA has begun a campaign not against pending legislation but what it sees as liberal forces bent on undoing the progress it's made — and the political powerhouse is resorting to language that some believe could incite violence.

Using the hashtags #counterresistance and #clenchedfistoftruth, the NRA has put out a series of videos that announce a "shot across the bow," and say the gun-rights group is "coming for you" and that "elites ... threaten our very survival," terms that suggest opponents are enemy combatants.

"The times are burning and the media elites have been caught holding the match," NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch says in one video aired on NRATV, the gun lobby's web video site, as it shows footage of people fighting police, breaking storefront glass and burning the American flag.

Later, she specifically calls out The New York Times: "We've had it with your narratives, your propaganda, your fake news. We've had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords, your refusal to acknowledge any truth that upsets the fragile construct that you believe is real life. And we've had it with your tone-deaf assertion that you are in any way truth or fact-based journalism," Loesch says. "Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. ... In short? We're coming for you."


Baltimore Sun: Kushner firm seeks arrests to collect debts

The real estate company owned by Jared Kushner, son-in-law and top adviser to President Donald Trump, has been the most aggressive in Maryland in using a controversial debt-collection tactic: getting judges to order the arrest of people who owe his company money. Since 2013, the first full year in which the Kushner Cos. operated in Maryland, corporate entities affiliated with the firm's 17 apartment complexes in the state have sought the civil arrest of 105 former tenants for failing to appear in court to face allegations of unpaid debt, The Baltimore Sun has found. That's more than any other landlord in the state over that time, an analysis of Maryland District Court data shows. Court records show that 20 former Kushner tenants have been detained. Industry professionals say such arrests, called body attachments, can be the only way to get tenants to pay the money they owe. Kushner Cos. officials say the New York-based firm employs the tactic as a last resort, and follows industry standards and state law.

But critics say it amounts to jailing people for being poor — and can interfere with their livelihoods, making it more difficult to pay the money they allegedly owe. Moreover, at least some tenants who have been targeted say they did not receive proper notice of the court appearances they were accused of missing.

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Former officer sought $1.3 million from city of Green Bay, Wisconsin

Newly released documents show a former Green Bay (Wisconsin) police officer wants the city to pay him $1.3 million for disclosing his personnel records.

R. Casey Masiak, of Bellevue, says the release of the records last spring caused him embarrassment, monetary losses and emotional damage and violated a confidentiality agreement.

The city denied the claim in June, but USA Today Network-Wisconsin obtained it in an open records request. The agreement says police officials accepted Masiak's resignation and agreed to clear his personnel file of evidence that he was accused of harassing fellow officers.

Reporters sue feds for info on FBI's Bundy ranch infiltration with fake film crew

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department and FBI in an effort to pry loose documents related to the FBI's prior impersonation of documentary filmmakers.

The FBI has admitted to sending undercover agents to Nevada in 2014 to act as a film crew and interview supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy amid an armed standoff with the federal government. Footage shot for the fake documentary was later used by the government during criminal trials of some of those involved in the standoff.

The reporters committee sought through Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain FBI records regarding the the bogus film crew as well as any records on the bureau's use of the tactic dating back to 2010. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia comes after the committee said the FBI has failed to act on on the FOIA requests.

FBI agents pretended to work for a bogus film company, Longbow Productions, to gain access to and interview Mr. Bundy and others who aided him during the standoff. The agents created a website, business cards and other credentials to make Longbow Productions look like an authentic company.

San Antonio say officer was justified in hitting 14-year-old girl

A San Antonio police officer did in fact hit a 14-year-old girl with either his hand or fist after the minor allegedly did the same, according to a report released by the city of San Antonio.

Officer Gary Tuli’s supervisor found he was justified in using force against the girl, who the San Antonio Express-News is not identifying because she is minor who has not been convicted of a crime.

A brief video of the altercation, which happened late in the evening May 20 in the parking lot of the Crown Palace Event Center on the Northeast Side, went viral on the Internet, capturing the attention of some national media outlets.

The 39-second video is blurry, unsteady and shot from a distance at night, which led some to speculate if the officer did in fact hit the girl.

After the altercation, the Express-News requested, under the state open records law, the use-of-force report, body camera footage and dashcam video of the incident.

Tulsa County expenses were high in defending Elliott Williams jail death case

Tulsa County has spent $430,000 to defend the Elliott Williams jail death civil rights lawsuit, which the Sheriff’s Office lost in March in a $10.25 million jury verdict.

Williams, 37, died naked and paralyzed on Oct. 27, 2011, after lying on a cell floor for 51 hours in the Tulsa Jail’s medical unit following a six-day stay.

The county has paid $430,700.78 to the Brewster & De Angelis law firm to defend the lawsuit, according to documents provided by the county in response to a Tulsa World open records request.

Costs to taxpayers will continue to add up, as the case’s legal wrangling isn’t done.

AP: Contraband seizures spike after prison riot

Department of Correction records show contraband seizures rose dramatically at Delaware's maximum-security prison after a deadly inmate riot and hostage-taking.

The records, obtained by The Associated Press after a lengthy Freedom of Information fight, show 26 weapons were seized in the month following the Feb. 1 uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. An additional 36 weapons were seized in March, more than double January's total of 17.

Seizures of illegal drugs and unauthorized prescription and over-the-counter drugs also spiked in March, with 14 confiscations, more than in the previous four months combined.

Statewide, weapons seizures in all Delaware prisons rose from 22 in January to 30 in February and 48 in March.

"Through the reinstitution of security teams at James T. Vaughn and proactive safety practices, the DOC has located and seized numerous contraband items," DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said in an email. "It's important to recognize not all contraband is considered dangerous and the issues the Delaware DOC faces with contraband are not unique."

Contraband seizures declined in April, May and June, but a union leader says correctional officers keep finding dangerous weapons.


New York Times: FOIA material shows how a TV giant rids itself of regulations

The day before President Trump’s inauguration, the top executive of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest owner of television stations, invited an important guest to the headquarters of the company’s Washington-area ABC affiliate. The trip was, in the parlance of the business world, a deal closer. The invitation from David D. Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, went to Ajit V. Pai, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission who was about to be named the broadcast industry’s chief regulator. Mr. Smith wanted Mr. Pai to ease up on efforts under President Barack Obama to crack down on media consolidation, which were threatening Sinclair’s ambitions to grow even bigger. Mr. Smith did not have to wait long.

Within days of their meeting, Mr. Pai was named chairman of the F.C.C. And during his first 10 days on the job, he relaxed a restriction on television stations’ sharing of advertising revenue and other resources — the exact topic that Mr. Pai discussed with Mr. Smith and one of his business partners, according to records examined by The New York Times. “These are invaluable and effective tools, which were taken away by the commission,” according to a summary of their meeting filed with the F.C.C. It was only the beginning. Since becoming chairman in January, Mr. Pai has undertaken a deregulatory blitz, enacting or proposing a wish list of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr. Smith and his company. Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a rush of regulatory actions has been carefully aligned with Sinclair’s business objectives.

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Free-speech debate swirls as officials block on social media

An emerging debate about whether elected officials violate people's free speech rights by blocking them on social media is spreading across the U.S. as groups sue or warn politicians to stop the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Maine Gov. Paul LePage and sent warning letters to Utah's congressional delegation. It followed recent lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky and President Donald Trump.

Trump's frequent and often unorthodox use of Twitter and allegations he blocks people with dissenting views has raised questions about what elected officials can and cannot do on their official social media pages.

"People turn to social media because they see their elected officials as being available there and they're hungry for opportunities to express their opinions and share feedback," said Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah. "That includes people who disagree with public officials."

Most of the officials targeted so far — all Republicans — say they are not violating free speech but policing social media pages to get rid of people who post hateful, violent, obscene or abusive messages.

Texas governor won't say whom he blocks from public Twitter account

In June, the American-Statesman sent public records requests to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, among other Austin- and Texas-based politicians, asking for lists of whom they block from following their public, taxpayer-funded Twitter accounts.

The governor, citing public safety concerns, said, no. His fear: Russian hackers.

Lawyers for each office said they are asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to rule that the information is exempt from required public disclosure. Both argue that divulging the names of the blocked accounts constitute “a computer network vulnerability report.”

Abbott and Patrick cited a May Time magazine article that discusses Russian hackers who used tailored Twitter messages to take over a computer upon clicking a link in the tweet, a type of phishing attack.

Open records policy set for administrative court records

Kentucky's Supreme Court justices have established an open records policy to guide the media and public in seeking access to administrative information in the state courts.

It's the first open records policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts, and helps fill a gap in Kentucky's Open Records Act, which does not apply to the judicial branch of state government.

Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said the judiciary has "long complied with the spirit" of the open records law but it is "time to formalize our commitment into written policy."

"What was our custom now is the law," he said.

The AOC is the administrative arm of Kentucky's court system.

New law allowing TV testimony could face legal challenge

Victims and witnesses in criminal domestic violence cases in New Jersey can now testify by closed-circuit television under a new law enacted by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

But experts and lawmakers say the measure could face legal challenges.

The legislation passed the Democrat-led Assembly and Senate without any opposition and puts New Jersey in a class with at least one other state to allow television testimony from witnesses of any age. Delaware enacted a similar law in 2015.

Experts predict the law could face a legal challenge because of the constitutional right of defendants to confront their accusers. But the law's backers say the law allows for public viewing and cross examination.


Washington Post: Police officers fired, then sometimes rehired

Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts. Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses. … Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been comprehensively studied or tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records — including firings — from public disclosure. To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.

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Charlotte Observer: Many officials don’t preserve texts

“Loud mouths that don’t even live in Mooresville pitching a fit.” That’s how one elected official described, in a text message to the mayor, some homeowners who were lobbying the town of Mooresville earlier this summer to keep development off 137 acres near Lake Davidson.

Mooresville Commissioner David Coble thought it was a private text. But it ended up projected like a slideshow on a wall during a public town commission meeting. North Carolina law says texts sent or received by government officials are part of the public domain – but a Charlotte Observer survey found many local governments across the state aren’t following the law. Few places even have policies that would make sure employees and elected officials are saving texts. In Coble’s case, his texts were released after neighbors sent public record requests. …

Getting these kinds of text message records from government officials elsewhere in the state, however, could prove difficult for the public. State officials have been warning public officials for nearly five years about the need to archive text messages as public records. … The Charlotte Observer asked more than 20 municipal officials across North Carolina whether they regularly collect and archive text messages. Eight local governments gave no answer, including Wake and Guilford counties and Winston-Salem, Raleigh, and Durham. Of the 14 cities and counties that responded, just two – the cities of Charlotte and Kings Mountain – said they either require employees to preserve text messages or they use software to routinely download texts.

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AP: Justice Department promises to go after government leaks

Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to rein in government leaks that he said undermine American security, taking an aggressive public stand after being called weak on the matter by President Donald Trump. The nation's top law enforcement official cited no current investigations in which disclosures of information had jeopardized the country, but said the number of criminal leak probes had more than tripled in the early months of the Trump administration. Justice Department officials also said they were reviewing guidelines put in place to make it difficult for the government to subpoena journalists about their sources, and would not rule out the possibility that a reporter could be prosecuted. "No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight to advance their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information," Sessions said in an announcement that followed a series of news reports this year on the Trump campaign and White House that have relied on classified information.  … Media advocacy organizations condemned the announcement, with Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, saying the decision to review existing guidelines was "deeply troubling."

New information expected to be released in killings of Coronado students

New details about the slayings of two Coronado High School students was to be released after an El Paso County judge lifted a seal on a key court document, according to The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz ruled that an arrest affidavit detailing the investigation into the deaths of Colorado Springs students Natalie Cano-Partida, 16, and Derek Greer, 15, be made public within 72 hours.

The judge granted the three-day delay at the request of prosecutors, who asked for time to personally discuss the contents of the document with families of the young victims, who they said haven't been told how the killings occurred.

The Gazette was among the media outlets that requested the release under Colorado's open records laws, citing the public's right to be informed about public safety threats. Several of those accused in the case have publicly claimed gang ties.

ACLU sues Maryland governor over social media blocking

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for blocking people who disagree with him on his official Facebook page and deleting their comments.

The ACLU sued on behalf of four people, saying their First Amendment rights were violated.

Hogan's spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, calls the lawsuit "frivolous." She says the governor's office has a clear policy and will "remove all hateful and violent content" and "coordinated spam attacks." She says the ACLU "should be focusing on more important issues."

The ACLU says censoring constituents on social media has become a pressing issue nationwide. The ACLU filed a similar lawsuit Monday against Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, and the Knight First Amendment Institute is suing President Donald Trump for blocking people on Twitter.

Nevada newspaper loses high court bid to name pot business owners

The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected a newspaper's appeal seeking to make public the names of people who own marijuana operations in the state.

The Reno Gazette-Journal ( ) filed suit against the city of Sparks two years ago after city officials redacted the names of local owners of medical pot establishments from business license records.

Washoe County and the city of Reno are among jurisdictions that have made that information public. A district judge initially agreed those names cannot be kept secret.

But the Supreme Court ruled the information is exempt from public disclosure requirements because the Nevada Legislature specifically made it confidential.

Sparks Assistant City Attorney Doug Thornley says the city believes it's a safety issue because of the large amounts of cash on hand at the cash-only businesses.


DeKalb water bill audit blames flawed technology and oversight

DeKalb County’s inability to fix its chronic problems with water billing is due, in part, to a muddled management structure and an outdated reliance on paper instead of technology, according to a highly anticipated outside audit. The 127-page draft audit, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request, includes 22 recommendations to address longstanding issues that have led to extreme bills for many county residents.

Though the audit contains no surprises about the causes of billing inaccuracies, it does highlight foundational challenges: inadequate customer service, failing technology, reliance on temporary workers, poorly trained employees, disjointed management and human error.

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Trial opens in case seeking details on executions in Arizona

A civil trial has begun in Phoenix over whether Arizona must reveal the source of its execution drugs, with an attorney for news organizations saying the public needs those details to determine whether the state is effective in carrying out the death penalty.

"We don't know if it's operating properly," attorney David Schulz said during his opening statement at the trial in Phoenix.

Schulz also said state rules requires some members of the execution team to have a license to place IV lines, but the public doesn't know if those people have training to determine if a prisoner has been properly anesthetized and is feeling pain.

Lawyers for The Associated Press, Arizona Republic and other plaintiffs say they have a First Amendment right to know the source and potency of lethal injection drugs and the qualifications of the executioners.

They filed the lawsuit seeking the information after the 2014 death of condemned inmate Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination before he died in what his attorney called a botched execution.

Other plaintiffs include Guardian News & Media, Arizona Daily Star, CBS 5 (KPHO-TV) and 12 News (KPNX-TV).

Arizona currently has 118 prisoners on death row.

Wetterlings hope to keep news media out of privacy fight

The parents of Jacob Wetterling, a Minnesota boy who was kidnapped and killed in 1989 in a case that remained unsolved until last year, have asked a judge to keep the media out of a privacy fight over the investigative file.

An attorney for Patty and Jerry Wetterling filed the motion in Stearns County District Court in response to a legal challenge by several news organizations and open government groups that want full access to the voluminous case file, the Star Tribune reported.

Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall determined this spring that the county's entire investigative file was public under Minnesota's open records law now that the investigation is over. She was set to release the documents last month. But the Wetterlings filed a lawsuit to keep some of the documents private, saying they deal with personal family matters that were irrelevant to the investigation.

Danny Heinrich confessed last year to sexually assaulting and killing 11-year-old Jacob.

Maine governor says inappropriate FOA use is designed to disrupt

Maine's Republican governor says that misuse of public access law is costing the state "thousands of dollars" and is designed to disrupt his administration.

Gov. Paul LePage spoke out against what he called inappropriate use of Maine's Freedom of Access Act during an appearance on WGAN-AM. He said he supports the law, but misuse of it by media members has resulted in "a foot thick of papers" related to FOA.

LePage's statement came in the wake of a Portland Press Herald story that relied on the access law to report that LePage, his staff and security spent more than $35,000 on luxury hotels, restaurants and travel in Washington, D.C., last spring.

ACLU challenges Kentucky governor's social media blocking

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky has filed a federal lawsuit over Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's blocking of Facebook and Twitter users.

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare Bevin's action a violation of the First Amendment and to prohibit the governor from further blocking. Bevin often posts videos on Facebook and news and other statements on his official Twitter account.

The suit was filed on behalf of two Kentucky residents who were blocked by Bevin on Facebook and Twitter. The ACLU says more than 600 people have been blocked from seeing the governor's postings.

Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said the blocking doesn't violate free speech rights.

Closed-door meetings focused on possible use of downtown library building

Members of the Joplin (Missouri)  City Council have met in three small groups with at least one representative of Missouri Southern State University without public notice in regard to a possible use for the former Joplin Public Library.

Emails disclosed through an open records request filed with the city by The Joplin Globe show that three meetings were held involving two to three council members each time.

A lawyer for the Missouri Press Association, Jean Maneke of Kansas City, said those types of meetings are contrary to the intent of the Missouri Sunshine Law addressing open meetings and records.

City Attorney Peter Edwards said there was no violation. "I think it is very clear that small group meetings do not violate the open records law," he said in an email.

The city attorney said council members routinely hold individual discussions with people who ask to speak to them.


Portland Press Herald: Governor travels to luxury hotels, dines on public dime

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, his staff and security detail spent more than $35,000 on luxury hotels, restaurants and travel to Washington, D.C., over a three-month period last spring as the Republican governor attended meetings or sought audiences with members of Congress and the Trump administration. LePage’s appointment calendar also lists dozens of “private appointments” during his four trips to the nation’s capital this winter and spring. His office has refused to provide more details about those appointments. Taxpayers footed most of the bill for the governor’s travels, although his office said some expenses were reimbursed by outside groups such as the Republican Governors Association. It was unclear last week how much Maine state government was reimbursed, however. Four months have passed since the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald first sought LePage’s travel expenses, and his office has yet to fully comply with the public records requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Camera cover-ups

A federal Homeland Security law enforcement officer was assigned to Metro transit patrol as part of a beefed-up security plan for the busy Fourth of July weekend. He didn’t like what he saw. Late in the afternoon on July 4, the officer walked into the North Hanley MetroLink substation to find 12 St. Louis County police officers milling about. A resulting Metro check of video footage determined that not only were county police officers loitering in the North Hanley security office instead of patrolling trains or platforms, at one point they covered the security camera with an envelope and tape. That incident was not unique. At least eight times since 2015, the camera inside the MetroLink substation that serves the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Express Scripts has been covered by county police officers, according to records obtained by the Post-Dispatch through a public records request. At a time in which St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has said he doubled the number of officers patrolling the transit system to deal with a spike in violence, the public documents, photos and video demonstrate a disturbing pattern of county police officers loitering in offices, covering a camera and refusing to cooperate with Metro public safety officials.

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Wichita Eagle: Disciplinary action grew at prison amid staff shortages

Disciplinary cases against inmates at El Dorado Correctional Facility surged this spring as its population increased amid staffing shortages, according to the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle. As of mid-July, the prison has had more than 2,400 disciplinary cases this year. That’s on track to surpass the 2,841 cases at the facility in all of 2016. The rising number of cases underscores concerns among a union for corrections officers and some lawmakers over safety at the facility, which is under stress because of difficulty filling empty positions. The state also must pay overtime to current workers to maintain staffing requirements and the union says some employees are now being forced to work 16-hour shifts. … The Eagle obtained the data from the Kansas Department of Corrections through an open records request.

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Wisconsin DOJ to publish list of open record requestors

Wisconsin’ Department of Justice has started publishing a list of pending record requests online.

The agency announced in a news release that it has added the list to its website at and will update it weekly. The list contains the name of the requestor, a description of the records being sought and when the request was made.

The release said the agency is looking into whether it's technically feasible and appropriate to post all responses to public record requests online as well. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the agency is considering posting the responsive records as well.

Hackers had access to millions of Social Security numbers

Hackers who breached a Kansas Department of Commerce data system in March had access to more than 5.5 million Social Security numbers in 10 states, along with another 805,000 accounts that didn't include the Social Security numbers, according to records obtained from the agency.

The department will be required to pay for credit monitoring for most of the victims of the hacking, according to records obtained through an open records request by the Kansas News Service ( ).

Besides Kansas, the other states affected by the hack are Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Oklahoma, Vermont, Alabama and Illinois.

The Kansas News Service obtained the information through an open records request.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri prisoner was assaulted, state workers lied

For as long as 10 days, one inmate at a state prison in Farmington sexually and physically abused a cellmate in a manner so severe that his prison term was extended 22 years. Austin Gallup ultimately pleaded guilty to abusing the St. Louis County man in 2013 in what the victim’s attorney calls torture. During that period, Missouri Department of Corrections employees failed to properly check on the two inmates, who were locked alone together in one of the more restricted areas of the prison. Moreover, the state workers falsified logs and failed to follow procedures aimed at protecting inmates from other prisoners. Those are among the new revelations in a state investigation obtained this month by the Post-Dispatch through an open records request.

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Chicago Tribune: Emails show scope of scandal at Chicago's water department

City emails newly obtained by the Chicago Tribune cast light on the scope and offensiveness of racist, sexist and anti-gay slurs by politically connected supervisors at the top levels of the Chicago water department. An image of a Ku Klux Klan "scarecrow" amid a watermelon field, a picture of a naked woman on a beach and off-color comments about gay people found their way into inboxes between early 2013 and April — a month before an investigation of the emails led to high-ranking officials losing their jobs at the Department of Water Management. The emails, among nearly 1,300 provided by the city in response to a request under the Illinois open records law, include more overtly sexist and anti-black messages than those in an earlier, more limited batch obtained by the Tribune that also contained anti-Islamic insults. And the new emails for the first time reveal homophobic statements. They also show that they were sent and received during a yearslong period without any sign that supervisors, including recently ousted department Commissioner Barrett Murphy, did anything to quash the troubling chatter. And in at least one case, Murphy forwarded an offensive email to another department employee.

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Hundreds of Georgia inmates escape, but not for long

Fear and a frantic national search followed the escape last month of a pair of armed robbers who allegedly killed two correctional officers along a rural stretch of highway in Putnam County.

Prison breaks are often the stuff of Hollywood movies. But how often do convicts actually get loose? An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of data found that Georgia has recorded hundreds of inmate "escapes" in the past seven years. But few of them spur the kind of national dragnet that Ricky Dubose and Donnie Russell Rowe's short-lived bid for freedom did. In fact, most are inmates on the verge of being released who simply walk away, records show. And more than half are back behind bars within days. … The AJC based its reporting on warrant logs provided by the DOC in response to an open records request.

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Facebook fighting court order over law enforcement access

Facebook is fighting a court order that blocks the social media giant from letting users know when law enforcement investigators ask to search their online information, particularly their political affiliations and comments.

Major technology companies and civil liberties groups have joined Facebook in the case, which resembles legal challenges throughout the country from technology companies that oppose how the government seeks access to internet data in emails or social media accounts during criminal investigations, The Washington Post reported.

Facebook is arguing in the D.C. Court of Appeals that the order violates First Amendment protections of the company and individuals.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. Many documents have been sealed in the case and hearings have been closed to the public.

The timing of the investigation and references in court documents that have been made public suggest the search warrants relate to demonstrations during President Donald Trump's inauguration, when more than 200 people were charged with rioting, the newspaper reported.

New York Times: Twitter users sue Trump over blocks

A group of Twitter users blocked by President Trump sued him and two top White House aides, arguing that his account amounts to a public forum that he, as a government official, cannot bar people from.

The blocked Twitter users, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, raised cutting-edge issues about how the Constitution applies to the social-media era. They say Mr. Trump cannot bar people from engaging with his account because they expressed opinions he did not like, such as mocking or criticizing him.


News Journal: Public information appeals languish in AG’s office

Greenwood kettle corn maker Dan Kramer appreciates life in the slow lane. Except when it comes to state government, according to a story in The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware.

All told, the septuagenarian has spent more than four years waiting for the Attorney General's Office to rule on his public information requests, making him the longest-running petitioner in recent memory. "You're just sitting here, wondering what in the world is taking so long for them to come to a conclusion," drawls Kramer, who has filed six appeals with the state attorney general since 2011, four of them unsuccessful. "It totally flabbergasted me." State law mandates that Delaware's top law enforcement official rule on Freedom of Information Act appeals within 20 days. In reality, the appeals process drags on for months or even a year, long after governments vote on contracts or approve controversial developments, a News Journal analysis found.

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Lexington Herald-Leader: 100 Kentucky students had their state test scores lowered to zero. Here’s why.

The 2015-16 statewide tests scores of 25 fourth-graders at Clark County’s Strode Station Elementary were lowered to zero after Kentucky Department of Education investigators determined that their teacher obtained a test booklet from a locked room without authorization and taught information from it before the exam, state documents show. In all, Kentucky education officials changed the test scores of at least 100 students to zero after violations of the testing code were found in 2015-16 on required statewide tests, the most recent year for which results are available. Because of the time the investigations into allegations took, superintendents across the state have been receiving letters of confirmation in 2017 for the violations that occurred in 2015-16. Some notification letters were dated as late as May 2017. …

Statewide, nearly 200 educators or school staff were required to have extra training when violations were found in the 2015-16 assessments, according to documents obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

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Media groups challenge privacy protections for Wetterling file

Ten media organizations are seeking to legally challenge the family of Jacob Wetterling over its attempt to keep private some investigative documents related to the 11-year-olds 1989 abduction and murder, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The Minnesota Newspaper Association, Minnesota Broadcasters Association and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information are among parties challenging a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Jacobs parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, to prevent the release of sensitive investigative documents that include personal information about their family.

The organizations are trying to intervene in the case because of concerns about the broader impact a judge’s potential ruling could have on state privacy laws. Interventions allow outside parties into a lawsuit to protect their interests.

Virginia high court rules against newspaper in lawsuit

A Virginia newspaper has lost a bid to compel the release of court records that would shed light on criminal defendants and cases across the state.

The Daily Press filed a lawsuit to get access to a database from the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia that the newspaper says would provide information such as the names and races of defendants.

Virginia's highest court upheld a lower court ruling denying the newspaper's request. The justices said the General Assembly has designated the court clerks as the "custodians" of court records, so the newspaper has to get the information from the individual clerks.

Marisa Porto, publisher and editor-in-chief for the Daily Press Media Group, based in Newport News, Virginia, said in a statement that she is "baffled" by the decision and believes the issue needs to be addressed by the General Assembly.

Poynter: Court rules on video recording case

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of journalists and ordinary bystanders video recording police. The three-judges appellate panel ruled in the cases of a Temple University student, Richard Fields, and Amanda Geraci, who was a member of a police watchdog group in Philadelphia called Up Against the Law.

The case drew a “friend of the court” brief from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and was joined by 31 other media organizations including the National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, The Associated Press, Gannett, McClatchy, NPR, The New York Times, The Online News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

The groups argued that the right to video-record police in a public place is a First Amendment right. And if the police could stop a bystander from recording an officer in a public place, then police could stop journalists too.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuits on behalf of Fields and Geraci.

Pennsylvania governor OKs bill removing police videos from open records law

A new Pennsylvania law exempts police audio and video recordings from the state's Right-to-Know Law, leaving the release of those records largely to the discretion of police.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that also clears legal hurdles that kept police departments from using body cameras, likely expanding their use greatly.

The legislation was supported by police groups. Lawmakers passed it overwhelmingly. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed it, warning it'll keep police videos largely out of public view.

Judge says University of Kentucky violated open records law

The University of Kentucky violated the state’s Open Records Act by improperly withholding documents about a failed business deal between UK HealthCare and a Hazard cardiology firm from the Herald-Leader, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled.

UK also violated the Open Meetings Act with an unannounced Power Point presentation about problems with the business deal to the UK Board of Trustees during what was supposed to be an informal dinner in May 2016, Goodwine ruled. UK failed to keep minutes of that meeting and refused to provide a copy of the Power Point presentation afterward once the Herald-Leader of Lexington, Kentucky, requested it.

No one from the newspaper was present at the meeting, which did not have an agenda.

AP: Facebook now deleting 66,000 posts a week in anti-hate campaign

Facebook said that it has deleted about 66,000 posts a week in the last two months as the social media giant cracks down on what it deems to be hate speech.

The company said in a blog post that deleting posts can "feel like censorship," but that it is working on explaining its process better and improving its enforcement of hate speech.

Facebook defines hate speech as attacks on people based on their race, sexual orientation and other "protected characteristics." The Menlo Park, California, company said it mostly relies on its 2 billion users to report any hateful posts they see. Workers then review the posts and decide whether to delete it.

Facebook Inc. said it plans to hire an additional 3,000 people in the next year to review posts. That's on top of the 4,500 people it currently has reviewing posts.


AP: Ending guessing game, Trump admits there are no Comey tapes

Ending a month-long guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy, President Donald Trump declared he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey,

"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information," Trump tweeted, he has "no idea" whether there are "tapes" or recordings of the two men's conversations. But he proclaimed "I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."

That left open the possibility that recordings were made without his knowledge or by someone else. But he largely appeared to close the saga that began in May, just days after he fired Comey, then the head of an investigation into Trump associates' ties to Russian officials. Trump has disputed Comey's version of a January dinner during which the director said the president had asked for a pledge of loyalty.

Trump responded at that time, via Twitter, that Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Imprisoned ex-CIA officer loses appeal of leak conviction

A former CIA officer convicted of leaking government secrets to a reporter lost a bid to clear his name.

A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed all but one of Jeffrey Sterling's convictions and said there was no need for him to be resentenced.

He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years after he was convicted under the Espionage Act in 2015 on charges that he divulged details of a CIA mission aimed at stalling Iranian ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. Sterling maintains he was not a source for a book by New York Times journalist James Risen.

The operation, described in Risen's 2006 book "State of War," involved using a CIA agent nicknamed "Merlin" to deliver flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in the hopes that they would spend years trying to develop a product that would never work.

Pentagon believes Chelsea Manning's leaks had no significant impact on U.S. interests

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning's unauthorized release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010 failed to significantly affect American interests, according to a newly released government assessment.

A federal multi-agency review undertaken in 2011 after the soldier shared the documents with WikiLeaks concluded that their release had little impact on the country's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report suggests, contrary to previous claims raised by Manning's critics.

The government concluded with "high confidence" that Manning's disclosure of over 400,000 records related to the Iraq War would "have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq," according a highly-redacted copy of the assessment obtained by BuzzFeed News through a Freedom of Information Act request and published online, the Washington Times reports.

Manning's separate disclosure of over 90,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan was not expected to have any "significant 'strategic impact'" on U.S. operations, the same report concluded, but its authors nevertheless cautioned that the leak of those documents had the potential to cause "serious damage" to "intelligence sources, informants and the Afghan population."

Sacramento Bee: Teen murder rate far too high

Jackie Diaz kneeled near a statue of the patron saint of adolescents, whispered to her son’s grave and gently rubbed the gravestone as if comforting her child. She does this nearly every day, bringing fertilizer and fresh water so the grass around Isaiah Diaz’s grave stays green.

Here, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in south Sacramento, she is quiet and angry and focused, especially on this day – Oct. 3, 2016 – one year after someone shot her 16-year-old son in his grandmother’s driveway and escaped into the night. … All told, 114 teenagers died violently in Sacramento County since the beginning of 2007. The bloodshed claimed honor roll students and street gang soldiers, young fathers and children of immigrants. Young people in Sacramento between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to be killed in homicides as the general population, and the teen murder rate here is higher than both the state and federal averages, according to an analysis of Sacramento Coroner’s Office records obtained by The Bee through the state’s Public Records Act.

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Oregonian: Who’s watching the children?

A 4-year-old with autism walks out the front door of a day care center and into the parking lot of a nearby fast-food restaurant, only to be rescued by a drive-thru customer. A 3 ½-year-old falls from a climbing structure designed for older children. The boy dangles off the ground, tangled in a lanyard that his caretaker improperly allowed him to play with. A 3-year-old is removed from classmates and placed outside in an apparent act of discipline. The boy stands isolated on a dark February night, with temperatures hovering only a few degrees above freezing. Each of these day-care horror stories stems from Iris Valley Learning Center, which amassed one of the worst health and safety records in Oregon over a decade based on sheer volume of state rule violations. The state Office of Child Care tagged Iris Valley with 102 violations from 2007 through 2016. Eight children broke bones while attending the Keizer day care, the largest number of fractures at any provider during that period, according to state records. Inspectors found grimy toys, dirty carpets, a filthy kitchen and too few teachers. And yet, until lurching to action this spring, Oregon's child care office allowed the center to keep serving young children. … Problems within the state agency that provides oversight of childcare facilities have mounted for years with little action, according to an internal state audit from 2016. The report, the contents of which have remained private until now, depicts a regulatory environment chock-full of ineffective safeguards and bureaucratic failures that jeopardize child safety. The report was obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive through a public records request.

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On open records, half Florida's legislators rate "F" or "D"

Half of Florida's legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year's legislative sessions, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.

In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation -- which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions -- the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.

Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.

"As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.

Poynter: Knight Foundation awards $1 million to fight misinformation

A mobile game that tracks falsehoods, a tool that busts lie-spewing internet bots and projects aimed at increasing the reach of fact checks are among the winners of a $1 million challenge from The Knight Prototype Fund aimed at improving the flow of accurate information.

The 20 ideas, which are eligible for $50,000 each, come from universities, news organizations and nonprofits across the United States and propose tackling misinformation by educating news consumers, pulling back the curtain on sources of fake news and making fact-checking more memorable and shareable. (Disclosure: The Knight Foundation funds Poynter's coverage of local news.)

Demoted Wisconsin police officer accused of mishandling sexual assault case

The police officer in Beloit, Wisconsin, who was caught listening to a racially charged podcast also was reprimanded for mishandling a sexual assault case and improper use of a town credit card, according to an investigative report.

Officer Richard Felger was demoted from sergeant after an investigation of his performance. Felger was reprimanded for mishandling a sexual assault investigation, improper use of a town credit card and improper use of a work computer, according to the investigation report obtained by The Gazette through an open records request.

Mexico probes spyware attacks on journalists, activists

Mexican prosecutors have opened an investigation into the reported targeting of journalists, lawyers and activists with spyware that is sold exclusively to governments, authorities said.

In a statement, the federal Attorney General's Office said its division responsible for investigating crimes against freedom of expression will probe possible violations such as intercepting private communications and illegally accessing computing equipment.

Prosecutors will seek to analyze the targeted cell phone numbers and identify the source of the spyware attacks, and they will also contact the providers of the technology for information on which government entities have acquired it.

"The Attorney General's Office energetically condemns the illegal intercepts of communications," the statement said.

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog group, reported this week that Pegasus spyware produced by Israel's NSO Group had been used to target people who were investigating or criticizing the government at the time. They included prominent journalists Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola.

The targets were sent messages containing links that, if clicked on, opened up their communications devices to being exploited and spied upon.


What officers found when they investigated carnival electrocution

Wichita officers investigating outside a carnival bouncy house where 15-month-old Pressley Bartonek was electrocuted on May 12 found an industrial light and a power box that were not insulated, a police investigative report says. Both were plugged in with extension cords. The base of the light was sitting in water, and the pole was touching a metal guardrail, according to the police reports. A police supervisor who was sent to investigate was also shocked that night when he touched either the guardrail or power box near where the girl was electrocuted. Police took the uninsulated light and power box at the traveling carnival as evidence “related to the electrocution,” says the reports, obtained by The Eagle on June 8 through a request under the Kansas Open Records Act.

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Ohio chief justice pursues study of judges' workloads

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is pushing for a study of judges' workloads at a time the number of cases on judges' dockets is steadily declining in Ohio and nationally. O'Connor told a gathering of judges in March the study was a proactive move at a time of a tight state budget, and a chance to explain the changing nature of the judiciary, according to written and recorded minutes of that meeting obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.

O'Connor, a Republican, said no sitting judges would lose jobs as a result. O'Connor will meet with a panel of municipal, common pleas, juvenile court and other judges June 30 for more discussion. A decision is probably weeks away. The court has set aside $250,000 to pay for such a study.

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Sacramento Bee: Oroville Dam crisis was boon to contractors

The helicopters alone cost more than $100,000 a day at one point. Weeks of dredging debris ran to more than $22 million. And on the day after the massive evacuation, as the crisis was peaking, the state spent $3,902 on breakfasts and lunches for emergency workers. The fracture of Oroville Dam’s main flood-control spillway created a near-catastrophe, spawned multiple investigations and left lawmakers and locals grumbling about the state’s stewardship of the structure. One group isn’t complaining, though: the dozens of concrete and gravel contractors, trucking firms, engineering consultants and others that have been paid millions to help the state clean up the mess. “It was a tremendous opportunity for us … a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jeff Lund of Lund Construction Co. in North Highlands, which helped excavate debris from the river channel beneath the crumpled spillway. Lund said his firm was paid about $5 million for its work at Oroville. Well over $400 million will have been spent by the time Oroville’s facilities are restored.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Ponzi scheme or smart investor?

What started as a neighborhood dispute has morphed into a City Hall call for an FBI investigation into how a Milwaukee landlord has raised millions of dollars to fuel his real estate empire. At the center of it is Nicholas Rezny, a brash — at times cocky — 33-year-old with a knack for attracting the attention of law enforcement officials, regulators and lawyers. Through his American Community ReDevelopment Group LLC and dozens of limited liability companies, Rezny says he has an ownership or management interest in about 225 rental units in the Milwaukee area. … He says in a promotional email that "I've beaten Warren Buffett's return every year I have been in business." The Office of the Milwaukee City Attorney and the state Department of Financial Institutions are suspicious, according to letters obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel through open records requests.

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Ohio judge issues media-access order in police shooting retrial

The judge in an Ohio police shooting retrial says that many potential jurors are worried about their identities being made public.

Hamilton County Judge Leslie Ghiz cited responses to juror questionnaires in the racially charged murder retrial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati police officer facing charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter for the 2015 shooting of Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man.

"They are seriously concerned about their safety," the judge said after testimony in a hearing she called after news organizations won an appeals court ruling blocking her planned restrictions on news coverage, such as limiting the number of reporters and electronic devices.

Ghiz later in the day released a new plan on media access that followed closely her earlier ruling. The new order allows a fixed-position video camera during jury selection, placed so jurors can't be seen, but it still sharply limits restrictions on the number of reporters and electronic devices.

News organizations are likely to appeal again.

Press groups urge congressional probe on assault of reporter in Montana

A national coalition of press groups urged a congressional ethics panel in Montana to consider disciplinary action against Montana's newly elected congressman, who is charged with throwing a reporter to the ground during a confrontation a day before the election.

Republican Greg Gianforte has yet to face a judge on the misdemeanor assault charge, which further intensified attention on a race that had already garnered wide national coverage.

The groups suggest Gianforte violated the House's code of official conduct when he allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. The groups also say Gianforte violated the code when he issued a news release that was contradicted by eyewitness accounts and an audio recording made by the reporter during the fracas.

"Amid a climate of escalating hostility toward the press it is essential for the House to send a clear message to its members and to the nation that hostile treatment of the press will not be tolerated or ignored," said Gabe Rottman, the Washington director of PEN America, one of several groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, seeking an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

House GOP caucus in South Carolina argues it's exempt from open records law

The House Republican Caucus is asking a South Carolina court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by news outlets including The Associated Press that seeks access to information about an investigation into possible Statehouse corruption.

The dismissal motion contends the caucus is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because of a House rule passed in 2007.

The news coalition's attorney, Jay Bender, argues a chamber rule can't exempt a caucus from state law.

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the caucus is a public body subject to the state's open records law, and as such, should make its records and meetings public.

The caucus has denied requests from AP and The State newspaper to provide documents it turned over for Solicitor David Pascoe's investigation.

South Carolina governor says public records law 'step forward' in transparency

A new law closing loopholes in South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act represents "a big step forward" in government transparency, Gov. Henry McMaster said at a ceremonial signing.

The law requires state and local governments, school districts, and other public entities to respond more quickly to public records requests and prevents them from charging excessive fees.

The law took effect with McMaster's signature and capped a seven-year effort to strengthen public access to government records.

"This is a good law. The people ought to know what's going on in government and why it's going on," McMaster said.

But it doesn't go far enough, he added.

To get the bill to his desk, the Senate stripped out a section creating a state hearing officer to quickly and cheaply settle disputes.

Scranton Sewer Authority releases largely unredacted legal bills from sewer sale

The Scranton Sewer Authority released hundreds of pages of mostly unredacted legal and consulting bills from the sale of the Scranton sewer system outlining work performed by numerous attorneys and consultants over several years.

The authority provided the documents to the municipal councils of Scranton and Dunmore, as well as to The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Scranton council and the newspaper each sought, through separate Right to Know Law requests, the legal and consulting bills incurred during the sale of the sewer system serving Scranton and Dunmore to Pennsylvania American Water.

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