- Get Involved
- About Us
|Open Records, Freedom of Information|
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Dec. 7, 2016
Proposed open records policy punts on contentious issues
Records custodians across Tennessee would be left to decide over several contentious open government issues under a proposed model policy now open for public review and comment. A new state law requires all government entities to adopt a public records policy by July, and the state Office of Open Records Counsel has developed has a draft with its recommended best practices. The draft would leave it up to local governments to decide whether to accept public records requests electronically and if requesters would be allowed to make copies with their phones or other personal devices. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government says it "will strongly oppose language that suggests government entities may create rules that inhibit access to public records." Feedback can be emailed until Dec. 15 to: email@example.com.
Newspaper: Butte citizens have lost faith in Superfund talks
Confidential Superfund settlement negotiations to clean up a century's worth of mining waste in Butte, Montana, need to be opened to the public because residents have lost faith that the U.S. government will protect their interests, an attorney for a Montana newspaper said Tuesday, Nov. 29. Butte residents once had trust that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would look out for them, Montana Standard attorney James Goetz told U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon in a court hearing. But that trust has been eroded as the agency's negotiations with Atlantic Richfield Co. have dragged on more than 14 years after Haddon ordered the talks to be held in secret, Goetz said. If Haddon grants the request, Montana Standard editor David McCumber said, the newspaper will seek documents from the negotiations dating back to 2002 or 2003. The newspaper also will seek to open the settlement talks going forward, so the public can be a part of the process "in real time," McCumber said.
Federal judge orders disclosure of food stamp information
The U.S. Department of Agriculture must disclose to the Argus Leader newspaper, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the annual food stamp revenues for stores nationwide participating in the federal program, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, Nov. 30.
U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier in Sioux Falls disagreed with the Agriculture Department's argument that such disclosure would inflict competitive harm on grocery stores participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Witnesses for the Department of Agriculture during a 2016 bench trial said that the grocery industry is highly competitive because profit margins are low and that disclosing the food stamp information could be used against businesses by their competitors.
Court shields complaints about troopers from disclosure
A Pennsylvania court says the state police don't have to release six misconduct complaints about a now-fired trooper. The Commonwealth Court decision Nov. 23 says complaints against ex-Trooper Michael Trotta are exempt under Pennsylvania's open records law because they relate to noncriminal investigations. A civil litigation lawyer from Florida had sought access to complaints against Trotta. The lawyer had argued that the complaints should be disclosed, even if the records from any resulting investigations are exempt. Pennlive reports (http://bit.ly/2fzb2eI) that Trotta was fired last year, several months after being accused of using excessive force while arresting a skateboarder in Harrisburg. The skateboarder is suing Trotta and another trooper in federal court. State police settled another federal lawsuit against Trotta over a claim he detained and strip-searched a man without legal justification.
New Jersey Supreme Court nixes woman's bid for town's security video
The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday, Nov. 22, ruled a northern New Jersey town doesn't have to release security camera footage from outside its town hall under state open records laws. In a split decision, the court held that Bloomfield Township was correct in denying the request for the video by a woman who sought footage from a five-day period but later modified the request to cover one day. The ruling reversed earlier rulings by a lower court judge and a state appeals court.
The town had argued the video could reveal information about the security system's operation and its vulnerabilities. It also argued confidential informants or victims of domestic violence might appear on the video. In a 4-2 decision with Justice Anne Patterson not participating, the court agreed, writing that in drafting the Open Public Records Act, the Legislature "created flexible exceptions to preserve public safety and security."
Texas has spent over $7 million fighting foster care lawsuit
Texas has spent more than $7 million fighting a class-action lawsuit over its troubled foster care system. Since 2011, three state agencies have spent nearly $6.6 million in lawyers' and other state staff members' time and on travel, transcription services and other expenses related to the federal suit, according to data obtained by The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2fDVkAI ) under Texas' open records law. Additionally, the Department of Family and Protective Services has been forced to pay $650,000 for salary and travel expenses of the two experts appointed by the court to come up with a reform plan. Last December, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack declared Texas' foster care system unconstitutionally flawed and ordered the independent overhaul. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 by the New York-based advocacy group Children's Rights and multiple Texas law firms.
Open records law continues to draw proposals for revision
It's been nearly a decade since state lawmakers completely rewrote the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, making fundamental changes to what had widely been considered among the nation's weakest legislation on access to government records. The revised law has made a vast amount of information available to the public, substantially increased the workload for state courts and produced a number of proposals to amend it. Here’s a look at some of what's been under consideration.
Laws keep most Pennsylvania police videos out of public view
Five departments disclosed at least some of what their officers' vehicle cameras recorded at specific scenes identified by journalists during a coordinated test of how public entities are applying the state Right-to-Know Law.
Iowa State rented plane while idling its own
Iowa State University spent up to $225 per hour to rent an airplane for President Steven Leath to fly himself to meetings on multiple occasions even as an older school plane that he piloted sat unused. The university rented the plane from prominent Ames landlord Brent Haverkamp, who was later awarded a lease to store his planes in an Iowa State hangar after the school evicted a longtime tenant, documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law show.
At the time of the rentals in 2013 and 2014, the university owned a four-seat Piper plane that Leath had routinely flown. Leath spokeswoman Megan Landolt said the 1978 Piper was slower than Haverkamp's 2004 Cirrus, needed safety and avionics upgrades, and was "therefore not efficient for the kind of travel done on these five occasions."
Information board director quits to take Iowa Senate post
The director of the Iowa Public Information Board has quit so he can become secretary of the Iowa Senate. The Des Moines Register reports (http://dmreg.co/2gLEFsb ) that Charlie Smithson told the board's nine members in an email last week that his resignation is effective Thursday, Dec. 1. The board enforces the state's open records and open meeting laws and began operation in July 2013. Smithson has been its director since Dec. 1, 2014. Margaret Johnson will be interim director while the board looks for someone to replace Smithson. Ed Failor Jr. is an aide to Iowa Senate Republican leader Bill Dix, and Failor confirmed Wednesday that Smithson will be named secretary of the Senate when the GOP takes majority control in January.
Spending on blocking public records requests is murky
Public records being turned over, but some with heavy edits
Government offices across Pennsylvania didn't apply the state's Right-to-Know Law uniformly and sometimes scrubbed critical details from records requests, according to a survey conducted by more than 100 employees of 21 newspapers. The officials, however, were quick to respond to most requests, a sign of improved compliance with the law that was revised eight years ago. Among the survey's findings:
• Requests for documents showing when a government employee had been fired or demoted met with starkly different responses; some agencies willingly turned over severance agreements, others flatly rejected doing so.
• Many government agencies blacked out large portions of documents that were sought to show how much they are paying outside lawyers to deny access to some public records.
• When police dash-cam or body camera videos were sought, only a small percentage were turned over, and when they were, key portions were largely edited out.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 30, 2016
Mississippi Legislative leaders backing off bid to keep contracts secret
Legislative leaders in Mississippi have reversed course, now saying that the Legislature cannot keep its contracts from public view — despite a committee's earlier vote to keep them secret. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood advised legislative leaders that the law does not allow such secrecy. Legislative leaders on Monday, Nov. 21, said their lawyers had recently concluded the same thing, The Clarion-Ledger reported (http://on.thec-l.com/2gwbJXX ). The House Management Committee last week approved a policy making clear that all contracts for the Legislature are secret. The adopted rule stated that lawmakers can look at them, but they cannot copy them or show them to the public. A contract at the center of the dispute is with EdBuild, a company that's consulting on a possible rewriting of Mississippi's school funding formula. The state is paying $125,000 of the cost, while undisclosed private donors are paying another $125,000.
Salt Lake Tribune asks judge to make BYU police records open
Attorneys argued Monday, Nov. 21, in court whether Brigham Young University is exempt from public records laws as a judge weighs an appeal by The Salt Lake Tribune to a records request that was denied. BYU, privately owned by the Mormon church, contends its police force is not subject to the state's open record law because it was established by the university. The state's record committee agreed, leading the Tribune to appeal the decision to a state court. The police force is a state-certified agency with officers who have the authority to make arrests and use deadly force and the Tribune is arguing it should be treated like all other Utah police agencies that are subject to the state's open record laws. The Tribune wants access to emails between police and the university's honor code office as part of its reporting on allegations that the university was investigating sex assault victims.
Pence, who touts openness, tries to stop document release
Iowa Man accused of killing 2 officers had called police 'heroes'
Arkansas Prosecutor: Fort Smith School Board violated information act
An Arkansas prosecutor says the Fort Smith School Board violated the state's Freedom of Information Act when they conducted business through a series of emails. School board members discussed the new slate of school board officers prior to elections. The Southwest Times Record (http://bit.ly/2fZ54RF ) reports that Sebastian County prosecutor Dan Shue issued a letter to school board members Nov. 8. informing them of the violation. School board president Deannie Mehl says she was under impression that the email thread met FOIA arguments because the proposed slate of officers was first presented in a public meeting. She says the chain of emails was not meant to deceive anyone. Mehls says the practice of sending emails among all board members was not something they routinely do and will not happen again.
Missouri auditor report finds low Sunshine Law compliance
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway says most audited local governments didn't fully comply with open-records requests and about 16 percent didn't respond at all.
Galloway's office released findings Tuesday, Nov. 15, from a sampling of Missouri's more than 4,100 local governments. Her office in August sent Sunshine Law requests to more than 300 cities, villages, school districts and other entities. Auditors asked for meeting minutes and agendas. About 37 percent of entities who received requests blew the three-day deadline to respond as required by law. About 16 percent still had not responded as of mid-September, roughly six weeks later.
Only about 30 percent of local government entities fully complied with Sunshine Law requests. The report says poor compliance with the Sunshine Law could mean fines, lawsuits and loss of credibility.
Court rules Notre Dame can keep campus police reports secret
The University of Notre Dame's police department doesn't have to release crime reports about student athletes to ESPN, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, Nov. 16. The court said in unanimous ruling that the private university's police department isn't a public agency that falls under the state open records law. The state's highest court reversed a state appeals court decision from March that said the law applied because the department has legal authority from the state to make arrests and has jurisdiction beyond the university's campus.
The Supreme Court justices found the public records law didn't apply to Notre Dame police because the department isn't part of any level of government.
Restaurant inspections: 208 violations at 44 eateries in October
The Lacrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune reports government health inspectors found an average of 4.4 violations during inspections of 44 dining establishments in the La Crosse area in October. There were 208 total violations reported at 40 locations in Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau and Vernon counties, according to records provided by state and county health departments. The Sunrise Family Restaurant in Sparta had the most overall violations with 22, six of them priority infractions. The records, obtained through open records requests, were added to the La Crosse Tribune’s restaurant inspection database, which includes all inspection reports since 2013 at restaurants in Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau and Vernon counties. The database can be searched by establishment, location or the nature of violation.
Public can't see Mississippi House contracts, panel says
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 16, 2016
Lawsuit: Georgia court denying records' access, violates law
A west Georgia court is jailing people illegally and then making it impossible for them to challenge the violation of their rights by denying them access to their public court records, a lawsuit alleges. The Southern Center for Human Rights filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of two poor women who were recently jailed after appearing in Recorder's Court in Columbus, about 105 miles southwest of Atlanta near the Alabama border. It says the women want to challenge their convictions and probation revocations, but are unable to access court files their attorneys need to properly investigate or decide on a course of action. The lawsuit calls the Columbus Recorder's Court "a troubled and dysfunctional institution whose judges and clerks routinely disregard the rights of defendants, including indigent citizens."
Iowa State president had earlier 'hard landing'
Iowa State University President Steven Leath damaged a private plane in a hard landing in 2014, 11 months before he banged up a university aircraft in remarkably similar fashion, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Leath was flying in gusty conditions on Aug. 11, 2014 and "landed hard" in a crosswind, causing propeller damage that he discovered the next day, according to university records released under the open records law. The documents show that the university didn't fully disclose information about both incidents in its application for aviation insurance earlier this year. It's not clear whether this might affect the policy, which covers millions of dollars in liability and damage for both university planes. The policy, which cost $51,000 in premiums, contains a warning that it will be voided "if you have concealed or misrepresented any material fact."
Groups say Oklahoma governor stalling in release of records
A newspaper and an advocacy group that have waited more than two years for public records from the Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office are asking a court to order the governor to release the documents immediately. Attorneys for The Oklahoma Observer newspaper and nursing home watchdog A Perfect Cause filed a motion for summary judgment on Monday, Nov. 14, in Oklahoma County District Court. A Perfect Cause requested documents in May 2014 dealing with the interaction of Fallin's office with the nursing home industry. The Oklahoma Observer sought records in June 2014 related to Fallin's consideration of clemency for two death row inmates. The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires the governor and other state agencies to provide "prompt, reasonable access" to public records. A Fallin spokesman declined comment, citing pending litigation.
Fight for piano tuner's house continues _ legal bills, too
Haslam announces departure of Revenue Commissioner Roberts
Tennessee Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts is leaving Gov. Bill Haslam's Cabinet. The governor announced Wednesday, Nov. 9, that Roberts' last day at the agency responsible for state tax collections will be Dec. 2. Haslam called Roberts a "valuable part" of his administration since 2011, and lauded him for streamlining processes for businesses and updating the state's tax code. The Revenue Department was unsuccessfully sued last year by a Nashville attorney who argued that the agency's refusal to release records related to a $350,000 analysis of business tax collections was a willful violation of the Tennessee Open Records Act. Roberts in an affidavit in the case said Tennessee law provided him wide latitude to decide to deny records requests based on what is "in the best interests of the state."
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 8, 2016
Cash payout resolves lawsuit over handcuffing of Iowa girl
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION NOV. 1, 2016
Kentucky governor releases emails following lawsuit
Kentucky's Republican governor has released 13 pages of emails about a disputed road project after the state legislature's top Democrat filed a lawsuit to get them. House Speaker Greg Stumbo had requested the emails under the state's open records act. Last week, Bevin released some emails but said 13 pages were "exempt from disclosure" under the law because they were preliminary drafts and notes. Stumbo filed a lawsuit Friday, Oct. 28, asking a judge to force Bevin to release the documents. Bevin released the emails Friday afternoon. They contain discussions among Bevin's staff about how to respond to a reporter's questions about the project. Stumbo says Bevin delayed the road project to punish a Democratic lawmaker for refusing to switch parties. Bevin says the project was flawed and should not have been approved by the previous governor.
Board votes to pursue records complaints in Iowa shooting
A state board has voted to pursue open records complaints against Burlington police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation over records regarding a fatal shooting. The Iowa Public Information Board voted 5-3 Thursday, Oct. 27, to reinstate charges in connection to investigative records about an officer's accidental shooting of Burlington resident Autumn Steel in January 2015. The vote comes after multiple attempts by the panel to proceed with examining whether the agencies violated Iowa's open records law. An administrative law judge dismissed the complaints in September, citing procedural defects. The board rescinded an initial vote this month over filing proceedings. Authorities have said they properly released records as required by law. The Burlington Hawk Eye reports (http://bit.ly/2ePx9Oc ) board officials have not disclosed details about an expected evidentiary hearing.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION OCT. 25, 2016
Iowa board backs open records complaint, delays final action
A panel has tentatively agreed to reinstate open records complaints against Burlington police and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. The Burlington Hawk Eye reports (http://bit.ly/2dv6jq0 ) the Iowa Public Information Board Thursday, Oct. 20, voted 4-2 to reinstate charges regarding investigative records about an officer's accidental shooting of Burlington resident Autumn Steel in January 2015. An administrative law judge dismissed the complaints in September, citing procedural defects. Authorities released a brief body camera clip of the shooting and summary of the incident but won't release additional records, saying records can be kept secret because they are part of an officer's investigative report. The officer wasn't charged. On Thursday, the board voted to refile the complaints, then rescinded the vote to ensure they were properly filed. The board will vote again Oct. 27.
Texts show lawmakers wanting to help Texas AG's legal woes
Private text messages show lawmakers wanting to help Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton by potentially halting payments to prosecutors over his criminal case. The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday, Oct. 20, (http://bit.ly/2dRYls4 ) that five Republican lawmakers exchanged messages last week about convincing a county judge to stop paying three special prosecutors. The newspaper obtained the messages under open records laws. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of duping investors in a tech startup and could go to trial as early as next year. Taxpayers are footing the bill for Paxton's prosecution, and a Tarrant County judge has ordered Collin County to pay prosecutors' $300-an-hour fees. The text messages were sent between state legislators Jodie Laubenberg, Jeff Leach, Scott Stanford, Matt Shaheen and Sen. Van Taylor.
Iowa prosecutor dropped inquiry on Iowa State leader's plane
A state prosecutor was told to drop an inquiry into Iowa State University President Steven Leath's damage of a school airplane after the Iowa Board of Regents' top lawyer contacted the attorney general's office about the probe, state officials confirmed Wednesday, Oct. 19. Prosecutor Rob Sand, who has pursued white-collar crime and misconduct by public officials, sought and obtained public records about Leath's plane accident after it was revealed last month. But his inquiry was ended days later when leaders of the Board of Regents learned about it and had the board's lawyer contact Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office, where Sand is an assistant attorney general. Sand's inquiry began Sept. 23, according to documents provided to The Associated Press under an open records request. That was the same day the AP reported Leath, a pilot, was flying home from an 11-day vacation at his home in North Carolina when he suffered a hard landing.
PERS attorneys earned $1,627 in fees in public records spat
Attorneys representing the state's Public Employees Retirement System racked up $1,627 in fees in a dispute with a Salem Statesman-Journal reporter who asked the agency to waive a public records request fee. The Bend Bulletin reported Wednesday, Oct. 19, (http://bit.ly/2eiFoRM) that attorneys racked up the fees over a $112 fee. The Oregon Department of Justice overturned the rule last month that allowed PERS to charge for those records. The move reversed a 2002 interpretation of the law by an earlier state attorney general. Lottery employees this summer told The Bulletin they couldn't waive a $260 fee for a chain of emails. After the ruling, the lottery waived the fee and released the records. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is heading a task force to improve the state's public records law.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION OCT. 18, 2016
Iowa State president's pal, NRA official among plane users
Iowa State University is trying to shield the names of nearly two dozen people who have flown on a school airplane with President Steven Leath, including his self-described best friend and "hunting buddy," a National Rifle Association Board member and an infamous athletics booster. The university last week released records showing flights that Leath took in the last 2½ years on its King Air but redacted the names of passengers who joined him on several trips. The university said their names were redacted — despite Leath's vow to be "super open" about his travel — because the Iowa open records law exempts documents that identify donors or prospective donors from disclosure. That rationale drew criticism from the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, whose director Randy Evans said the redactions make it impossible to judge the legitimacy of Leath's flights.
AP Exclusive: US elections chief left behind Kansas scandal
When Brian Newby took the helm of a federal election agency, he left behind an unfolding scandal in Kansas where he was having an affair with a woman he promoted in his previous job and used her to skirt oversight of their lavish expenses, prompting a local prosecutor to investigate, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press. The affair and resulting fallout was revealed in hundreds of emails ordered released after AP sued Johnson County, the Kansas City suburb where Newby was the top election official before leaving to become executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The emails — coupled with hundreds more obtained from the Kansas secretary of state's office through a separate open records request — portray a rogue election official who berated employees and deliberately bypassed supervision.
Overtime totals $216K after fatal Tulsa police shooting
Tulsa, Oklahoma, police paid more than $216,000 in overtime in the 10 days after the fatal shooting of a man by a police officer. The Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/2e9f8dF ) obtained the costs in an open records request. The expenses covered increased staffing of patrols for demonstrations, marches, the funeral and news conferences after Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by Officer Betty Shelby on Sept. 16. Police paid $216,110 in overtime, including $78,350 on the day of Crutcher's funeral and at least two rallies. More than $27,000 was paid the day District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced first-degree manslaughter charges against Shelby. Shelby has pleaded not guilty. Deputy Police Chief Eric Dalgleish said the expenses were necessary to ensure proper staffing of events after the shooting and still provide "core police services."
At least two open investigations into drugging at Delta Upsilon
University of Missouri officials have at least two open investigations into the potential use of "date rape" drugs at Delta Upsilon fraternity. ABC 17 News first reported Wednesday, Oct. 12, through an open records request the series of incidents that led to a temporary suspension of Delta Upsilon in late September. The fraternity was given disciplinary probation just a day before a racially-charged incident with students in the Legion of Black Collegians ended up in DU front lawn on September 27. The national organization placed its Columbia chapter on emergency suspension the next day, and the school's Office of Student Conduct continues to investigate that issue.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION OCT. 11, 2016
Kennedy named to Open Government Hall of Fame
Sam Kennedy, a former Tennessee Press Association president who helped push for the state's sunshine law, is being inducted to the State Open Government Hall of Fame in Washington. Kennedy was the editor and publisher of the Columbia Daily Herald and led the government affairs committee of the Tennessee Press Association for 30 years. He is credited with helping draft the open government law that was passed by state lawmakers in 1974. He also helped pass the 1973 reporter's shield law in Tennessee. Kennedy still writes a column for the newspaper he sold in 1983. A panel from the National Freedom of Information Coalition and Society of Professional Journalists elected Kennedy is the 16th member of the hall of fame. His formal induction was scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8.
Columbia police union sues city over public records requests
A union representing Columbia, Missouri, police officers is suing the city after it refused to release some public records and asked for what the union called "exorbitant" fees to fulfill the request. The Columbia Police Officers Association filed the lawsuit Thursday, Oct. 6. It alleges that the city violated Missouri's open records law and wants a judge to order it to release all the documents the union is seeking and to provide a "reasonable and lawful" estimate of the costs of producing the documents. The suit stems from a July request by the union for all emails between Chief Ken Burton and Deputy Chief Jill Schlude written from June 1 to July 22. The lawsuit alleges the city did not reply within the legally required three business days and then said it would cost $840 to fulfill the request.
University of Louisville sues retired professor over records
A retired University of Louisville medical school professor who writes a blog is being sued by his former employer after he requested records related to a ban on postseason play for the men's basketball team. Media outlets report the university filed a lawsuit Sept. 30 in Jefferson Circuit Court seeking to reverse an attorney general's opinion that it violated the Kentucky Open Records Act by not giving Dr. Peter Hasselbacher the documents. Ramsey announced the one-year ban in February after an escort said a former Louisville staffer paid her and other dancers to have sex with recruits and players. The university's attorneys say the school would have preferred to name the attorney general's office as the defendant but was required by law to name Hasselbacher, who is a professor emeritus.
Judge awards $57K in attorney's fees in open records lawsuit
A Tennessee judge has ordered the city of Nashville to pay nearly $57,000 in attorney's fees in an open records case related to police reports. Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies ruled in August that Metropolitan Nashville Police had misinterpreted and ignored state law regarding prompt responses to records requests after the department began in 2014 to require specific records requests after previously making redacted accident reports available in their entirety. The city had argued that state law gave its attorneys seven days to respond to each request. Davies said records must be released promptly unless there is a specific reason why they can't be. Davis found that the city was willful in failing to follow the law, a requirement for awarding attorney's fees in public records lawsuits.
D.C. Metro rail oversight plan applauded by transparency advocates
Advocates for government transparency applauded a District of Columbia Council decision to include open records provisions in legislation to create a multijurisdiction Metro safety oversight commission. "Residents are entitled to know what the Metro Safety Commission is doing," Kevin Goldberg, president of D.C. Open Government Coalition, said Tuesday at a public hearing on the legislation. "We absolutely support those changes." The "Metrorail Safety Commission Interstate Compact" would authorize a tri-state panel to create and enforce safety regulations, inspect systems, mete out citations and order Metro officials to prioritize funding on "safety-critical" projects. The proposed commission must be approved by elected officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Teacher’s records, subject of earlier Supreme Court decision, must be released
A former Wisconsin teacher and school district administrator whose personnel records were the subject of a state Supreme Court ruling 20 years ago cannot block release of those records, a state appeals court said Tuesday, Oct. 4. The District 3 Court of Appeals said that the New Richmond School District can release the personnel records of Thomas Woznicki, finding that he failed to show that public interest in disclosure of the records was outweighed by public interest in keeping them secret. Woznicki had sought an injunction in St. Croix County Circuit Court barring release of the records. A judge there ruled last year that Woznicki could not block release of the records. Tuesday's appeals court's ruling does not seek to change anything about the process for challenging and releasing public records. Instead, the court said that there is "significant public interest supporting disclosure" of Woznicki's personnel records.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION OCT. 5, 2016
UK sues Herald-Leader in open records case over failed deal
The University of Kentucky is suing the Lexington Herald-Leader in order to avoid revealing documents about a failed business deal between UK HealthCare and a Hazard cardiology firm. The Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/2dqnETH) says it had requested a Power Point presentation given to the UK Board of Trustees by District of Columbia lawyer David Douglass about the Appalachian Heart Center. The university paid $1 million to Douglass and $4.1 million to the federal government because of billing problems at the cardiology firm it acquired in 2013. The university has already filed a related lawsuit seeking to overturn Attorney General Andy Beshear's ruling that UK violated the Kentucky Open Records Act when it refused to turn over documents related to a dinner meeting in which Douglass briefed board members.
Discrimination against Nixon delayed as more cases surface
A lawsuit accusing Kansas Gov. Jay Nixon of age and gender discrimination has been delayed as more cases surface. The Kansas City Star said an open records request also turned up two additional discrimination lawsuits against executive branch agencies, including one naming Nixon as a defendant. Jury selection was scheduled to begin Friday, Sept. 30, in the lawsuit of fired Missouri Department of Labor employee Gracia Backer, the newspaper (http://bit.ly/2ddVVW5 ) reported. Backer alleges she was terminated because she complained to Nixon's office that her boss, former Department of Labor Director Larry Rebman, was creating a hostile work environment and discriminating against older female employees. But a judge this week decided to postpone the trial until late February, after Nixon leaves office.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION SEPT. 27, 2016
LePage's documents don't back up claims on blacks, Hispanics
Maine Gov. Paul LePage released his informal documentation Monday, Sept. 26, on drug arrests and they don't back up his claim that out-of-state blacks and Hispanics account for "90-plus percent" of Maine's trafficking arrests for heroin and similar drugs. LePage's claims at a town hall meeting in August were met with skepticism, but he insisted he had collected news clippings supporting his statement. Media organizations then requested the contents of the three-ringed binder under the Maine Freedom of Access Act. An Associated Press analysis of the Republican governor's documents show black and Hispanic defendants from out of state comprised no more than about one-third of the arrests for heroin and opioid-derived drugs in LePage's binder.
Brownback: Budget proposals not considered open records
State agencies' annual budget recommendations to the Kansas governor are merely "draft" documents and not subject to the state's open record laws, Gov. Sam Brownback's administration insisted Friday, Sept. 23. Budget director Shawn Sullivan has advised Cabinet agency staff members that budget proposals submitted to Brownback are internal documents that are not public information under the Kansas Open Records Act. The state's finances are in the spotlight because of persistent state tax revenue shortfalls, potential mid-year cuts by Brownback, proposed revision of employee layoff policies and the upcoming November election.
lllinois Executive Mansion work to follow funding rules
An agreement shows that a privately funded renovation of the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield will follow wage and bidding rules required of traditional taxpayer-funded construction. The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/2cUjqTB ) obtained the agreement between the state's Capital Development Board (CDB) and the non-profit Illinois Executive Mansion Association via an open records request. The mansion association is leading efforts to raise private money for an estimated $16 million renovation of the historic home. As of Summer 2016, the campaign led by Gov. Bruce Rauner had raised $4.5 million.
Montana newspaper files to make Superfund negotiations public
A Montana newspaper wants a judge to lift a confidentiality order on the Butte Hill Superfund site settlement talks, saying the public deserves to know what government agencies are negotiating in the mining pollution cleanup that will affect the community for decades to come. The Montana Standard and an environmental advocacy group called the Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Coalition filed a request Tuesday, Sept. 20, in U.S. District Court in Butte to intervene in the case between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Atlantic Richfield Co. If U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon allows the newspaper and environmental group to intervene, they plan to argue that Haddon's 2002 order to keep settlement negotiations secret block access to what would otherwise be public information.
House OKs bill to subject Michigan’s governor, Legislature to FOIA
The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday, Sept. 21, to subject Michigan's governor and lawmakers to public records requests, passing legislation that gained momentum in the wake of Flint's water crisis and a sex scandal that forced two legislators from office. It is the first time such bills appear to have cleared a legislative chamber since passage of the Freedom of Information Act 40 years ago. The 1976 law explicitly exempts the governor's office from records requests. And a 1986 opinion by the state attorney general said legislators also intended to exclude themselves from the law.
Claremore, Okla., police stop using cameras in patrol cars
Police Chief Stan Brown said on Monday, Sept. 19, the Claremore, Okla., police department stopped using cameras in patrol cars on Sept. 7 after a storm on Aug. 25 damaged the equipment and replacement costs proved too expensive. Brown told the Claremore City Council during its regular meeting that in addition to expense related to purchasing equipment, the cameras are not feasible for Claremore police due to expenses related to maintenance and the Oklahoma Open Records Act. “In light of the legislative changes for video retained by law enforcement it is nearly … impossible for us to deny anyone, anyone access to video that we retain the result,” said Brown. “If someone files an open records request, it then takes someone to sit down to make sure there is not video that is required to be redacted by statute … you can see the monster that creates that drains resources and manpower.”
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION SEPT. 20, 2016
MUSC dean is open to revising how honor violations probed
The dean of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine says he's willing to look at how honor code violations are investigated at the school. The Post and Courier of Charleston reports (http://bit.ly/2cVR8tP ) angry medical students met Dr. Raymond Dubois on Monday, Sept 19. Earlier the newspaper, in an account based on sources, reported two students with political ties were brought before the Honor Council after allegations of cheating. The council recommended expulsion, but the decision was overturned by DuBois. DuBois said Monday he could not discuss the case because of federal privacy laws but said the decision was not based on outside influences. MUSC has told the newspaper it would cost more than a quarter million dollars to comply with an open records request about the cheating allegations.
Email offers clues to University of Missouri search
Newly obtained emails show that five to nine candidates made the cut to be semifinalist for the job of leading the four-campus University of Missouri system. The Columbia Daily Tribune (http://bit.ly/2dasd3c ) reports that the disclosure was made in internal emails from last month recommending a car service for presidential search interviews. Few details have been released about the presidential search. The paper obtained the email through an open records request. Earlier this month, a 16-member search committee concluded two days of 10-hour meetings. But committee leaders have declined to say how many candidates were interviewed or provide any other particulars. Protests last year over racial issues on the Columbia campus led to the resignation of former system president Tim Wolfe and Columbia's former chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
Kansas plane getting paint job, electronics upgrade
Kansas budget woes haven't touched the state's executive aircraft, which is getting a new paint job, a spruced up interior and upgraded avionics this year. Along with regular operating costs, the improvements will cost taxpayers nearly $900,000, according to interviews and other documents obtained through an open records request by The Associated Press. Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley called the spending "highly ironic" at a time when funding for highway projects has been slashed. Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies have taken billions of dollars from the transportation department's highway fund over the years to balance the state budget.
News organization sues university foundation over records
WFPL-FM's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has filed a lawsuit against the University of Louisville Foundation to force the release of documents. WFPL reports (http://bit.ly/2cJk5cu ) that the Kentucky attorney general has ruled that the foundation violated Kentucky open records law by refusing to release documents to the center. The lawsuit was filed Thursday, Sept. 15, in Jefferson County Circuit Court. It seeks an injunction to force the foundation to release ethics and disclosure forms, along with payroll and financial documents the center first requested in February. WFPL said the foundation has said the records requests were burdensome because they were "overly broad and blanket in nature." The foundation manages the university's some $700 million endowment. A spokesman said the foundation's attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit and that foundation Chairman Bob Hughes doesn't comment on active litigation.
Testimony reveals inmates told secretary about abuse
New testimony reveals that inmates at Wisconsin's troubled juvenile prison swarmed the corrections secretary during a 2015 visit to complain that they were being harmed by staff. The testimony on Tuesday, Sept. 13, came during an employment hearing into the former secretary's termination. After resigning in February, Ed Wall returned to a job in the Department of Justice, but was later fired earlier by Attorney General Brad Schimel following concerns he was trying to undermine the state's open records law. The Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2cV98pJ ) reports Wall's attorney, Lester Pines, said Wall was alarmed to learn about the inmates' accusations at Lincoln Hills School for Boys eight months after the DOJ began an investigation into possible abuse. The Department of Corrections says the inmates were told to write to Wall about their concerns.
Oregon DOJ overturns rule on public records fees
The Oregon Department of Justice has overturned a rule requiring some state agencies to charge for public records, a move that reverses a 2002 interpretation of the state's public records law by an earlier state attorney general. The Statesman Journal reported Sept. 14 (http://stjr.nl/2ceV7Rb ) that the ruling came about because the newspaper challenged the state's Public Employees Retirement System over a fee for a public records request. The retirement system charged the newspaper $112 to produce the 2015 travel receipts of its director and board member and then denied the newspaper's request to waive the fee.
Court weighs when public can view state police videos
Police dash camera videos that are routinely released in other states could become more available for public view in Pennsylvania under a case argued Wednesday, Sept. 14, before the state Supreme Court. A state police lawyer voiced strong opposition, saying existing law largely prevents disclosure and warning a change in policy could be costly for police agencies, compromise investigations and expose details about private citizens against their wishes. The legal dispute began when a woman sought copies of dash cam video from a 2014 traffic accident near State College that involved her friend. The justices must decide whether to uphold a lower court ruling that granted access to the videos, or uphold restrictions on disclosure favored by the state police and local government groups. As standard practice, the court didn't indicate when it might rule.
County judge rejects bid to bar reporters in double murder case
A Marin County judge rejected an attempt to bar news reporters from portions of a preliminary hearing for two drifters accused in a pair of high-profile Bay Area killings - a motion by defense attorneys that was vigorously opposed in court by the San Francisco Chronicle. Attorneys for 24-year-old Morrison Haze Lampley argued that the press should be excluded from key portions of the evidentiary hearing in order to protect his right to a fair trial. Chief Deputy Public defender David Brown contended that portions of the evidence to be presented by prosecutors at the hearing - including yet-to-be revealed statements to police made by Lampley's co-defendant, 19-year-old Lila Scott Alligood - may be inadmissible for trial.
ESPN: Notre Dame police have 'core powers of the state'
The University of Notre Dame police department's powers make it subject to the same public records law other police agencies must follow, an attorney for ESPN told Indiana's highest court Tuesday, Sept. 13, arguing that the school should release records of student-athletes' run-ins with the law. ESPN attorney Maggie Smith said Indiana's law applies to "any agency that is engaged in the investigation, apprehension, arrest or prosecution" of individuals. "We are talking about the core powers of the state — the opportunity to deprive an individual of a liberty interest," she told the state Supreme Court. ESPN sued Notre Dame in January 2015, asking a trial court to order the school to release campus police records detailing allegations against student-athletes. That St. Joseph County court ruled in Notre Dame's favor three months later, finding that Indiana's private schools aren't subject to its open records law.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT SEPT. 13, 2016
AP: Fishermen-Exploited in Paradise
Pier 17 doesn't even show up on most Honolulu maps, The Associated Press reports. Cars whiz past it on their way to Waikiki's famous white sand beaches. Yet few locals, let alone passing tourists, are aware that just behind a guarded gate, another world exists: foreign fishermen confined to American boats for years at a time. Hundreds of undocumented men are employed in this unique U.S. fishing fleet, due to a federal loophole that allows them to work but exempts them from most basic labor protections. Many come from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations to take the dangerous jobs, which can pay as little as 70 cents an hour. With no legal standing on U.S. soil, the men are at the mercy of their American captains on American-flagged, American-owned vessels, catching prized swordfish and ahi tuna. … The entire system, which contradicts other state and federal laws, operates with the blessing of high-ranking U.S. lawmakers and officials, an Associated Press investigation found.
Virginia Pilot: Norfolk recycling students
History class had just begun at Lake Taylor High when 10 students were told to get up and leave the room, the Virginia Pilot says. It was the second semester in early February 2015, and they were ready to take the second part of a World History & Geography course. But these students’ schedules had been changed, so they would now take the first part of the class again. The students gathered their notebooks and headed to another classroom, said Bruce Brady, senior history coordinator for Norfolk Public Schools, who had been making his usual round of visits. None of the kids made a fuss. But Brady did. The students were moved because they had low grades, he wrote that same day in an email to the director of curriculum and instruction. “I do not know if the practice is allowable, but I personally feel that the practice is unethical and not done in the best interest of the child,” according to emails The Virginian-Pilot obtained through a public information request. “Rather, it is done to limit exposure to testing in the spring and does not address instructional issues that need to be fixed.” … This type of schedule change is often called “recycling.” It keeps students with low grades from taking state-required Standards of Learning exams in the spring. And it’s a longstanding practice in Norfolk, Chief Academic Officer Kipp Rogers said.
Denver Post: Rafting company in trouble when boy drowned
The rafting company Drake Durkee’s grandparents chose for what would become the 11-year-old’s last outing was on its second summer of probation for violating state regulations and had been warned it could lose its permit unless it improved, The Denver Post reports. That information, though, was something the boy’s family could not have known by looking at the company’s glossy brochure, the walls in its Buena Vista office or on the websites of the state parks department or the headquarters of the Arkansas River. The probationary status was not even mentioned in the state’s investigative report on Drake’s death. It took The Denver Post multiple days, a Colorado Open Records Act request and more than $100 to receive a list of rafting companies on probation.
Newspaper asks court to halt LNG plant permits until safety studies’ release
The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, has asked a state appellate court to halt all permitting and other work on Puget Sound Energy’s proposed Tideflats liquid natural gas plant until the project’s safety studies are released. The request came in a court filing in the utility company’s lawsuit seeking to keep the fire and citing reports filed with the city of Tacoma over the 30-acre, $275 million project from being released to the newspaper under a public records request. Puget Sound Energy has sued the newspaper, the city and the reporter who filed the request, claiming that allowing public access to the documents could increase the possibility of terrorist attack. In August, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson ordered the records released after a seven-day waiting period, but the utility asked the appeals court to intervene and block the disclosure.
AG intervenes in Kentucky university suit against school paper
Kentucky's attorney general turned up the pressure on the state's flagship university to release documents regarding a sexual harassment investigation of a professor. Andy Beshear told reporters he will ask a judge to order the University of Kentucky to turn over the documents to him so that he can determine if they are exempt from public inspection. Beshear's office recently issued an opinion that UK violated the state's open-records law by withholding documents on the professor's case from the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. In response, the university sued the newspaper.
Judge rules that Christie emails must be searched
Republican Gov. Chris Christie's personal email must be searched _ or he must prove that it already has been _ to comply with the state's public records law, a judge has ruled. The Record (http://bit.ly/2c5AUgy) reports that Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson issued the ruling in response to a request filed last year by North Jersey Media Group, the newspaper's publisher. The request sought records related to a range of subjects, including the George Washington Bridge scandal. Among the records requested, the newspaper asked for email correspondence between the governor and his aides dealing with a 2013 meeting with Democratic Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Candidate quits race after call for rape of journalist
A New Jersey Republican ended his campaign for local office following reports that he called online for the rape of a Washington-based reporter for news and opinion website The Daily Beast. Mike Krawitz, who was running for the township council in West Deptford, sent a handwritten resignation note to the party saying he was dropping out. Earlier, Krawitz told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his account was hacked and that he didn't make the comment on journalist Olivia Nuzzi's Facebook account. But Nuzzi, a New Jersey native, said she has been harassed on social media by Krawitz since December 2015.
Facebook allows postings of 'napalm girl' photo after debate
Facebook reversed an earlier decision to remove postings of an iconic 1972 image of a naked, screaming girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam, after a Norwegian revolt against the tech giant. Protests in Norway started last month after Facebook deleted the Pulitzer Prize-winning image by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut from a Norwegian author's page, saying it violated its rules on nudity. The revolt escalated when Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg posted the image on her profile and Facebook deleted that too. The brouhaha is the latest instance in which Facebook's often opaque process for deciding what stays and what goes on its network has spurred controversy. Initially, Facebook stood by the decision, saying it was difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others. But later it said it would allow sharing of the photo. "In this case, we recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time," Facebook said in a statement.
Minneapolis Star Tribune isn't required to release source's identity
The Minneapolis Star Tribune doesn’t have to reveal a source from a 2013 story critical of a Chisholm nursing home, according to a state Court of Appeals ruling that reversed a decision by the St. Louis County District Court. The Range Development Co., which owns Hillcrest Terrace Assisted Living Facility, sought the identity of a confidential source who had leaked a Department of Health report to former Star Tribune reporter Paul McEnroe in advance of its public release. The report found neglect in the care of the patient. But Range Development claimed the story contained nine damaging misstatements not in the report so they sought the identity of the confidential source, claiming the person may have provided the embellishments. But the court sided with the Star Tribune in a 21-page opinion written by Judge Lucinda Jesson.
Mississippi Judge orders Hinds County district attorney cases unsealed
A judge has ordered the documents from a number of circuit court cases involving Hinds County (Mississippi) District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith unsealed. Judge Larry Roberts granted motions by The Clarion-Ledger to open the records. Lawyers for Attorney General Jim Hood and Smith say they agree with the decision. The newspaper has argued that judges did not follow proper legal procedures in closing the cases, which deal with disputes over how Smith was using grand juries in Mississippi's largest county.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT SEPT. 6, 2016
State Dept. to give AP all Clinton schedules before election
The State Department agreed to turn over all the detailed planning schedules from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state to The Associated Press by mid-October. It was an abrupt reversal from U.S. government lawyers' warning last week that hundreds of pages would not be released until after the presidential election. The decision is significant because it will make available before the election all of Clinton's minute-by-minute schedules. Those planning documents offer a detailed look at Clinton's daily routine during her four-year tenure as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013. The State Department provided the AP some of the Democratic presidential nominee's official calendars from her time at the department. But in some instances the calendars had been edited after her events and, in some cases, names of those who met with her had been omitted. The department has so far released about half of her more complete daily schedules. The new agreement was drawn up after government lawyers told the AP last week that the department expected to release the last of the detailed daily schedules around Dec. 30, weeks after the election. The AP objected to the delays. The daily schedules drew attention last week after the AP reviewed the two years of schedules released so far, plus Clinton's official calendars. From those, the AP determined that more than half the people who Clinton met or spoke with — outside of members of the U.S. or foreign governments — had donated to the Clinton Foundation either personally or through companies or groups. … The AP first asked for all Clinton's calendars in 2010 and again in 2013 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, but the State Department did not release them. After further delays, the AP sued the State Department in federal court in March 2015 to obtain the planning materials and other records, leading to Leon's order.
Denver Post: Multiple DUIs, many outcomes
Colorado judges are handing out wildly different sentences for habitual drunken drivers convicted under a new felony DUI law, with about one in 12 defendants receiving no incarceration time and others getting lengthy prison sentences, a Denver Post review of sentencing data shows. The disparities have prompted complaints from prosecutors who say that the law making fourth and subsequent DUI offenses felonies, which went into effect last year, was a step backward in an important way: Under the old law all offenders with three or more misdemeanor drunken-driving charges got at least 60 days in jail. That law still applies to third-time offenders, but for felony fourth-time offenders judges now have wide discretion on whether to impose any incarceration. The Post reviewed the cases of 316 felony DUI offenders sentenced since the law took effect in August 2015. The newspaper, which obtained the data from the state in an open-records request, found 25 of the cases resulted in probation or community service but no incarceration time. Nearly 30 percent of the cases resulted in a prison sentence and about 48 percent included a straight jail sentence. The rest of the sentences, about 22 percent, were for time served in halfway houses, jail work-release programs or straight probation, the review found.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: For-profit hospitals provide less charity care
It was May 16, 2001, and Chester County Orphan’s Court Judge Larry Woods had listened through a 45-minute hearing on what was only the second hospital in Pennsylvania ever to be sold willingly by a nonprofit organization to a for-profit company, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. He had one question. Three officials from the nearly 100-year-old Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, located about 40 miles west of Philadelphia, and its for-profit suitor, Community Health Systems of Nashville, had just testified. But the judge, who had the power to approve or disapprove the purchase, realized scant attention had been paid to the one issue he was most concerned about. According to a transcript from the hearing, Mr. Wood turned to the final witness, Gary Newsome, a vice president for CHS, and asked him: “I’m particularly concerned, sir, you understand, or at least it’s my understanding that your organization will be obliged to provide health care to all economic levels of the communities?” “Absolutely, your honor,” said Mr. Newsome. But data provided to the Post-Gazette after a Right-to-Know request to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, a state agency that has been collecting charity care data from hospitals since 1995, shows that did not happen at Brandywine after CHS bought the hospital. And it did not happen at 14 of the 15 formerly nonprofit hospitals CHS bought in Pennsylvania from 1999 to 2014. In those 14 hospitals — from Berwick Hospital purchased in 1999 to Sharon Regional Hospital purchased in 2014 — charity care dropped dramatically after CHS purchased them.
Ally Miller, Oro Valley GOP, ban media from election night shindig
Whether there are tears or joy at an election-night party for Ally Miller and members of the Oro Valley GOP, it won't be documented in the annals of Tucson media. That’s because journalists aren't allowed to cover the gathering at the Fox & Hound. An Arizona Daily Star photographer was not allowed entry to the Tucson restaurant. A sign at the entrance of the restaurant said that no members of the media would be welcome. Miller has had a tense relationship with many local media outlets, including the Star, and generally avoids reporters. In recent months, the Star and other outlets have reported on an ongoing controversy surrounding her use of private email to conduct public business, something she has denied doing. However, emails obtained by the Star through public records requests show Miller regularly corresponding with staff via private email accounts, one of several measures she wrote were necessary to avoid the "prying eyes" of county officials.
State appeals court says N.J. may deny access to public records
A state appeals court ruled that government agencies in New Jersey may deny access to public records by saying they can “neither confirm nor deny” their existence. With the appellate court’s ruling, New Jersey has become the second state to adopt as law what one veteran media lawyer called “a broad and damaging secrecy tool” first used by the U.S. government during the Cold War to protect its national security interests. The other state, Indiana, has authorized “neither confirm nor deny” responses through statute, not through a court ruling. The three-judge panel of the Appellate Division ruled against North Jersey Media Group, a division of Gannett that publishes The Record and other newspapers.
Media challenging ruling keeping Bundy case documents secret
Media organizations are challenging a federal magistrate judge's order to keep many documents secret in the Nevada criminal case involving rancher Cliven Bundy and a 2014 armed standoff with government agents. The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Nevada newspaper publisher Battle Born Media argue that openness is particularly important in a case involving people who've been critical of the government. Documents submitted recently respond to prosecutors' filings last week endorsing Judge Peggy Leen's order.
Assistant AG in Kentucky retires after reprimand for talking to reporter
A longtime assistant attorney general in Kentucky says she has retired after getting reprimanded for talking to a journalist without permission. Amye Bensenhaver told Kentucky Today (http://bit.ly/2bWR25R) that she made her decision to retire "under considerable duress" after being reprimanded in July. Attorney General Andy Beshear's spokesman, Terry Sebastian, said the communications policy is long-standing and applies to everyone who works in the office. He said Bensenhaver has been a valued member of the office who was welcome to stay. Bensenhaver is widely respected as an authority on open records and open meetings laws in Kentucky. She has written about 2,000 open records and open meetings opinions in the last 25 years.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT AUG. 30, 2016
Chicago Tribune: Tracking six years of police shootings
Every five days, on average, a Chicago police officer fired a gun at someone, the Chicago Tribune reports. In 435 shootings over a recent six-year span, officers killed 92 people and wounded 170 others. While a few of those incidents captured widespread attention, they occurred with such brutal regularity — and with scant information provided by police — that most have escaped public scrutiny. Now, after months of struggles with Chicago police to get information through the Freedom of Information Act, the Chicago Tribune has compiled an unprecedented database of details of every time police fired a weapon from 2010 through 2015. Analysis of that data revealed startling patterns about the officers who fired and the people they shot at.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the amount the state gave state employees in merit-based bonuses and equity or retention payments more than doubled in the 2016 fiscal year, but the payments were barely more than half of what employees received three years ago, a State Journal analysis shows. State agencies granted pay increases or one-time bonuses worth an estimated $9.7 million for 4,638 state employees — or about 15 percent of the state workforce — the State Journal found using data provided under the state’s open records law. Fiscal 2016 was the first year in which University of Wisconsin System employees were removed from the state’s civil service system. The one-time merit-based bonus payments and retention or equity payments — some are built into the base pay and some come in one lump sum — are meant to reward job performance, to keep employees in their jobs or to bring their pay to equitable levels with their peers.
AP: Many donors to Clinton Foundation met with her at State
More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation, The Associate Press reports. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president. At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Doctors in sex abuse cases often not disciplined
Doctors who engage in sexual misconduct with patients are routinely treated as having "impairment" issues and may not be reported to law enforcement, according to new findings in an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the latest installment in its ongoing series "Doctors & Sex Abuse," the newspaper details how some doctors with egregious violations were able to participate in treatment programs and return to practice, while others quietly retired without facing police scrutiny. As a result, the physicians avoided criminal charges at a time when society demands punishment for most sex offenders, whether they are college students, teachers, priests or coaches. The Journal-Constitution's series, which started in July, is based on a review of thousands of physician disciplinary documents. According to the newspaper, it's now common across the country for medical regulators to send doctors accused of sexual abuse to treatment.
Suit over releasing Pulse 911 calls goes back to state court
The legal fight over releasing the 911 calls from the Pulse nightclub shooting was sent back to state court by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Paul Byron ruled that the federal court lacks jurisdiction over the claims in the case. "This case must be remanded to the state court," he wrote. The lawsuit pits the City of Orlando against almost two dozen media companies seeking the release of recordings of dozens of 911 calls as well as communications between gunman Omar Mateen and the Orlando Police Department. Mateen was killed by police in June after a lengthy standoff in a mass shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. The judge had to decide whether moving the case from state court to federal court was proper, whether his court had jurisdiction over a city claim and whether his court had jurisdiction over a U.S Department of Justice claim. Moving the case was proper but his court had no jurisdiction over the claims, he said Thursday. The judge denied a request for attorneys' fees from the media companies, which include The Associated Press, CNN and the New York Times. The media groups argue that the recordings will help the public evaluate the police response to the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT AUG. 23, 2016
AP: Illinois AG orders emails disclosed, refuels privacy debate
Chicago police officers' emails discussing the Laquan McDonald shooting can't be kept secret even though they were transmitted privately, a state official has decreed in what open-records advocates say is a solid step toward transparency on an issue that has roiled Illinois and reached as high as Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The binding opinion by Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan follows quickly on a May Cook County Circuit Court ruling that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's emails about separate issues aren't automatically exempt from disclosure even though sent on private devices. The opinion has the force of law, requiring the police to search officers' private accounts and turn over relevant emails — although the police department can ask a judge to overturn it. The dictum also fuels an ongoing national debate about access to discussions of public business on privately held cellphones and computers under decades-old disclosure laws which didn't anticipate such an explosion of electronic communication.
News outlets fight for release of mass shooting 911 calls
Attorneys for almost two dozen media groups are arguing in federal court in Florida that a lawsuit demanding the release of 911 calls involving the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando should be moved back to state court. Attorneys for The Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and other media groups are arguing that the case doesn't belong in federal court. The case pits the City of Orlando against media companies seeking the release of recordings of dozens of 911 calls as well as communications between gunman Omar Mateen and the Orlando Police Department. Mateen was killed by police early June 12 after a lengthy standoff in the shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
Wisconsin reporter sues lawmaker over electronic records
A reporter has filed a lawsuit demanding that a Wisconsin lawmaker turn over more than 1,000 pages of records in an electronic format. Bill Lueders, a reporter and president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, filed the lawsuit in Madison. He alleges he asked Rep. Scott Krug's office for correspondence with constituents over water issues from January through April 8. The lawsuit alleges Krug's office released more than 1,000 pages even though he asked for the material electronically so he could search it easily.
Pennsylvania Attorney General steps down
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she is resigning less than 24 hours after a Montgomery County jury found her guilty of felony perjury and eight other crimes. Her announcement came amid calls for her to step down, and as lawmakers prepared to force her from the office, with a $158,764 a year salary. Kane _ convicted of leaking grand jury proceedings to a newspaper reporter, then lying to cover it up _ could have stayed in office until her sentencing. However, lawmakers said they were preparing to remove her as early as next week.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT AUG. 16, 2016
The office of Kentucky's attorney general has found that the University of Louisville Foundation wrongly withheld records about conflicts of interests and staff salaries. The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/2aJ2Q95 ) reports that the office ruled earlier this month that the foundation improperly denied records to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting under the Kentucky Open Records Act. Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver said in an opinion that the foundation told KyCIR that the request about the conflicts of interests was burdensome. Bensenhaver also said that the foundation refused to supply salary records for its employees because it said the request was overly broad. Bensenhaver says the foundation failed to support any of its claims.
In response to an appeal filed by the Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records has determined that the Borough of Gettysburg must release many documents, or parts thereof, in connection with an arrest involving a Taser. In general terms, the OOR determined some investigative information can remain secret, while matters of policy and procedure must be subject to public scrutiny. For nearly six months, the Times has been seeking public access to materials relating to an arrest recorded by borough Officer Christopher Folster's body camera in May 2015. The video shows Folster shocking a suspect repeatedly after he declined to leave his vehicle. After seeing the video, a jury found the suspect not guilty of resisting arrest.
The Arizona Court of Appeals has quashed a subpoena that ordered a Phoenix journalist to hand over all his records from interviews with a Catholic priest who was assaulted during a 2014 robbery and murder. The appeals court ruled a trial court erred in denying the motion to quash the subpoena five months ago. A judge had ruled that an Arizona Republic editor and writer's First Amendment protections were overshadowed by the fair-trial rights of homicide suspect Gary Michael Moran. But the appeals court ruled that Moran didn't meet the burden of demonstrating a sufficiently compelling need for the reporter's material. Moran has pleaded not guilty to charges that he badly beat one priest and fatally shot another in a June 2014 attack.
A northwest Georgia judge who was criticized for her involvement in the indictment and arrest of a journalist and his attorney has resigned as a member and chair of the state agency that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by judges. Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver sent an email to the other members of the Judicial Qualifications Commission notifying them of her resignation. "The work of this commission is extremely important and nothing and no one should distract from its duties and responsibilities," Weaver said in an email first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and obtained by The Associated Press. She did not specifically mention the controversy involving the arrest of Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason and attorney Russell Stookey. The two were indicted June 24 on charges of identity theft and attempt to commit identity theft.
Minnesota's two licensed medical marijuana manufacturers posted millions of dollars in losses in their first full year of operations, according to financial documents obtained by The Associated Press. Minnesota Medical Solutions posted a $3 million loss in 2015, a period that saw the rush to build up facilities, the growing and cultivating of the plants and the first six months of legal medical marijuana sales. The company also said it lost more than $542,000 in 2014. The other manufacturer, LeafLine Labs, lost roughly $2.2 million in 2015. Their audit does not include information from 2014. The AP obtained copies of the documents through an open records request. The heavy losses illustrate the difficulty of running a medical marijuana business in Minnesota's tightly regulated structure and confirm some fears among patient advocates that the program can't survive long-term.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT AUG. 9, 2016
The Baltimore Sun reports that on a warm summer evening three years ago, Elizabeth Fowlkes sat at her dining room table, chatting on the phone with her granddaughter and watching her dog Sophie in the backyard, when she heard a commotion in the alley behind her rowhome. What happened next prompted two neighbors to call 911 and Fowlkes to complain to the governor's office. It also started the clock on the Baltimore Police Department's system for investigating its own. Fowlkes and several bystanders told police at the scene that officers slammed a man from the neighborhood onto the ground for no reason after a traffic stop. Internal affairs investigators, however, didn't contact the witnesses for weeks. By that time, only Fowlkes would talk. Investigators interviewed all of the officers who responded eight months later. By that time, the police wagon driver didn't remember taking the man to the Northeastern police station before he was taken to the hospital. In all, it took more than a year and a half for internal affairs to arrive at a finding of "not sustained," meaning investigators didn't have enough evidence to prove or disprove excessive force. (It took three months for prosecutors to drop the charges against the man they arrested that night, including resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.) … The outcome in Fowlkes' case is typical, a Baltimore Sun investigation has found. Internal affairs investigations often take longer than they should, mostly conclude without proving or disproving the officer's alleged misconduct, and rarely find that officers used excessive force, according to an analysis of data from January 2013 through March 2016 obtained through the Maryland Public Information Act.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a guard at the state’s troubled youth prison was fired in February after he got in a physical fight with a juvenile inmate and allowed other teens to throw punches at each other in an area that was out of the view of cameras, new records show. A second guard resigned amid the investigation, which found he had not stopped or reported fights at Lincoln Hills School for Boys. The Northwoods facility has been under criminal investigation for 19 months for suspicion of child neglect, prisoner abuse and misconduct in office. Another document recently released under the state’s open records law details dozens of incidents that occurred at the prison in the second half of last year, many of which raise troubling questions about the staff’s use of force and pepper spray. In one incident, staff sprayed a juvenile who was restrained. In another, staff blasted pepper spray into a room after an inmate prevented guards from seeing into the room. Top officials at the Department of Corrections kept mum for months about the log of incidents, even when directly asked if it existed. … The Journal Sentinel recently acquired a copy of the log in response to a request for emails and attachments.
The Columbus Dispatch is suing a coroner for autopsy records in the slayings of eight people from an Ohio family. The newspaper (http://bit.ly/2aPRLAM ) says a lawsuit filed in Ohio Supreme Court against the Pike County coroner alleges final autopsy records have been improperly withheld. The coroner says the autopsies are "confidential law enforcement investigatory records" that aren't subject to public records laws. Ohio's attorney general says he supports that position to avoid jeopardizing chances of catching the killers. Editor Alan Miller says the Dispatch would act responsibly in dealing with the records from the sensitive case. The Cincinnati Enquirer has filed a similar lawsuit. Seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family were found shot at four homes near Piketon on April 22.
The city of Loveland, Colorado, is publishing the emails of city council members as part of an effort to make government more transparent. Loveland, Fort Collins and Larimer County are now allowing the public to see what their elected officials are sending on their computer networks. Only their government email accounts are accessible. "The city will always look for new ways to make our communication and our processes more transparent and accessible to the public," City Manager Steve Adams said in a statement. Previously, the public could make appointments to go through the emails that were available.
Manuela Testolini, Prince's former wife, appeared in Hennepin County Family Court to oppose an effort by the Minneapolis Star Tribune to unseal records from her 2006 divorce from the late musician. Judge Thomas Fraser didn’t rule on the matter, but took it under advisement. Star Tribune attorney Leita Walker said public interest in the contents of the court file is newsworthy given his death from an accidental overdose of fentanyl on April 21 and related questions about financial matters and his estate.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT AUG. 2, 2016
Arkansas has banned inmates from receiving mailed newspaper clippings in what officials say is an attempt to restrict drug smuggling in its state prison system, but civil rights groups and journalists argue the new policy could violate the prisoners' First Amendment rights and could be declared unconstitutional if challenged in court. The Arkansas Department of Correction maintains the ban is necessary, especially since newsprint can be laced with drugs like LSD and it's difficult to screen newsprint items for such substances, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/2aIx2jQ ). Department spokesman Solomon Graves didn't specify which drugs were at issue but said in an email to the newspaper that the change was made because some facilities already had newsprint bans, while others didn't. The new policy still allows inmates to receive articles and other newspaper clippings, such as classified ads and obituaries, but only if they are photocopied or printed on computer paper. Inmates are also still allowed to receive materials directly from a publisher. Civil rights advocates say the ban goes too far and punishes inmates and their families who don't have the means to afford copiers, printers or internet.
The University of Kentucky violated the Open Meetings Act when it did not keep minutes from a dinner meeting of the Board of Trustees, the Kentucky Attorney General’s office has ruled. UK is now required to produce minutes that reflect the “substance of the presentation” made during the dinner by an attorney. The July 25 opinion was in response to a complaint made the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky, after UK denied a request for minutes from a May 2 trustees meeting. At that dinner meeting, the board was briefed by a Washington, D.C. lawyer about $4 million it reimbursed the federal government because of billing problems at a Hazard cardiology clinic owned by UK. Board members listened to and discussed the presentation, UK officials said, but the board did not vote or take any official action.
AP: Snapping up cheap spy tools, nations 'monitoring everyone'
Governments known to stifle dissent with imprisonment and beatings or otherwise abuse their power are buying cheap, off-the-shelf surveillance software that can monitor the phone conversations and track the movements of thousands of their citizens, an Associated Press investigation has found. Such so-called "lawful intercept" software has been available for years to Western police and spy agencies and is now easily obtained by governments that routinely violate basic rights — outside a short blacklist that includes Syria and North Korea. For less than the price of a military helicopter, a country with little technical know-how can buy powerful surveillance gear. Domestic spy operations rely upon companies like the Israeli-American firm Verint Systems, which has customers in more than 180 countries. Verint has also supplied U.S. law-enforcement agencies, including those that target drug traffickers in Mexico and Colombia. The scope and sophistication of Verint's products is made clear in confidential documents obtained by The Associated Press in Peru. They mirror on a small scale U.S. and British surveillance programs catalogued in 2013 that showed how the U.S. government collected phone records of millions not suspected of any crime.
A Wisconsin law enforcement official said he doesn't know why a Washington Post reporter was kicked out of a campaign rally near Milwaukee for Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, but stressed it wasn't his department that removed him. The Washington Post said reporter Jose DelReal was turned down for a credential before the rally and tried to enter through general admission. The Post reports DelReal was stopped by private security who said he couldn't enter with his laptop and cellphone. The Post says the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department verified DelReal had no phone after patting him down, but DelReal still was denied entry by private security staff. Sheriff's department deputy inspector Torin Misko said in a press release Thursday that the reporter was initially denied entry with his laptop and cellphone to the media area because he was not present for a Secret Service security sweep. When he returned without his equipment, event staff asked that sheriff's deputies pat him down, which they did with DelReal's consent, Misko said. After nothing was located, he was allowed to enter, Misko said. "Several minutes later the event staff walked the reporter out of the facility and advised the deputies that he was not allowed back for reasons unknown to the sheriff's department," Misko said. Donald Trump's campaign last month banned the Post from being credentialed for its events.
AP: Former US Attorney Santelle used card for spa, rental car
Former U.S. Attorney James Santelle misused a government credit card to pay for his dry cleaning, a rental car for personal use and an airline ticket to his nephew's college graduation, an investigatory report released in response to an open records request filed by The Associated Press. The report by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General provides more details about what preceded Santelle's abrupt resignation last July as U.S. attorney in charge of the eastern half of Wisconsin. A one-page OIG summary of his credit card misuse was released in December. Investigators determined that Santelle misused the credit card 37 times to charge about $4,400 in goods and services while not on official travel. The detailed report, which is dated Dec. 3, shows that Santelle also tried to use his government card for $234 in personal spa treatments but it was rejected, so he paid for it with a personal check.
Newspaper seeks to unseal cases regarding Hinds DA
The case against Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith is a puzzle with the missing pieces of which may be hidden within sealed cases and hearings in Hinds County Circuit Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Clarion-Ledger (http://on.thec-l.com/2awmiW3) is asking the courts to unseal those records. Last month, the state attorney general's office filed a six-count affidavit against Smith accusing him of aiding criminal defendants. The cases of those defendants, Christopher Butler and Darnell Turner, and other pertinent files are mostly inaccessible to the public. The Clarion-Ledger has filed three petitions to access records the newspaper suggests were sealed improperly.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT JULY 26, 2016
Maine Gov. Paul LePage likes to jot down and fire off personal notes – notes to lawmakers, citizens or just about anybody else who happens to either please him or displease him. In June 2015, he sent this message to state Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport: “It is apparent that the Republicans in the Senate and House have not only thrown the Governor under the bus, but now want to take his executive powers. Therefore, beginning today and for the remainder of my term all bills will be vetoed requiring a 2/3rds vote in both Houses,” LePage scrawled on a notecard with the state seal on the top of it. The message is one of dozens that have been sent to lawmakers since LePage took office in 2011. Those that have been made public by people on the receiving end provide a glimpse of the chief executive’s unfiltered thoughts and policy positions, and his feelings about lawmakers and Maine residents who have been critical of him. LePage’s staff said there is no record of what the governor writes because the notes are never copied or archived, unless a copy of one is returned in a message back to the governor. Staff members argue the notes are personal and not public documents that must be saved and accessible to the public. But others, including the state’s archivist and attorney general, say documents created by the governor that discuss state policy or business are public records, whether handwritten or not. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram formally requested a copy of all of the governor’s handwritten notes last year, after one of them included a message that prompted a state-funded charter school to rescind its job offer to one of the governor’s chief political rivals at the State House. Ten months later, the governor’s office provided copies of just three notes. Not included in the document release were the note to the charter school or about 12 that the newspaper had been given over the years by some of the people on the receiving end of the notes.
Pentagon revises manual to clarify protections of journalism
The Pentagon has revised its Law of War guidelines to remove wording that could permit U.S. military commanders to treat war correspondents as "unprivileged belligerents" if they think the journalists are sympathizing or cooperating with enemy forces. The amended manual also drops wording that equated journalism with spying. These and other changes were made in response to complaints by news organizations, including The Associated Press, which expressed concern to Defense Department lawyers and other officials that updates to the manual published last summer contained vaguely worded provisions that commanders could interpret as allowing them to detain journalists for any number of perceived offenses. The revised manual more explicitly states that engaging in journalism does not constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.
The United Nations has granted accreditation to the Committee to Protect Journalists, overturning a committee's rejection and giving the group the right to promote press freedom at the Human Rights Council and other U.N. bodies. The 54-member Economic and Social Council approved CPJ's application for consultative status — first made in 2012 — by a vote of 40-5 with 6 abstentions. Russia, China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Rwanda opposed the resolution and three countries didn't vote. The 19-member committee that deals with non-governmental organizations deferred action on CPJ's application seven times before it voted 6-10 with three abstentions on May 26 to reject it. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called the NGO committee's action "outrageous," and the United States decided to launch what turned out to be a successful campaign to reverse the committee's vote in ECOSOC, its parent body.
Two newspapers and an advocacy group have asked a New Mexico district court to make public some settlement documents between Corizon Health and inmates in the state's prison system. Corizon is the nation's largest for-profit provider of inmate medical services. Under its contract with the Department of Corrections, Corizon provides medical services at 10 New Mexico prisons. Last month, Corizon settled claims filed by 59 inmates at two New Mexico facilities for nearly $4.6 million. There are confidentiality clauses in the settlements, but most of the payouts appear to be related to a former Corizon doctor accused in lawsuits of sexually abusing dozens of inmates at the prisons. The Santa Fe New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government want the settlement documents made public.
Chicago City Hall ordered to turn over emails to Tribune
A Cook County judge has ordered the Emanuel administration to turn over email chains sought by the Chicago Tribune related to the multimillion-dollar no-bid Chicago Public Schools contract that led to a federal criminal investigation and the resignation of schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled that the city must turn over email chains the Tribune sought in a 2015 Freedom of Information Act request. The Tribune had sought 25 email chains that contained correspondence to or from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and two of his senior aides between Sept. 1, 2011, and Aug. 31, 2013. The city had withheld six email chains entirely, and it redacted portions of the remaining 19.
Law enables confidential settlements using taxpayer money
In March of 2012, a teenager named Kyle Jones stole a Suburban in north Sioux Falls and led police on a high-speed chase, according to the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It ended when Jones ran a red light and collided head-on with a van carrying Jade Thie and Derek Guindon home from a weeklong electrician job. Thie was killed. Guindon was severely injured. Jones is serving a 50-year prison sentence. Jones' prosecution and housing were funded by taxpayers, but the chase also carried a hidden cost for the citizens of South Dakota. Guindon filed a liability claim against the Sioux Falls Police Department for the accident, which the city settled confidentially. It's one of at least seven secret settlements paid by the city over the past 10 years through the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance, which offers taxpayer-funded liability coverage to 400 cities, counties, townships and governmental organizations. The existence of the claim and the confidential settlement was made public only through an Argus Leader Media (http://argusne.ws/2aATqL6 ) records request, and the details are slim.
Undercover officers mingled with oil and gas protesters during a peaceful demonstration in a Denver suburb in May, providing "critical information" to commanders, according to newly released Lakewood Police Department documents. But police said the Lakewood officers were there only to keep the peace and weren't gathering information on individuals or posing as protesters, even though one document refers to the officers as embedded. Spokesman Steve Davis said the critical information referred to in the document was that none of the protesters intended to be violent or get arrested. "We didn't go in for names or anything like that, other than to see that the thing went peacefully," he said. The Intercept website obtained the documents through an open records request and published them. Police confirmed they were authentic.
A newspaper is suing a southern Ohio county over access to the preliminary autopsy results of eight relatives who were slain three months ago. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports (http://cin.ci/2a7WSPh ) that it has filed suit against Pike County for the records. The newspaper's attorney says Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk has refused to allow a reporter to review the autopsy report and has not cited any applicable law to justify his refusal. Seven adults and a 16-year-old boy from the Rhoden family were found dead April 22 at four properties near Piketon. Authorities refuse to discuss details, possible suspects or motives, saying they don't want to jeopardize the investigation.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT JULY 19, 2016
The White House Correspondents’ Association is alarmed by the treatment of the press in the 2016 presidential campaign. The public’s right to know is infringed if certain reporters are banned from a candidate's events because the candidate doesn’t like a story they have written or broadcast, as Donald Trump has done. Similarly, refusing to regularly answer questions from reporters in a press conference, as Hillary Clinton has, deprives the American people of hearing from their potential commander-in-chief in a format that is critical to ensuring he or she is accountable for policy positions and official acts.
Judge: Most documents in Bundy case in Nevada to stay sealed
A federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas cited prosecutors' concerns about threats of violence in a ruling that keeps many documents secret in the Nevada criminal case involving rancher Cliven Bundy and a 2014 armed standoff with government agents. U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said she found a "credible risk" that public disclosure of documents turned over by prosecutors to attorneys for the 19 defendants might be used to intimidate or influence potential witnesses. Chris Rasmussen, attorney for Peter Santilli, one of the 19 defendants in the case, said he'll appeal the ruling. The order doesn't apply to materials collected from the internet and other public sources. It rejected arguments by most of the defendants — and by media including The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Nevada newspaper publisher Battle Born Media — that grand jury transcripts, FBI and police reports and witness statements to investigators should be made public.
Charges against Georgia journalist officially dismissed
Identity fraud charges against a north Georgia journalist have officially been dropped. Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason appeared before senior Judge Richard Winegarden and the charges against him were dismissed. Thomason found himself in the middle of a legal battle following an open records request in the rural county. Chief Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit Brenda Weaver had pressed charges against Thomason after he had requested spending records of government accounts under her control, creating a media firestorm. After the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, The Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Georgia Press Association condemned Weaver’s actions, she requested all charges be dropped, but Winegarden insisted Thomason appear in court.
Report: Political donations show sugar's clout in Florida
While the Everglades still struggle years after a landmark state and federal agreement on restoration plans, Florida Division of Elections records show tens of millions in political contributions from an industry that environmentalists blame for pollution in the wetlands. The sugar industry, led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals, steered $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns between 1994 and 2016, according to a review of state elections records by the Tallahassee bureau shared by The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. The total does not include federal contributions. Environmental groups argue the political contributions resulted in the state softening regulations for sugar cane growers and other agricultural operations and undermining voter-approved Everglades cleanup initiatives.
Salt Lake Tribune sues, says university police should have to release records
The Brigham Young University Police Department has “full-spectrum” law enforcement authority under state law: Sworn officers may stop, search, arrest and use physical force against people. But BYU police do not face the same requirements for transparency as officers across the state: The department is not subject to the state’s open-records laws, according to a decision by state record administrators. Describing the BYU Police Department as a “private institution,” the state Records Committee has declined to review an appeal by The Salt Lake Tribune for records of communication between BYU police and the Mormon school’s Honor Code and Title IX offices. The Tribune has appealed the decision in 3rd District Court.
Cuomo aide refuses to release emails related to economic development contracts
The Buffalo (New York) News reports that an aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo refuses to make public a trove of records that could shed light on the state’s economic development contracts, including the Buffalo Billion contracts that have sparked a federal investigation. Mongthu Zago, the governor’s Freedom of Information Law officer, recently denied The Buffalo News’ request for phone logs, visitor logs, calendar entries and other notes that were created during the normal course of business – and would have been sent to federal prosecutors in Manhattan to respond to their subpoena. Zago said the records can be withheld under New York’s open records law because they were compiled for law enforcement purposes and would somehow interfere with a criminal investigation, specifically the “publicly-disclosed ongoing law enforcement investigation with which we have offered our cooperation,” she told The News in a denial letter. While The News intends to appeal, one of the state’s foremost authorities on New York’s sunshine laws, Robert J. Freeman, finds flaws in Zago’s reasoning.
Council: Governor can't keep rights restoration list secret
Virginia's advisory council on open records has argued that Gov. Terry McAuliffe shouldn't keep secret a list of felons whose voting rights are believed to have been restored. The Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/29zYvkS ) reports that the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council issued the opinion recently, arguing that the list doesn't qualify as an executive working paper. The list contains roughly 206,000 felons believed to meet the criteria of McAuliffe's rights restoration order. The council also says that exemption doesn't apply to the list since it was distributed to the Virginia Department of Elections for voter registration purposes. McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy says the administration disagrees with the council and will continue to keep the list confidential until an official clemency report is made to the general assembly next year.
Utah journalists make new push for 2014 courthouse shooting video
It's been two years since a U.S. marshal shot and killed a defendant in Salt Lake City's federal courthouse, and federal officials still refuse to release the video or documents related to the incident. Since then, the marshal — who has never been publicly identified — has been cleared and the FBI has closed its investigation of defendant Siale Anguilau's death. But the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have also denied or not yet replied to requests from journalists under the Freedom of Information Act. Now, the Utah Headliners chapter the Society of Professional Journalists is taking new steps to demand better transparency about the killing. Attorneys Jeff Hunt and David Reymann of the firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, representing Utah's SPJ, have filed new requests under the Freedom of Information Act seeking video of the shooting. Also joining as requestors are 18 Utah news outlets or organizations. They include: Deseret News, ABC 4, Associated Press, CW 30, Daily Herald, Davis Clipper, Gephardt Daily, Intermountain Catholic, KSL Newsradio, KSL-TV, KSTU Fox 13, KUTV, Park Record, Salt Lake City Weekly, Salt Lake Tribune, St. George News, Utah Press Association, and Utah State News Service.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT
The publisher of a small, weekly north Georgia newspaper was jailed, along with his lawyer, after officials alleged his open records request for county checks written to two local judges included a criminal falsehood, and that a subpoena they issued constituted an attempt to commit identity fraud. The charges have drawn condemnation from a state journalism organization, but the local prosecutor said they were justified. The three-count indictment filed June 24 in Pickens County Superior Court, accuses Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper of making a false statement. It also charges him and his lawyer, Russell Stookey, with identity fraud and attempt to commit identity fraud. The two were arrested June 24 and have been released on bond. The indictment, provided to The Associated Press by Thomason, says Thomason sent an open records request to the Pickens County Commission chairman asking for three years' worth of cleared checks from the county to Judge Brenda Weaver, chief judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, and Judge Roger Bradley for the judges' quarterly operating expenses. The indictment says Thomason knowingly made a false statement in the request when he said some checks "appear to have not been deposited but cashed illegally." The identity fraud charges stem from subpoenas Thomason and Stookey sent to a bank that included Weaver's checking account number. The indictment accuses them of intending to "unlawfully appropriate resources" belonging to Weaver, specifically her banking information.
Judge: Media can argue to make Bundy case documents public
Media organizations can argue for the release of documents that federal prosecutors want to shield from public view in a criminal case involving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's 2014 armed standoff with government agents, a judge decided. An order by Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen didn't immediately open the court filings sought by The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and rural Nevada newspaper publisher Battle Born Media. But she said media lawyers will be allowed to oppose prosecutors' contentions that disclosing evidence could expose witnesses to intimidation and court officials to possible violence from Bundy supporters. The case "has generated considerable public debate about the constitutional role of the federal government in owning large amounts of land in the western United States," Leen wrote. "The court finds that allowing intervention will promote transparency and the integrity of the judicial proceedings." U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden and prosecutors in the Bundy case didn't immediately respond to messages. They could appeal Leen's order to U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro.
Obama signs bill easing access to government records
President Barack Obama has signed into law measures to give the public greater access to government documents and records under the nearly half-century-old Freedom of Information Act. The new law will require federal agencies to consider releasing records under a "presumption of openness" standard, instead of presuming that the information is secret. Supporters say the shift will make it harder for agencies to withhold information. The law also cuts the number of exemptions agencies may use to block the release of requested information. A website will be created to streamline and centralize information requests to any agency. Agencies currently handle information requests in different ways. The White House said in a fact sheet that the website, foia.gov, would be created sometime next year. The law also places a 25-year sunset on the government's ability to withhold documents that shed light on how the government makes decisions. Before the new law, many documents related to decision-making could be kept from the public forever.
Utah official: Board of Regents members can't speak to press
A Utah education official says no members of the state's Board of Regents can speak with the media except the chairman or chairwoman. Utah System of Higher Education communications director Melanie Heath told The Herald Journal (http://bit.ly/291Q7xq ) that the board's bylaws say Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler and current Board Chairman Dan Campbell are permitted to speak to press. An appointed communications director can also talk to the media. Heath says the restrictions are acceptable because members of the Utah Board of Regents are not elected. The Herald Journal says it was told board members could not speak to the media when reporters tried to ask follow-up questions about emails recently released by the board. The emails involve the search for a new Utah State University president.
In some Atlanta schools, lead is 15 times the federal limit
Tests have found that more than half of Atlanta Public Schools buildings had elevated levels of lead in drinking water, with some as high as 15 times the federal limit for water systems. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which obtained the test results under Georgia's open records law, reports that 30 Atlanta schools and other buildings have been tested so far (http://bit.ly/29afqwO). Fourteen schools and two other buildings had at least one source of water — such as a water fountain or kitchen — tap, with lead levels above federal limits for water systems. At most buildings, water from a single water fountain or sink had a high lead level.
AP: Kansas officials' travel mixes family, politics
Kansas taxpayers have been picking up the tab for state officials and legislators to fly in the state-owned executive aircraft to attend out-of-state sports events and take trips with family and friends, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Government officials appear to have no qualms about their own travel in the state's nine-passenger Raytheon King Air 350, despite Kansas' budget crunch that's led the governor to criticize schools for spending too much and lawmakers in the GOP-majority Statehouse to accuse poor people of spending welfare money on cruises. Using open records requests to obtain daily flight logs, emails, schedules and other materials to piece together the plane's usage from Jan. 1, 2015, to March 24 of this year, the AP found state officials often mixed political, religious and family interests with state business on government excursions. Among those travels is an 834-mile, one-day trip that Gov. Sam Brownback took to Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 2 to watch the Liberty Bowl contest between Kansas State University and Arkansas. He took his wife, son, his three daughters, two sons-in-law and infant granddaughter on the trip, which cost $1,251.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT JUNE 28, 2016
About two dozen media organizations including The Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times filed a lawsuit seeking disclosure of city of Orlando phone recordings stemming from the Pulse nightclub shooting. The city, meanwhile, claimed in its own court filing that the recordings are exempt under Florida public records law and that the FBI insists releasing them may disrupt the ongoing investigation. The media lawsuit contends city officials are wrongly withholding recordings of dozens of 911 calls as well as communications between gunman Omar Mateen and the Orlando Police Department. Mateen was killed by police early June 12 after a lengthy standoff in a mass shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
The Minnesota judge overseeing Prince's estate case won't allow attorneys for several media companies to intervene in an upcoming hearing. In a letter made public recently, Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide denied the media's request to be heard at a scheduled probate hearing, but left open the possibility of agreeing to a hearing on the issue of access at a later date. The media groups, including The Associated Press, asked to intervene to ensure the press and public would have access to estate proceedings and records. The hearing in Chaska, a Minneapolis suburb, will cover procedures for determining who stands to inherit part of Prince's estate. Prince died April 21 of an accidental overdose of the drug fentanyl, and no will has been found.
A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break, The New York Times reports. Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs. A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay. In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered. The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/business/dealbook/when-you-dial-911-and-wall-street-answers.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
The Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle reports that a Montana man who was granted clemency by the governor after he spent three decades behind bars for a murder he says he did not commit is now under investigation on allegations that he asked a female to perform sex acts. The newspaper says (http://bit.ly/28XoCWe) an investigative report obtained by the paper through a public records request says a person told the Billings Police Department in January that Barry Beach picked up the female, whose age is not clear in the report, and drove her to his home, where he asked, "Can I touch you?" The report says the female said no, and no again when Beach allegedly asked her if she wanted to touch him, the Chronicle reported. The report says Beach then took her to a parking lot, where he asked if she liked performing a sex act. He eventually dropped the female off at a house. The person who complained to police said the female appeared scared.
North Dakota spent $491,016 in legal costs defending an ill-fated law passed by the state's Republican-led Legislature three years ago that attempted to ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, records obtained by The Associated Press show. The sum was finalized this week and includes billing by state-contracted attorneys and expert witnesses, as well as a $245,000 settlement paid in April to lawyers representing the state's lone abortion clinic in Fargo. The figure does not include staff time dedicated from the state Attorney General's office.
A Montgomery County grand jury indicted three members of Commissioners Court and a political consultant on charges related to violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Conroe Courier in Conroe, Texas, reports. County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark booked themselves into the Montgomery County Jail on charges of conspiring to circumvent for secret deliberations, then quickly bonded out. According to special prosecutor Chris Downey, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley and political consultant Marc Davenport also were indicted. ... Conroe Courier open records requests last August led to the discovery of a string of emails among some members of Commissioners Court and others between Aug. 12 and Aug. 20. There were no public meetings during that time, yet a special meeting of Commissioners Court was called for Aug. 24 – the last day commissioners could vote to put a bond referendum on the November ballot. While The Courier also requested cellphone records, including text messages and a call log, the county never released that information.
The state Office of Hearing Examiners has denied a newspaper's request to obtain records offering details about short-term lending companies operating in South Dakota. The Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/2916LNN ) reports Hearing Examiner Catherine Duenwald says applications submitted to the state by payday and car title lenders aren't public records. The newspaper had appealed the Division of Banking's decision to deny an open records request.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT JUNE 21, 2016
AP: Few records for men sentenced by judge accused of misconduct
A one-page Arkansas court docket says Richard Milliman was pulled over in 2014 for expired tags and sentenced to community service, which he completed about three months later. Milliman, however, says it's all a lie perpetrated by a former district judge accused of sexually preying on him and dozens of other male defendants. Of the 254 men Judge Joseph Boeckmann sentenced to community service over a seven-year period in one of three districts he oversaw, just 13 of the cases include timesheets and court records showing completion of the sentences, according to a review of documents by The Associated Press. Several defendants — including Milliman, who was sentenced in another district — say they never served traditional community service because the judge offered them "alternative" sentences. Some alleged Boeckmann took photos as they bent over to pick up cans in his backyard. Others said he paid them to pose nude or spanked them with a paddle and took pictures of the red skin. The judge resigned in May following a commission's investigation that found more than 4,600 photos of nude or partially clothed men on computers belonging to the judge and financial records that showed he paid thousands of dollars from his business accounts to several defendants who appeared in his court. Boeckmann, who has denied the allegations, declined to comment through his attorney Jeff Rosenzweig.
Sacramento Bee: UC Davis chancellor sent aides to Switzerland
Last November, as UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was searching for ways to improve the university’s online image, she dispatched staff to companies in Switzerland, Texas and Maryland to study their digital operations, The Sacramento Bee reports. The trips cost more than $17,000 in airfare, lodging and other expenses, according to travel records and emails released to the newspaper in response to a May 5 California Public Records Act request. The November 2015 overseas trip came as UC Davis was searching for new ways to improve its image worldwide, and after it had spent at least $175,000 on contracts with two firms that promised to help erase negative search engine results about the university stemming from the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students by campus police. Katehi was suspended and placed under investigation in April over those contracts, as well as allegations involving nepotism at UC Davis and misuse of student funds. The chancellor has denied any wrongdoing.
PPL exec apologizes for actions that redirected repair crew
A vice president at electric utility PPL in Allentown, Pennsylvania, apologized for his actions that led a repair crew to be redirected to his neighborhood after a 2011 power outage even though it wasn't next in line. PPL issued the statement from Dave Bonenberger, vice president of distribution operations, hours after state utility regulators complied with a state Supreme Court order that it release investigative records on the utility's response to the storm. In a letter to employees, the electric utility's president, Gregory Dudkin, wrote that Bonenberger had called the utility's storm room to ask about an outage in his neighborhood near Tamaqua. Supervisors interpreted the call as an order to reassign a crew to his area. … Last month, Pennsylvania's high court ordered the release of investigative records concerning the utility's response to the freak October snowstorm. A group of news organizations, including The Associated Press, had appealed a lower-court ruling backing the Public Utility Commission's effort to keep the records secret.
Suspended Kansas detective worked on more than 600 cases
A suspended Kansas sheriff's detective who is charged with three counts of felony perjury worked on more than 600 cases, according to prosecutors. The Shawnee County District Attorney's Office found that the cases Erin Thompson handled ranged from traffic infractions to homicide, The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/1ZQKQdG ) reported. The newspaper obtained the list of 612 cases after filing an open records request. Thompson, 40, was charged in May following a probe into inconsistencies on investigative reports. An affidavit accuses her of repeatedly reporting she talked with people she had never contacted.
AP files open-records lawsuit against Kansas county
The Associated Press has sued a Kansas county, alleging it has wrongly withheld public records involving alleged fiscal misconduct by the county's former elections chief who later took a top U.S. elections job. The lawsuit names Johnson County's governing board as defendants and seeks under the state's open-records law emails related to Brian Newby's role as county election commissioner before he took a job in November as the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's executive director. An audit released after Newby left the Kansas job alleged that he misused of thousands of dollars in public funds and raised questions about his management of the elections office.
Harrisburg mayor cuts off newspaper, won't talk to reporters
The mayor of Pennsylvania's capital city has ordered his spokeswoman to no longer speak with a prominent local newspaper, and its reporters will no longer be invited to city briefings. Pennlive.com reports (http://bit.ly/1OnCc5S ) Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse's official statement is that believes the news site "traffics in hate speech and cynicism." His spokeswoman tells the news site she was instructed to no longer respond to inquiries from them. Pennlive is the online site of The Patriot-News. Mike Feeley, PennLive's director of content, calls the mayor's directive "unfortunate" but adds the news site is undeterred and will continue to investigate and report on stories in the city. Pennlive says the ban followed stories that looked at the Democrat's private business and real estate holdings. He's also been critical of the comment section.
Police dash cam, body cam videos reviewed by Ohio Supreme Court
Media organizations and the public should have immediate access to police dashboard and body camera footage, an attorney for the Cincinnati Enquirer argued before the Ohio Supreme Court. The newspaper sued law enforcement officials over two instances where police-recorded video footage was not publicly released until after an indictment or guilty plea. The court's decision could have wide-ranging implications as more police officers wear body cameras and video of encounters with police go viral. The newspaper argues police dashboard and body camera videos are public records that initiate investigations, similar to 911 calls. Law enforcement officials argue the videos were part of police investigations and were properly held until the investigations were complete.
$600,000 in education contracts with superintendent’s ex-colleagues
The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, reports that the state’s education department has more than $600,000 worth of contracts with two of the superintendent's former co-workers and affiliated companies, and some appear to duplicate each other. Superintendent Carey Wright tells the paper (http://on.thec-l.com/1VZH7eI) that the department needed urgent, major work in information technology, and she hired companies with expertise in evaluating, organizing and modernizing such operations. The newspaper says the contracts went to John Porter and Elton Stokes Jr., and companies they had ties with. Porter is now the department's chief information officer. ... The state contract database and board meeting minutes show that Porter, Stokes and related companies have had eight contracts with MDE since 2014 totaling $604,836.
Senate approves transparency involving secretive police fund
The Delaware legislature has passed a bill that provides a better look at the inner workings of a secretive group that distributes money to police agencies from the sale of seized property. The measure, which contains significant loopholes, was approved unanimously in the Senate after clearing the House last week and now goes to Gov. Jack Markell. Although the bill makes the state's Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund subject to Delaware's Freedom of Information Act, it also lets police agencies' applications for money stay secret while an oversight committee decides whether they're exempt from FOIA.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT JUNE 14, 2016
Law enforcement agencies across the nation rely on blood, hair and other DNA evidence collected from alleged sexual assault victims to identify and prosecute rapists, the Charlotte Observer reports. But since 2000, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have destroyed the results of sexual assault exams – commonly called rape kits – in about 1,000 cases, including alleged crimes against children, according to department records obtained by the Observer. An expert who has studied sexual assault investigations for the U.S. Department of Justice said she had never heard of that many rape kits intentionally destroyed by a police department.
Anniston Star: Problems getting hospitals to respond to public records requests
Regional Medical Center has released its previously withheld contract with an emergency management firm, but with redactions. The hospital has for months been reluctant to comply with public records requests. It’s not the only one. Out of eight Alabama public hospitals, only one agreed to a public information request and released a full copy of its emergency management firm contract, the Anniston Star reports. The rest either didn't respond or argued that state open records law didn’t apply to them, while RMC released a partial contract. Meanwhile, RMC argues that while it is subject to state open records law, not all its records are public. Some attorneys and a recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling argue otherwise. The issue highlights the murkiness of a state law that allows some public hospitals to operate in part like private entities.
Concerns over banking practices at Craig High School were raised as early as 2011, more than three years before the arrest of a clerk at the school on embezzlement charges, according to Janesville School District documents The Gazette received through an open records request. The paper is based in Janesville, Wisconsin. "I just wanted to make you aware of the continued banking issues the FFA is having," Craig agriculture teacher Diane Runde wrote in an email to Craig Principal Alison Bjoin on Nov. 18, 2011. "When I ask for clarification on money issues, I do not always get a 'warm' reception. Just an FYI." The Gazette reviewed about 30,000 pages of school district emails obtained through an open records request. … The documents shed light on a lack of knowledge by staff members of money in their activity accounts, mistakes and late documentation of balances by then banker Jessica Warner-Reed and decisions made by administration in the aftermath of the discovery of Warner-Reed's embezzlement.
AP: Water giant gave $1.4M loan to official
A California public water district that earned a rare federal penalty over what it described as "a little Enron accounting" loaned one of its executives $1.4 million to buy a riverfront home, and the loan remains unpaid nine years later although the official has left the agency, according to interviews and records obtained by The Associated Press. Westlands Water District says its 2007 loan to deputy general manager Jason Peltier — now at $1.57 million with a 0.84 percent annual interest rate — is allowed under agency rules on salary. But experts in governance say the deal raises red flags, not just over the unpaid loan and its generous terms but over whether Peltier and Westlands complied with laws mandating disclosure of the use of public funds. "Show me the statute that allows this," said Peter Detwiler, long the top consultant, now retired, to the California Senate on local government finance. "Where else could you borrow $1.6 million dollars for 0.84 percent?" Detwiler asked. "Who wouldn't want a real-estate deal like that? Sweet." … The AP had asked Westlands under open records laws to provide all documents on the loan.
Trump says he is revoking Washington Post credentials
Donald Trump says presidential campaign is revoking credentials provided to The Washington Post. Trump wrote on his Facebook page, "Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record setting Trump campaign, we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post." He wrote that he's "no fan of" President Barack Obama, but faulted the Post for a headline that he said read, "Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting." The headline on the story read, "Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting." Trump's campaign has revoked credentials from other news outlets including The Daily Beast, Politico and the Des Moines Register. In Washington, the White House Correspondents' Association criticized Donald Trump for "arbitrarily" banning the Washington Post from covering his campaign. In a statement, association president Carol Lee said the group "stands with the Washington Post and numerous other news outlets that Donald Trump has arbitrarily banned from his campaign events."
Congress sends Obama bill to ease access to government records
Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation making it easier for Americans to obtain government records. The bipartisan bill would require federal agencies to consider release of government information under a "presumption of openness" as opposed to a presumption the information is secret. Supporters of the shift said it would make it harder for agency officials to block release of government records. The House approved the bill on a voice vote, three months after the Senate acted. Obama is expected to sign the measure, which aims to reduce the number of exemptions the government uses to withhold information from the public and news media. It also would create an online portal for individuals to submit a request under the 50-year-old Freedom of Information Act. Such requests currently are handled by separate agencies in different ways. The legislation was sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. Leahy said he could "think of no better way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of FOIA than by passing the FOIA Improvement Act."
Maine courts reverse course on sealed documents
The Maine court system reversed itself on sealing some court records after pressure from media groups, officials said. Dismissed criminal cases that had been ordered sealed will remain public records as they have in the past, according to a spokeswoman for the Maine court system. Media organizations led by the Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston and attorney Sigmund Schutz from the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition objected after learning that court officials had begun sealing the court records last fall with no public notice. ... The Associated Press joined in the action, along with the Maine Press Association, prominent newspapers and TV stations, and First Amendment groups.
Media outlets ask judge to unseal Sandusky insurance records
Media groups have asked a Philadelphia judge to unseal insurance documents that could address whether Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was told in the mid-1970s that his assistant was molesting boys. Media outlets also asked the judge to unseal details of the $92 million in settlements the school has paid to more than 30 people who say they are victims of Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 of molesting 10 boys. "There may have been allegations of abuse that occurred sooner than people thought," said lawyer Craig Staudenmaier, representing The Associated Press and others. "This is information that needs to be made public.
Emails to former Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy show wide support
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration spent months refusing to turn over emails that, among other things, show broad community and Police Department support for former Superintendent Garry McCarthy after his firing, according to records released under a court order. The release came a day after a Cook County judge ruled that the Chicago Tribune had a right to about 1,500 emails in McCarthy's department account under the state's open records law. The news organization first requested the messages in January, asking for "all email sent by, received by or copied to Garry McCarthy's email account" from December. … It was the second time in eight days that Pantle issued a ruling in favor of the Tribune in an open records lawsuit. Earlier the judge denied a city motion to dismiss another lawsuit, ruling that Emanuel's emails, texts and other communications are not exempt from disclosure simply because they are transmitted over private devices.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT JUNE 7, 2016
Boston Globe: Released to reoffend
The Boston Globe reports that criminals were among the nation’s top priorities for deportation. But instead they were released, one by one, in secret across the United States. Federal officials said that many of the criminals posed little threat to the public, but did little to verify whether that was true. It wasn’t. A Globe review of 323 criminals released in New England from 2008 to 2012 found that as many as 30 percent committed new offenses, including rape, attempted murder, and child molestation — a rate that is markedly higher than Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have suggested to Congress in the past. The names of these criminals have never before been made public and are coming to light now only because the Globe sued the federal government for the list of criminals immigration authorities returned to neighborhoods across the country. A judge ordered the names released in 2013, and the Globe then undertook the work that the federal government didn’t, scouring court records to find out how many released criminals reoffended. The Globe has also published, in conjunction with this story, a searchable database of the thousands of names that were disclosed to the news organization, so that crime victims, law enforcement officials, and managers of sex offender registries — who are often unaware of these releases — can find out if the criminals may still be in the United States.
Kansas City Star: Schools lag in hiring black faculty
In the last two academic years, the University of Missouri campus in Columbia has hired 451 faculty members, the Kansas City Star reports. But on a campus that has been torn by protests over a lack of diversity and an oppressive racial climate, just 19 were African-American. Data obtained by The Star through a Freedom of Information Act request show that in the last two years the Columbia campus hired more than 13 times as many white professors as African-Americans. While just about 4.2 percent of the hires were African-American, 262 — more than half — were white. In that time, MU also hired 61 Asian professors, 12 Hispanic professors, three American Indians and two Pacific Islanders. The remaining 92 hires did not define their racial identity. Doing so is optional, university officials said. But even if half of those hires were African-American, the campus would still come up well short of meeting any standards proposed to ensure a diverse faculty.
State corrections officials have fallen six months behind in publishing an annual report on attacks on officers, and Wisconsin's youth prisons have yet to implement a centralized database tracking assaults, fights and other incidents, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. At the juvenile facilities, officials store paper copies of reports in inmates' files, making it difficult to identify the extent of problems at the two institutions now under criminal investigation. … The Department of Corrections' response to one open records request from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel underscores how a paper-based system makes it difficult to identify the extent of problems at the youth facility. The news organization requested copies of reports of fights at the youth prisons for 2014 and 2015. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab declined to provide the records in January because she said it would be too burdensome on the agency to find those reports. To identify instances of those fights, staff would have to search each individual's file, Staab wrote in a memo denying the request.
Lexington Herald-Leader: Amid secrecy, UK pays $5 million to fix billing issues at clinic
The University of Kentucky has spent more than $5 million in the last year to fix federal billing issues involving a Hazard cardiology practice it acquired three years ago, but UK officials have declined to provide documents detailing problems that led to the payments, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. In 2013, UK HealthCare spent $440,000 for the office equipment of Appalachian Heart Center and rented its clinic space in Hazard, Harlan and Hyden. The four physicians of the practice also became adjunct faculty at UK. But in the past year, UK HealthCare and its billing arm, the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation, have paid $4.1 million to Medicaid and Medicare, and $1 million to David Douglass, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who specializes in federal health care issues, to resolve billing issues involving the Hazard cardiology practice. … UK officials have since denied the Herald-Leader’s request for the presentation made by Douglass, saying it is exempt from disclosure under the state Open Records Act because of attorney-client privilege. No minutes of the dinner meeting were kept, UK has said. UK General Counsel William Thro said that because there were no members of the public or press present, the board did not vote to go behind closed doors to discuss legal issues involving the cardiology practice.
Prosecutor files open records charges in Burlington shooting
A prosecutor hired by the Iowa Public Information Board says three law enforcement agencies improperly withheld public records related to the death of a Burlington woman killed by a police officer. The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa (http://bit.ly/1t1jIhT ) reports that special prosecutor Mark McCormick has charged the Burlington Police Department, Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers and the Division of Criminal Investigation with violating theopen records law. An officer accidentally shot Autumn Steele to death in January 2015 while responding to a domestic dispute. Steele's family and The Hawk Eye requested public records related to the incident.
Judge says Chicago mayor's emails aren't exempt from disclosure
A judge has determined that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's emails, texts and other communications transmitted over private devices aren't exempt from disclosure. The Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1sKltPL ) reports that the judge denied Emanuel's motion to dismiss the newspaper's lawsuit alleging that he violated the state's open records laws by refusing to release private emails and text messages about city business. The lawsuit seeks an order to have Emanuel's office comply with a state Freedom of Information request and to produce the documents. It also seeks to have Emanuel declared in violation of the Illinois Local Records Act if he failed to preserve the emails and texts. Emanuel claims that the city complies with records requests and that he conducts city business on his government devices and accounts. The city plans to continue fighting the lawsuit.
Politico reporter booted from Trump rally
A reporter from the news outlet Politico was ejected from a recent Donald Trump rally — the latest sign of growing antagonism between the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the press. Politico reported that Ben Schreckinger had been typing on his laptop at the event at the San Jose Convention Center when he was approached by a Trump campaign staffer. After consulting with higher-ups, the aide and a private security staffer reportedly escorted Schreckinger out of the venue. Schreckinger had entered on a general admission ticket after repeatedly being denied press credentials for Trump events.
AP: Iowa patrol fires sergeant 'due to misconduct'
The Iowa State Patrol has moved to terminate the employment of a ranking officer who had been one of its rising stars, invoking a seldom-used disciplinary process for supervisors, The Associated Press has learned. Sgt. Michael Haugen was informed May 3 that the patrol is firing him "due to misconduct," according to a document obtained under the open records law. A related criminal investigation is underway. The patrol's parent agency, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, has so far kept the details under wraps. Haugen has the right to appeal his termination and would continue to be paid his $79,000-annual salary until the action becomes final.
Authorities released hundreds of videos that offer startling glimpses into violent encounters involving Chicago police, including the fatal shooting of a robbery suspect speeding toward them in a van and an incident when an officer slammed his night stick against a man's head at a party. The more than 300 video clips — along with audio recordings and police reports — are from 101 incidents investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority. The agency examines misconduct cases and any instance — justified or not — of an officer firing a gun in a manner that could injure someone. The release marks the start of a new city policy to make public all video in police shootings and other incidents within 60 days as part of an effort to restore public trust in its beleaguered police force. The video was captured by police dashcams and bodycams as well as surveillance cameras and bystanders recording on cellphones. Thirty of the 101 cases involve deaths, said IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac. … In some cities, such as Seattle, nearly all police video is posted online almost immediately. But elsewhere around the country, the public often must wait months or years to gain access to the videos. In some places, the video is never released. The Chicago police union opposed the release, saying in many cases the videos don't tell the full story.
Virgin Islands university says Open Records Law does not apply
The board of trustees at the University of the Virgin Islands says that the Virgin Islands Open Records Act “does not apply to the university.” However, the board voted to “allow the president of the university, once each year, upon written request from a Virgin Islands newspaper, to provide a listing of the name, job title, and salary of all employees of the University.” The board action said the move was made “in order to dispel any suspicion that the university is withholding this information of its employees because of some ulterior motive and in furtherance of the interests of the university,” according to the text of the resolution. … The move came after months of stonewalling by university leaders regarding a request from The Daily News of St. T