OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • March 14, 2018
MIT: On Twitter, false news travels faster than true stories
A new study by three MIT scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does — and by a substantial margin.
“We found that falsehood defuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” says Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.
“These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem,” says Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), who is also a co-author of the study. Roy adds that the researchers were “somewhere between surprised and stunned” at the different trajectories of true and false news on Twitter.
Moreover, the scholars found, the spread of false information is essentially not due to bots that are programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories. Instead, false news speeds faster around Twitter due to people retweeting inaccurate news items.
Read more: http://news.mit.edu/2018/study-twitter-false-news-travels-faster-true-stories-0308
AP: Mimicking Trump, local officials use 'fake news' as a weapon
An Idaho state lawmaker urges her constituents to submit entries for her "fake news awards." The Kentucky governor tweets #FAKENEWS to dismiss questions about his purchase of a home from a supporter. An aide to the Texas land commissioner uses the phrase to downplay the significance of his boss receiving donations from employees of a company that landed a multimillion-dollar contract. President Donald Trump's campaign to discredit the news media has spread to officials at all levels of government, who are echoing his use of the term "fake news" as a weapon against unflattering stories. It's become ubiquitous as a signal to a politician's supporters to ignore legitimate reporting and hard questions, as a smear of the beleaguered and dwindling local press corps, and as a way for conservatives to push back against what they call biased stories.
AP Investigation: US military overlooks sex abuse among kids
A decade after the Pentagon began confronting rape in the ranks, the U.S. military frequently fails to protect or provide justice to the children of service members when they are sexually assaulted by other children on base, an Associated Press investigation has found. Reports of assaults and rapes among kids on military bases often die on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confesses. Other cases don't make it that far — criminal investigators shelve them, despite requirements they be pursued. The Defense Department doesn't know the scope of the problem on its bases. AP documented nearly 600 sex assault cases since 2007 through dozens of interviews and by piecing together records and data from the four main military branches and schools the Pentagon runs in the U.S. and abroad. The AP filed dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests with the main law enforcement agencies for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as with the Pentagon school system that educates elementary and secondary students on installations worldwide.
AP: US sets new record for censoring, withholding government files
The federal government censored, withheld or said it couldn't find records sought by citizens, journalists and others more often last year than at any point in the past decade, according to an Associated Press analysis of new data.
The calculations cover eight months under President Donald Trump, the first hints about how his administration complies with the Freedom of Information Act.
The surge of people who sought records but ended up empty-handed was driven by the government saying more than ever it could not find a single page of requested files and asserting in other cases that it would be illegal under U.S. laws to release the information.
People who asked for records under the Freedom of Information Act received censored files or nothing in 78 percent of 823,222 requests, a record over the past decade. When it provided no records, the government said it could find no information related to the request in a little over half those cases.
It turned over everything requested in roughly one of every five FOIA requests, according to the AP analysis.
Long after North Carolina closed meetings, details often kept off-limits
Hundreds of times a year across North Carolina, officials who control everything from the taxes you pay the city to the tuition required to attend public universities meet behind closed doors to conduct sensitive business on behalf of the public they serve. Whether they're elected or appointed, members of these local and state boards can meet out of view of the public for almost a dozen legitimate reasons, like personnel decisions or discussions of legal strategy. When they do, they're supposed to keep an account of what happens — and barring specific exceptions, be able to provide that account to the public. That's often not the case. A collaborative investigation by 10 newsrooms across the state found that governing boards that meet in closed session are often slow to hand over legally required records that detail what they discuss in secret, if they provide them at all. When they are produced, they're often heavily redacted, raising questions about how closely those boards are following the law. The project which included The Associated Press, WRAL, The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer and others was timed to coincide with Sunshine Week, a celebration of transparency and open government.
Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article204634614.html
Peoria Journal Star: Paper investigates police chief’s departure
Jerry Mitchell’s retirement last month from the city’s top police post seemed sudden, but it actually was the result of a series of internal investigations since summer 2017. The inquiries focused on the true nature of the chief’s relationship with a civilian female subordinate and caused enough concern that the city administration began drafting legal opinions on the matter last July, according to documents obtained by the Journal Star through the Freedom of Information Act. The city has officially found no wrongdoing. But the former police chief departed as he was still being investigated, and the full extent of this situation’s fallout has yet to be revealed. Two current city employees directly involved in the case have retained attorneys, with one already citing pending litigation, though no respondents have been identified and no action has been taken in court.
Read more: http://www.pjstar.com/news/20180310/surveillance-report-on-peoria-police-chief-details-alleged-relationship
Delaware State News: Prison riot triggered $184,694 in overtime costs
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Delaware State News, the Division of State Police reported that they’ve spent $184,694 in overtime pay in connection with the emergency response and ensuing investigation spurred by the Feb. 1, 2017, inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. Although a full accounting of the emergency response and subsequent criminal investigation is what was requested, the state police claim to be unable to “quantify how many regular duty hours were expended in support of this incident.” A letter signed by state police superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr., states: “The Delaware State Police has determined that it cannot separate out expenses for the incident and investigation in your request from the general amount of operations and expenses below.”
Read more: https://delawarestatenews.net/police/response-to-2017-prison-riot-cost-state-police-more-than-184000-in-overtime/
AP: Advocates say tight budget leading to open-press threats in Oklahoma
While the news media nationally are facing new perils with the rise of fake news on social media and attempts to discredit legitimate reporting, press freedom advocates in Oklahoma say legislative threats this year to the public's access to government center mostly on agencies trying to save money.
Amid another cash-strapped state budget, some agencies are looking at ways to potentially save this year by restricting the public's access to records or information, said Mark Thomas, executive vice president for the Oklahoma Press Association, which represents daily and weekly newspapers across the state.
"When I look at a lot of the bills this year, they are bills to give government bodies the opportunity to sell their records or restrict access to records to help the government ... make money," said Thomas, a lobbyist who has worked with lawmakers for more than 20 years to defeat or narrowly tailor bills that may restrict the public's access to government and its records.
New York Times: Judge has questions in president’s Twitter blocking case
A federal judge in Manhattan had plenty of questions for lawyers representing a group of Twitter users who sued President Trump in July after he blocked them on the social media service, The New York Times reports. And she had even more for the government. The seven users, who had been blocked by the @realDonaldTrump account after criticizing the president, were joined in the lawsuit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Their lawyers claimed that Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed is an official government account and that blocking users from following it was a violation of their First Amendment rights. Lawyers from the Department of Justice insisted that the Twitter feed was not, in fact, a public forum. Furthermore, they argued, no one had been meaningfully excluded from it.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/business/trump-twitter-block.html?ribbon-ad-idx=10&rref=business&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Your%20Money&action=keypress®ion=FixedLeft&pgtype=article
Knoxville News Sentinel: Newspapers win access to records in Pilot Flying J case
A federal judge is ordering the unsealing and public release of secret recordings that captured the then-president of the nation’s largest diesel fuel retailer using racial epithets and profanely criticizing his own board of directors and his boss’ football team and fans. U.S. District Court Judge Curtis L. Collier issued two separate orders authorizing the unsealing and release of the recordings and all documents and motions related to the judge’s decision to allow jurors in a recent trial to hear snippets of racist and vulgar commentary by former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood during a meeting with subordinates in October 2012. USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee first sought the public release of those recordings and records in January immediately after prosecutors played portions of them in a conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud trial of Hazelwood and three subordinates. The network — which includes the Knoxville News Sentinel, The Tennessean in Nashville, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, The Jackson Sun, The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville and the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro — asked for a hearing. The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, WBIR-TV in Knoxville and WKYC-TV in Cleveland joined in the effort.
Read more: https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/crime/2018/03/08/pilot-flying-j-trial-racist-tapes-recordings-sealed-public/405031002/
Philadelphia Inquirer: Under court order, DA releases list of tainted police
Responding to a judge’s order, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has released a secret list of current and former police officers whom prosecutors have sought to keep off the witness stand after a review determined they had a history of lying, racial bias, or brutality. The names of the 29 officers were included among a larger roster of 66 provided to the Philadelphia Defender Association and obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News. The full list combined two groupings — the officers whose serious misconduct rendered them problematic as witnesses and 37 officers who have been charged with lesser offenses or have been involved in other legal conflicts, often while off duty. Under prosecution policy, the second group can testify, but defense attorneys must be told of their legal issues.
Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/larry-krasner-philadelphia-police-tainted-misconduct-secret-list-20180306.html
Post and Courier: Solicitor says he has nothing to hide
A South Carolina prosecutor whose spending records have been called into question in a newspaper report says he has nothing to hide. Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson said in an email that his office responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by providing financial documents from January 2011 through last November. He said that resulted in more than 30,000 pages of information which included less than a dozen items of concern. Johnson said that, to his knowledge, no tax dollars have been used inappropriately for expenditures as reported by the Post and Courier of Charleston. The newspaper cited records which it said showed Johnson used an office credit card to pay for a hotel in the Galapagos Islands and high-priced Uber rides, among other spending.
AP: Legislature OKs exempting cybersecurity information from FOIA
Cybersecurity plans and vulnerabilities would be exempt from open-records requests under legislation approved by Michigan lawmakers.
House members sent the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder in a 104-4 vote, paving the way for the state to block cybersecurity information shared with Michigan State Police and other public bodies. Supporters of the exclusion said without it companies might be reluctant to cooperate with officials in the event of a security breach due to fear of sensitive information being released under the Freedom of Information Act.
AP Correction: EPA-Ethics story
In a story about an Environmental Protection Administration employee who was allowed to consult for private clients, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the agency did not release any documents in response to a Freedom of Information request. The agency said later that some documents were posted to a FOIA website. However, the AP did not receive notification by email or U.S. mail, which is the usual procedure.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • March 8, 2018
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Flammable building panels prove elusive threat
A horrific fast-moving fire that claimed 72 lives last June in a London high-rise called Grenfell Tower sparked questions worldwide about the safety of skyscrapers. How many other buildings are clad with the same flammable aluminum panels that doomed Grenfell Tower, and where are they? Are there any here? Not long after the London fire, the Democrat and Chronicle began looking into the aluminum cladding of one Rochester high-rise. In the fall, the newspaper expanded its inquiry through an open-records request to the city for information on the construction of nine prominent downtown buildings. Those records weren't provided until last month — and they failed to explain the makeup of the building facades. Inquiries with building owners, architects, suppliers and construction managers also failed to yield definitive answers.
City building-department and fire officials say they believe all Rochester skyscrapers are safe, and they think no high-rises here have flammable panels — but they don't know for sure. “The code is not black and white. It’s not that easy to get answers at every turn,” Rochester code enforcement manager Kurt Martin said when asked if any local buildings were clad in the suspect material.
Read more: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2018/03/04/fire-safety-finding-flammable-building-panels-difficult-task/336363002/
Washington governor vetoes legislative exemption bill
Following a public outcry, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill that sought to exempt Washington lawmakers from the state's Public Records Act and legislators agreed to not take another vote to override his action.
The agreement came hours before the measure — contested by media groups and open government advocates — would have become law.
In turn, a media coalition that sued over legislative records last year agreed to seek a stay of proceedings in the trial court during an appeal from last month's court ruling that found state lawmakers are fully subject to the same broad public disclosure requirements that cover other local and state elected officials and employees at state agencies. ...
More than a dozen newspapers across the state ran front-page editorials urging Inslee to veto the bill that was co-sponsored by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler.
News media seeks to join court case over NYPD body cam video
Fourteen news entities have urged a Manhattan judge to reject a New York police union's efforts to squelch the release of police body camera footage.
The media organizations asked a state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan to be added as a party to litigation resulting from a lawsuit the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association filed in January.
The lawsuit by the association representing about 24,000 uniformed officers seeks to stop the release of body camera footage. It was filed against Mayor Bill de Blasio, police Commissioner James P. O'Neill and the New York City Police Department.
The NYPD released the first footage of a fatal police shooting caught on a body camera in September 2017. It has since released footage from other shootings.
Last month, Judge Shlomo Hagler rejected the PBA's effort to block the release of body camera footage while the lawsuit proceeds.
The media groups, including The Associated Press, say body camera footage is necessary to "fully and accurately report on public safety and criminal justice issues."
Other media outlets included in the filing are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Hearst Corp., Buzzfeed, Cable News Network Inc., The Center for Investigative Reporting, Daily News LP, Dow Jones & Co. Inc., Gannett Co. Inc., Gizmodo Media Group LLC, New York Public Radio, The New York Times Co., NYP Holdings Inc. and Spectrum News NY1.
EPA aide has permission to moonlight
A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret.
A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus — signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August — was released by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The ethics official noted that Konkus' outside contracts presented a "financial conflict of interest" and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a "direct and predictable" financial benefit for his clients.
Pruitt named Konkus, a Republican political consultant, to serve as the EPA's deputy associate administrator for public affairs. His duties have included signing off on hundreds of millions in federal grants.
The letter gave Konkus approval to work for at least two clients.
The AP filed a public records request with EPA in August under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking copies of all ethics letters, agreements or waivers for Pruitt's team. So far, the agency has yet to release a single document.
EPA chief may forgo 1st class flights amid growing scrutiny
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency says he may start flying in coach amid increasing scrutiny of claims that he needs to fly first class because of security concerns.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in an interview with CBS News that he had instructed his staff to make changes that could include flying coach.
That's a significant shift since last month, when Pruitt said in interviews that his chief of staff and security team had determined he should fly in premium class seats following some unpleasant interactions with other passengers.
Since taking office last year, Pruitt has been unusually secretive about his frequent air travel. In a break from his predecessors, Pruitt's office consistently refuses to provide advance public notice of his trips, typically releasing a schedule of his meetings and appearances only after they have occurred.
The Associated Press is among several organizations that has sought a full accounting of Pruitt's travel and security expenses under the Freedom of Information Act. Though some records were released following lawsuits filed against the agency, EPA has so far refused to say how much public money has been spent for Pruitt and his staff to travel across the country and on international trips.
Polk County assessor accused of violating open records law
The Iowa Public Information Board has charged Polk County Assessor Randy Ripperger with violating Iowa's open records law.
The Des Moines Register says that Ripperger is accused of wrongly denying public access to a list of 2,166 Polk County property owners who have had their names removed from the assessor's website search engine. That makes it impossible for others to determine what properties those entities own through an online search.
The case is an administrative proceeding, not a court trial. Either the board itself or an administrative law judge will preside over a June 21 hearing.
Ripperger has cited a state law that allows governmental agencies to keep confidential certain communications. Ripperger says his office grants every request for removal it receives from property owners, who he says are generally public officials.
Nevada high court ends media ban on Vegas shooting autopsies
News organizations are free to report about the "anonymized, redacted" autopsy findings of the 58 people killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled.
The panel of three justices overruled a state court judge in Las Vegas who had ordered The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journal not to report coroner findings about one victim — an off-duty police officer.
The autopsies were released Jan. 30 after a ruling by a separate judge in response to a public records lawsuit. The news organizations reported on the findings before Clark County District Judge Richard Scotti issued an order preventing further publication.
The state high court said Scotti's order "does not pass constitutional muster" and constituted an invalid prior restraint of First Amendment press freedom.
Newspaper seeks Newtown shooting records
A newspaper lawyer urged the Connecticut Supreme Court to allow reporters to examine some of the Newtown school killer's belongings, saying information on a possible motive for the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults is of high public interest and concern.
The requested materials include a spreadsheet ranking mass murders and a notebook titled "The Big Book of Granny." The notebook contains a story that shooter Adam Lanza wrote in fifth grade about a woman who has a gun in her cane and shoots people and another character who likes hurting people, especially children.
The Hartford Courant and the state Freedom of Information Commission are appealing a decision by a lower court judge, who ruled in 2016 that state police don't have to release Lanza's documents. The commission had ordered state police to release the materials, saying they didn't fall within exemptions to the state's public records laws.
Lanza, a 20-year-old with troubling mental health issues, shot his mother to death at their Newtown home before killing 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. He killed himself as police arrived at the school.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Feb. 21, 2018
SC county education board nixes release of FBI subpoeans
An education board in South Carolina has refused to release federal subpoenas served to two school district employees concerning documents related to an FBI investigation about the construction of two schools. The Island Packet in Hilton Head reports the Beaufort County Board of Education decided to deny Freedom of Information Act requests for copies of the subpoenas. The newspaper reports that board members rarely, if ever, decide whether the school district should honor a FOIA request. Experts on South Carolina's open records law say the public has a right to see the subpoenas. The board's three officers cited an "unambiguous preference" from the U.S. Attorney's Office to withhold the subpoenas. The board wants taxpayers to approve $76 million to expand the two Bluffton schools mentioned in the subpoenas, along with other projects.
Utility offered Burgum more than free Super Bowl tickets
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's trip to the Super Bowl as a guest of a Minneapolis utility included free invitations to a rock concert, private parties, meals and other events, The Associated Press found through an open records request. Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Feb. 17 the GOP governor has reimbursed Xcel Energy for all costs related the weekend trip, with the sum now totaling almost $40,000. Burgum and first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum watched the Super Bowl in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 from a suite provided at no cost by Xcel Energy, which serves more than 90,000 customers in North Dakota. The governor has been heavily criticized, including from within his Republican Party, for accepting the utility's gift, which he said gave him "quality time to engage in constructive conversations with top Xcel executives." Burgum later said in a statement that he repaid $37,000 to the utility to "eliminate even the perception of any conflict."
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/02/17/us/ap-us-burgum-super-bowl.html
Democratic lawmaker in Wisconsin sued over alleged open records violation
A conservative law firm has sued a Democratic state lawmaker for allegedly violating the Wisconsin open records law after charging more than $3,000 for requested emails. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit Feb. 15 in Wisconsin’s Dane County Circuit Court against Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, of Milwaukee.
The lawsuit alleging that Brostoff refused to turn over electronic records of emails requested and instead printed them and charged unnecessary fees. Brostoff did not immediately return a message seeking comment. A researcher with WILL requested emails in July related to occupational licensing reform, an issue the group advocates for and that Brostoff opposes. A Dane County judge ruled in a similar case last month that Republican Rep. Scott Krug needed to provide electronic records when requested.
Police didn't disclose Missouri inmate's 2017 suicide
A 24-year-old transgender woman had killed herself in a southeast Missouri jail last year, but police didn't disclose the suicide to news media or the public at the time. The Southeast Missourian reports that it learned of Amalia LeAnn Smith's death last week from a Kansas reporter covering a presentation by architect Lawrence Goldberg in which he commented on the June suicide to commissioners in a Kansas county. Goldberg is involved in the design of the jail section of the new Cape Girardeau police station.
The architect was quoted saying that bringing in a transgender woman who hasn't gone through sex reassignment brought challenges to the old jail. He suggested the death might not have happened in the new jail. Cape Girardeau Police Chief Wes Blair said Tuesday that police don't release reports on suicides unless there is a specific request for information.
Report: Confederate statues move followed open meetings law
A Tennessee comptroller's report says Memphis officials followed state open meetings law when they sold two parks to a nonprofit, which removed three Confederate statues.
The report Feb. 14 also says Memphis followed municipal law by selling the parks in December to Memphis Greenspace Inc. for $1,000 apiece. Auditors said Memphis didn't make the nonprofit submit a financial stability application. The city said it met with the group to discuss finances and cited three other property sales without applications. Auditors suggested a city-nonprofit agreement about storing and protecting the statues of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and war correspondent and Capt. J. Harvey Mathes. Citing pending legal challenges, auditors didn't say whether the move violated state law making it tough to remove Confederate monuments on public property.
Kansas governor backs bill to open records on child deaths
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and the state's top child welfare official are backing legislation to require disclosure of some records when a child dies of abuse or neglect. Colyer and Department for Children Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel announced Monday that they're supporting a bill introduced last week in the Kansas House. The bill would require the department to release a child's age, gender and date of death upon receiving an open records request. It also would have to release a summary of its reports of child abuse or neglect and its findings about those reports. Kansas has had several high-profile cases in recent years of children who died in abusive homes. Colyer said under the bill, the public would learn what steps the state took to protect a child.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Feb. 14, 2018
Bill to exempt certain judicial records from FOIA withdrawn
A controversial bill that sought to exempt administrative records of the judiciary from Virginia's public records law has been withdrawn by its sponsor. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, moved to strike his bill from the Senate floor Feb 7. The bill said the Supreme Court's Office of the Executive Secretary would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. A district court judge last year found that the office violated FOIA by not responding to letters from a citizen who wants access to records of the office's long-distance phone calls and expense accounts used by judges. Advocates of open government opposed Stuart's bill, saying it could make it impossible for the public to obtain records related to judicial contracts, criminal justice reforms or office expenditures.
Court: Idaho nuclear waste documents won't be made public
U.S. officials don't have to provide details about proposed shipments of extremely radioactive spent commercial nuclear fuel to the country's top government nuclear research laboratory in Idaho, a federal court has ruled. The ruling was a major setback to a lawsuit filed by former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who had a long history of legal battles with the Energy Department over nuclear waste entering the state and a firm belief that residents had a right to know the agency's plans. U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Feb. 6 ruled the agency acted properly in withholding information sought by Andrus in a Freedom of Information Act request he filed in January 2015.
That decision means the documents will not be released to the public anytime soon, but they ultimately could be as another part of Andrus' argument has yet to play out and the case remains open.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/02/07/us/ap-us-idaho-nuclear-waste.html
Health chief requires FOIA from senator to release emails
Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration is forcing state lawmakers to use the public-records law to get emails regarding a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy. Illinois Public Health Director Nirav Shah told a joint House-Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that his agency denied Senate committee chairman Tom Cullerton's demand for communication about the crisis under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. The Democratic-led committee is reviewing the Republican administration's handling of the summer 2015 spread of Legionnaires' disease at Quincy, which returned in 2016 and 2017. It's contributed to the deaths of 13 residents — 12 in 2015 and one last fall — and sickened dozens more. It's a respiratory illness caused by bacteria in water vapor that is inhaled.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/illinois/articles/2018-02-07/health-chief-requires-foia-from-senator-to-release-emails
Fort Smith, Arkansas, to appeal FOIA ruling in case over emails
Fort Smith, Arkansas, will appeal a ruling that three city directors violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by discussing city business through email. The city's Board of Directors voted Feb. 6 to confirm the filing of a notice of appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. City attorney Jerry Canfield filed the notice Jan. 30 to avoid missing the 30-day deadline to appeal the decision by Sebastian County Circuit Judge J. Michael Fitzhugh, according to a memo to directors. Fitzhugh ruled Jan. 4 that Andre Good, Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz violated the open records act by conducting public meeting business in May and August email exchanges. Fitzhugh also denied the city's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by Bruce Wade, who alleged that the emails constituted a public meeting for which public notice should have been given.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/arkansas/articles/2018-02-07/fort-smith-to-appeal-foia-ruling
Judge: Las Vegas police must release mass shooting records
A judge in Las Vegas has ordered police to make public 911 calls, police officer body camera video and several other records that authorities sought to keep secret until they finish their investigation into last year's mass shooting. Nevada state court Judge Richard Scotti on Feb. 6 ruled the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department must begin releasing records to media organizations that requested them starting hours after the Oct. 1 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. The department was ordered to redact all identifiable information, including names, Social Security numbers and portions of videos in which people could be easily recognized. "If the government contended that the requested records were confidential or otherwise protected from disclosure, then the government had a duty to redact confidential information and produce the non-confidential portions of the records," Scotti said.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/02/07/us/ap-us-las-vegas-shooting-911.html
Bill advances to limit college student info sharing
The Virginia House of Delegates has passed legislation aimed at limiting the distribution of university students' contact information. The legislation came after a progressive political group used public records requests to get the cellphone numbers of students as part of a get-out-the-vote effort in last year's election. NextGen Virginia obtained cellphone information from several public universities by requesting them under the state's open records law. The bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Tony Wilt, requires a student's consent before contact information can be shared. The legislation easily passed the House Feb. 7 with bipartisan support and now goes to the Senate.
Wisconsin Supreme Court OKs delay in releasing union records
Wisconsin labor officials can withhold voters' names while union elections are underway to guard against possible intimidation and harassment, the state Supreme Court ruled Feb. 6. Protecting voters from intimidation, harassment and coercion outweighs the public interest in disclosing the names before the elections conclude, the court said in a 5-2 decision. The ruling reverses a decision by Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson, who found the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission should have turned over voter names to Madison Teachers Inc., the Madison school district's teachers union, during a 2015 recertification election.
Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/education/article/Wisconsin-Supreme-Court-OKs-delay-in-releasing-12554825.php
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Feb. 7, 2018
South Dakota lawmakers vote to keep officials' emails closed
South Dakota lawmakers have rejected a government transparency bill that would have made officials' correspondence open for public review in some cases.
The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-2 Monday to kill the open records measure, which Gov. Dennis Daugaard's office also opposed.
It would have removed "correspondence" from a list of government records that officials keep secret from the public.
The change would have opened access to correspondence such as some emails, but kept closed communications to officials from constituents who expect that they're confidential.
The governor's chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, says public officials need "some degree of privacy" to conduct official business.
Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, says the bill was a good step to ensure the state's open recordslaw works even better for South Dakota.
Judge declines to issue order barring Greitens' texting app
A judge has refused to issue a temporary restraining order that would have prohibited Republican Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff from using a texting app that erases messages after they are read.
The Kansas City Star reports that Cole County Judge Jon Beetem issued the ruling in a lawsuit that accuses Greitens and his staff of engaging in a conspiracy to violate Missouri's open records law by using the Confide app.
Critics contend that with the app, it is impossible to determine whether the governor and his staff use it to conduct state business in secret.
Beetem set a hearing for further arguments in March, acknowledging there are "open questions."
The governor's office's use of Confide also is being investigated by the state attorney general.
Report: 538 public records exemptions in Tennessee law
A report has found that there are now 538 exemptions to Tennessee's public records law, about six times as many as there were three decades ago, The Associated Press reports.
According to the state comptroller's office, the Tennessee Public Records Act only had two statutory exceptions when it was enacted in 1957. By 1988, a legislative committee reported there were 89 exceptions.
In its report, the comptroller's Office of Open Records Counsel found that number has grown to include hundreds of exceptions in Tennessee Code.
"I will tell you, they are hodgepodge all over the Tennessee Code Annotated," Jason Mumpower, comptroller's office chief of staff, told a Senate committee. "I think we found them all."
Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, requested the list to evaluate which exemptions may need to be removed or placed in sunset, where lawmakers vote to let a law continue, change it or let it expire. The legislative leaders made the request after reporters asked them about the exemptions last year.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Feb. 1, 2018
Prosecutor praises newspaper that exposed doctor's abuse
Former sports doctor Larry Nassar likely still would be sexually assaulting girls if not for the work of an Indiana newspaper that helped to expose the abuse, The Associated Press quotes a Michigan prosecutor as saying.
"We as a society need investigative journalists more than ever," Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis told the judge at Nassar's sentencing hearing.
Nassar, 54, admitted sexually assaulting athletes under the guise of medical treatment when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison in a case involving seven victims, and he faces sentencing next week in a neighboring Michigan county where he abused girls at a gymnastics club. He already had been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography.
The case began with a 2016 Indianapolis Star investigation of how USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse allegations against coaches. That prompted former gymnast Rachael Denhollander to alert the newspaper to Nassar's abuse.
"After that article, I knew this was the time," Denhollander told The Associated Press. "This is always what I knew had to be done ... (and) I was 100 percent confident there were other victims speaking up and being silenced."
After the Star investigation, the number of victims coming forward grew.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW students accuse teachers of sexual harassment
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay investigated allegations that an instructor forced students to wear two-piece swimsuits and that an assistant coach inappropriately texted a female student-athlete. UW-Oshkosh investigated whether an instructor had a consensual relationship with a student against university policy and then harassed her when she tried to break up with him. At a two-year UW campus, a student accused an instructor of contacting the student on a mobile app called Grindr, which helps gay and bisexual men hook up. The same instructor allegedly touched the student during class. Open records requests filed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that among all 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year colleges in the UW System, nearly 100 complaints of employee sexual misconduct — either harassment and/or assault — have been formally investigated since 2014. The cases requested by the Journal Sentinel specifically involved teaching, supervisory and advising staff — not all university staff.
Read more: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/education/2018/01/29/uw-students-accuse-teachers-sexual-harassment-wisconsin/1067883001/
Pittsburgh's Amazon bid should be public, state records office says
The Pittsburgh region’s bid to lure the next Amazon headquarters is one step closer to becoming public.
Allegheny County and city officials have declined to release the proposal to host Amazon HQ2, the second headquarters of the Seattle-based e-commerce giant. They have cited a few reasons, including competitive concerns and a non-disclosure agreement.
But WTAE-TV said recently that the state Office of Open Records has sided with the television station to classify the document as a public record.
The determination follows requests by WTAE, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other news organizations to overturn refusals by the city and county to share the Amazon proposal.
Newspaper wins censorship battle with Florida prisons
A weekly Socialist newspaper won its latest battle with the Florida Department of Corrections when the department’s Literature Review Committee recently overturned the impoundment of its Dec. 18 issue.
The Militant, based in New York City, has been embroiled in a free speech fight with the department over the last six months, in which time nine of its issues have been impounded, according to an appeal letter from the newspaper’s attorney David Goldstein.
That’s more than twice as many impoundments as in the prior decade in Florida and twice as many as in the rest of the nation, according to Goldstein.
The letter states the impoundment is difficult to understand as anything other than an effort "to target The Militant for unconstitutional and arbitrary content-based and viewpoint-based censorship, unrelated to any rationally based institutional concerns, in order to prevent its approximately 33 subscribers in DOC custody from receiving the Militant’s political and ideological viewpoint."
Read more: http://news.wjct.org/post/judge-backs-floridas-ban-prison-newspaper
Mississippi AG opens meetings of mental health task force to reporters
Reporters will be welcome from now on at meetings of a task force convened by Attorney General Jim Hood to examine Mississippi's mental health system.
Margaret Ann Morgan, Hood's spokeswoman, said that a majority of 30-plus members had voted to open their meetings.
Several news organizations had contested the decision to close the meetings. Hood's office had said it was necessary because some participating organizations won't let their employees talk to reporters. The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission after its reporter was barred from a December meeting.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 24, 2018
Arizona Republic: ICE released caller’s information from hotline for victims
The same week the Trump administration opened a hotline last April to support victims of crimes by immigrants, Elena Maria Lopez called to report a complaint against her ex-husband. At first, Lopez kept getting a busy signal. But finally someone answered. For the next 20 minutes, Lopez provided a detailed account, accusing the Dutch immigrant of marrying her to get a green card and then threatening to harm her if she contacted immigration officials. What happened next shocked Lopez. Not only did Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that operates the hotline, decline to take action, but immigration authorities also released much of the private information she provided. This includes a confidential internet phone number she fears will now make it easier for anyone to locate her in New Jersey, where she has a protected address set up for domestic-violence victims. Lopez is one of hundreds of people whose private information was inappropriately released by ICE when the agency posted call logs to the hotline on its website, a clear violation of the agency's own policies against divulging private information, as well as privacy laws intended to protect individuals who provide sensitive information to the government. Some of the same information was also released by ICE to The Arizona Republic in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Read more: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2018/01/21/trump-administrations-immigrant-crime-hotline-releases-victims-personal-information/1041748001/
Lincoln Journal Star: Nebraska notifies second inmate of lethal execution drugs
A second death row inmate has been notified by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services of the lethal injection drugs that would be used in his potential execution. Prisons Director Scott Frakes notified Carey Dean Moore that diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate and potassium chloride are to be used and were on hand, as of Oct. 10, and an additional supply of diazepam and fentanyl were received recently. … The department again has refused to disclose the supplier of the lethal injection drugs, as it did in a case last November. The ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit in December, asking a judge to find that the department had violated the state's open records laws and to force Frakes to release the records. A coalition of Nebraska newspapers and broadcasters, including the Lincoln Journal Star, has joined the legal battle for release of the information.
Kentucky assistant police chief fired for racist messages
Court documents have revealed what ended the 25-year law enforcement career of an assistant police chief in the Louisville suburb of Prospect, Kentucky. Media outlets report that acting Chief Todd Shaw sent what Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell calls "highly disturbing racist and threatening Facebook messages" to a Louisville police recruit who had sought his advice. Among other things, Shaw advised the recruit to shoot black kids caught smoking marijuana, and then sexually assault their parents. Shaw's lawyer, Michael Burns, says he was just "playing" with these and other messages. In another message, Shaw, who is white, disparaged the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., calling him a racist womanizer, and saying "because someone shot him, I get a day off with pay each year." Shaw resigned in November after his boss presented him with the messages. A judge recently ordered the evidence released. Media outlets had requested the messages under the state Open Records Act. Shaw had sought to keep them secret.
Ain't no sunshine: Hawley alleges open-records violations by county executive
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s staff routinely violates a state law designed to guarantee public access to government records, according to a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Many of the instances cited in the suit were times when Stenger’s aides failed to properly respond to requests from St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalists to view public records.
The suit was filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court. It seeks an injunction to force Stenger’s office to follow the law. It also asks the court to assess civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each knowing violation and $5,000 for each purposeful violation, or further relief as the court finds appropriate.
DOE staffer claims retaliation over photos of secret meeting
A former photographer at the Department of Energy says he lost his job in retaliation for making public photos of a meeting between Secretary Rick Perry and a coal baron peddling a wish list of policy initiatives that would directly benefit his company, The Associated Press reports.
Simon Edelman has filed a federal whistleblower complaint alleging he was terminated from the agency after he provided the photos to two media outlets that published them in December. Edelman was at the March 29, 2017, meeting snapping shots as Robert "Bob" Murray handed Perry a four-page "action plan" to revive the nation's struggling coal industry. Murray is chairman and CEO of Ohio-based Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal producers.
Copies of the plan were obtained earlier this month by the AP and other media outlets. A review of the plan shows many of the proposals provided by the major GOP political donor were later advanced by the Trump administration.
Judge: Washington state lawmakers' emails, texts are public
The emails, text messages and other records held by Washington state lawmakers are subject to public disclosure, a judge said in a ruling in favor of a media coalition led by The Associated Press.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese sided with the group that sued in September, challenging the Washington Legislature's assertion that lawmakers are excluded from stricter disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials and agencies.
While Lanese said the offices of individual lawmakers are subject to the Public Records Act, the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not.
But regarding the individual lawmakers named, Lanese said the statute was clear.
The law "literally says that representatives and senators and their offices are agencies under the Public Records Act," he said from the bench.
Besides AP, the groups involved in the lawsuit are: public radio's Northwest NewsNetwork, KING-TV, KIRO 7, Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, The Spokesman-Review, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, Sound Publishing, Tacoma News Inc. and The Seattle Times.
AP: Head of Russian outlet RT says US foreign agent order hurts
The head of Russian television channel RT, which U.S. intelligence agencies allege took part in the campaign to influence last year's presidential election, says that having to register as a foreign agent in the United States is already hurting the Kremlin-funded outlet.
Since the U.S. Justice Department gave the order and the station's U.S. affiliate complied, RT has been shut out of news events and suffered damage to its reputation, said Margarita Simonyan, the combative and passionate editor-in-chief of the 13-year-old operation once called Russia Today.
Her indignation at the early November edict came blazing through in an interview with The Associated Press at RT's central Moscow headquarters.
Her argument hinges on whether RT should be treated as a legitimate news and information network, as she insists, or as a clever propaganda arm of the Russian state, as many critics in Europe and the United States contend.
RT sees itself as an underdog broadcaster carrying Russian views and perspectives onto the international media scene, contending it is similar to the government-funded Voice of America or Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe in the U.S. or to Britain's government-supported BBC.
Head of Missouri pension system replaced with interim leader
The head of the Missouri pension system has been removed and replaced with an interim leader, according to information obtained under an open records request.
The Jefferson City News-Tribune reports that the Missouri State Employees Retirement System's Board of Trustees voted during a closed session to terminate John Watson's contract.
The News Tribune said the records disclosed that the board also unanimously approved naming Ronda Stegmann as the interim director.
The two board members appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens were among those voting for Watson's termination.
Meanwhile, a recently obtained memo shows that one of Greitens' acquaintances suggested systemic changes to Missouri's education system prior to the Republican's gubernatorial victory in 2016.
The "Freedom and Flexibility Agenda" written by Ken Zeff outlines numerous education reforms that Greitens could enact if he were elected governor, including expanding charter access, cutting regulations and increasing teacher pay, the Springfield News-Leader reports.
Zeff is an education leader in Georgia and a former charter school executive. He used to be a White House fellow alongside Greitens during President George W. Bush's administration.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 18, 2018
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Man's death in prison leads to $1 million settlement
Wisconsin taxpayers paid $1 million to settle the case of a man who died in a Milwaukee prison in 2011 after a guard ignored a warning from the man's cellmate that he was having a seizure.
Officials at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility knew that Jeremy Cunningham, who had a heart condition, had been using a prescription painkiller and alcohol. But when Cunningham's cellmate pressed an emergency button to sound the alarm about the seizure, a guard dismissed Cunningham's seizure as "snoring" and hung up the emergency call. About two hours later, paramedics found Cunningham dead at 34. His estate filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of his now 15-year-old son in December 2016, bringing the case against the guard in his individual and official capacities. … The June settlement was obtained through an open records request by the Journal Sentinel.
Read more: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/09/mans-death-milwaukee-prison-leads-1-million-settlement-funded-wisconsin-taxpayers/1014482001/
Senator wants to shield all court records from public view
The one-time head of the state agency that oversees Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act has filed legislation to shield all court records from the Virginia law guaranteeing citizens’ right to see public records, according to the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia.
The bill, posted by state Sen. Richard Stuart, a Republican from Montross, would exempt the entire state judicial system from the Freedom of Information Act.
Stuart, who has served as chairman and is currently the vice chairman of the state Freedom of Information Advisory Council, a General Assembly agency, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Office of Open Records issues decision in newspaper appeal of sewer-sale bills
The state Office of Open Records determined the Scranton Sewer Authority redacted too much information in legal bills regarding the Scranton sewer system sale and ordered the release of more specifics to The Times-Tribune of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The OOR also upheld some of the authority’s redactions under an attorney-client exemption from public disclosure.
The opinion comes in the newspaper’s nearly yearlong battle to obtain the authority’s legal bills from the sewer sale that closed Dec. 29, 2016. Either side may appeal the OOR ruling to Lackawanna County Court within 30 days.
AP: Rhode Island refuses to release hand-delivered Amazon pitch
Rhode Island economic development officials say the state's bid to become home to Amazon's second headquarters was hand-delivered by an employee who personally flew to Seattle, where the company is based.
The detail was included in a set of documents released by the Commerce Corp. in response to an open records request by The Associated Press.
The Commerce Corp. refused to release the application itself, and it declined to release any studies it used to determine the benefits of luring Amazon to Rhode Island. It said those documents were exempt from the state's Access to Public Records Act, citing exemptions for documents that contain strategy and discussion of the potential investment of public funds, as well as preliminary drafts and notes.
More than 15 states and cities, including Chicago, Cleveland and Las Vegas, refused requests from The Associated Press to detail the promises they made to try to lure the company.
Pennsylvania Health Department ordered to grant access on medical marijuana
The Pennsylvania Department of Health must reveal more information about organizations that applied for licenses to be medical marijuana growers and dispensaries, according to a state Office of Open Records ruling.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that over the summer, the Health Department released the names of 27 statewide medical marijuana dispensaries and 12 growers. But much of the information was redacted, as the department allowed applicants to black out information they wanted kept confidential.
A recent ruling by Office of Open Records appeals officer orders the state to republish the applicants with more information, including financial backers, principals and operators.
The state has 30 days to comply or appeal to Commonwealth Court.
“The medical marijuana industry needs to get up and running in full sunlight -- not behind a smoke screen,” said Cate Barron, vice president of content for PA Media Group, the corporate parent of PennLive and The Patriot-News.
PennLive was one of the media outlets that filed a Right-to-Know request seeking more information from the list of applicants.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • JAN. 10, 2018
US appeals court: Idaho spying ban at farms unconstitutional
Idaho's ban on spying at farms, dairies and slaughterhouses violated free speech rights, a federal appeals court ruled, according to The Associated Press.
"The panel held that the subsection criminalized innocent behavior, was staggeringly overbroad, and that the purpose of the statute was, in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists," wrote U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown in a 56-page ruling.
Idaho lawmakers in 2014 passed the law making it a crime to surreptitiously videotape agriculture operations after the state's $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of cows being abused at a dairy two years earlier unfairly hurt their businesses.
The measure passed easily in Idaho, where agriculture is not only one of the leading businesses but also the occupation of many state lawmakers.
Animal rights activists, civil rights groups and media organizations quickly sued once the bill received the governor's signature, arguing the law criminalized a long tradition of undercover journalism and would require people who expose wrongdoing to pay restitution to the businesses they target.
Georgia politicians, officials score with free game tickets
Rose Bowl tickets were pricey and scarce for common football fans, but not for several Georgia politicians.
Organizations affiliated with the University of Georgia gave free tickets to several state lawmakers and officials, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The Georgia Legislature passed a bill in 2014 that prohibited public officials from accepting free tickets, golf games and anything of value over $75 from lobbyists. However, colleges and universities don't have to register as lobbyists.
The newspaper reported that the university invited about 180 people to the Jan. 1 game between Georgia and the University of Oklahoma. The tickets were paid for by the UGA Foundation and the UGA Athletic Association, both nonprofits.
Under Georgia's open records law, the Journal-Constitution obtained a list of officials who scored the free tickets. It includes U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler; Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge; and state Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens.
Cowsert told the newspaper that he reimbursed the university for his two tickets to the game.
Organization files lawsuit against Greitens over use of app
An organization that advocates for open government is asking a judge to bar Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff from using an app that deletes messages after they're read, claiming that the secretive communication violates the state's public records laws and is "a significant affront" to democratic traditions.
In a lawsuit filed last month by an attorney for the Missouri Sunshine Project, attorney Ben Sansone is also seeking the names of all staffers in the Greitens' administration that use the Confide app, which deletes text messages and prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages.
The lawsuit claims the use of "automatic communication destroying software by elected officials and government employees is illegal and constitutes an ongoing conspiracy to violate the Missouri Sunshine law and Missouri State and Local Records law, not to mention a significant affront to the open government and democratic traditions of Missouri and the United States," The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Records: Secret recordings cost prison official his job
The top administrator at Georgia’s troubled prison hospital has been forced out of his job after being caught secretly recording conversations with other corrections officials on his state-issued cell phone, documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show.
Randy Brown, the health services administrator at Augusta State Medical Prison since 2004, abruptly retired on Dec. 8 after his supervisors at Georgia Correctional HealthCare discovered the recordings and gave him the choice of resigning or being terminated, the documents show.
Brown's ouster marks the second major departure of a leader at the state's flagship prison medical facility since a series of stories in the AJC earlier this year revealed unsafe and unsanitary conditions. In November, the prison's warden, Scott Wilkes, was reassigned after 18 months in his position.
The documents were obtained by the AJC under Georgia's open records law.
Colorado pays $55,000 to 2 women over sexual harassment
Colorado paid $55,000 to two women who alleged they were sexually harassed while working in the state court system over the past two years.
The Denver Post reported the settlements based on records it obtained after requesting information from judicial officials.
The judicial branch also conducted eight other investigations into harassment allegations since 2012. Five workers who were investigated resigned, ending the probes.
In addition, two judges who were facing discipline for misconduct accusations that included sexual harassment stepped down during the last five years. The settlements didn't involve the judges.
Judicial officials declined to offer more details about the settlements or the resignations. The judiciary, unlike the executive and legislative branches, is not covered by Colorado's open records law.
Media coalition files complaint regarding open records
Media of Nebraska, Inc., a coalition of newspapers and broadcasters, is going to court to fight the state Department of Corrections’ decision to ignore Nebraska’s public records statutes by withholding records to conceal the identity of its lethal injection drug supplier.
Media of Nebraska filed a complaint in intervention in Lancaster County District Court aimed at compelling the corrections department to release government records associated with the drug supplier. The corrections agency has denied requests for the records from the Lincoln Journal Star, the Omaha World-Herald and the ACLU.
The state agency has released similar records in the past, but it is concealing them now for reasons that state officials have refused to fully explain.
AP: Author, publisher won't back down on explosive Trump book
The author of an explosive new book that questions President Donald Trump's fitness for office has contradicted Steve Bannon's explanation of comments that had angered his former boss. The book publisher said any effort by Trump to suppress the book would be "flagrantly unconstitutional."
Michael Wolff, author of "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," took issue with a Bannon mea culpa issued recently, in which Trump's former chief strategist sought to make amends for his comments.
Meanwhile, the publisher of "Fire and Fury" said any efforts to suppress the book are "flagrantly unconstitutional."
In a letter to company employees Monday and shared with The Associated Press, Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote "no American court" would go along with President Trump should he sue to have "Fire and Fury" withdrawn.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Dec. 20, 2017
Arkansas AG: House harassment document not releasable
Arkansas' top attorney says a document related to a harassment complaint involving a lawmaker within the past nine years doesn't have to be released to the public since it's considered an employee evaluation record. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says in an advisory opinion released Dec. 15 that a witness statement connected to the harassment investigation is exempt from release since it didn't result in anyone's suspension or termination. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam sought the AG's opinion in response to an open records request by The Associated Press for any records related to sexual harassment or misconduct complaints made against legislators since 2008. Gillam declined Monday to release more details about the allegation, including the nature of the complaint and when it was made.
Kentucky lawmaker blocked from governor's Twitter account
A Democratic Kentucky lawmaker says she was blocked from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's Twitter account. The Courier Journal reports state Rep. Attica Scott's access to Bevin's Twitter account was restored Dec. 18. The Louisville representative believes she is the only state lawmaker to be blocked from Bevin's account and thinks it is because she is the only African-American woman in the legislature. Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said no one from the governor's office "knowingly blocked" Scott from the account. Scott says as a lawmaker, she should have access to keep up with official announcements from the governor. On Dec. 18, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said Bevin's office violated the state open records law by refusing to divulge terms it uses to filter people from its Facebook page. A Bevin spokesman said the administration will appeal the decision,
Missourians discuss being blocked on Greitens' social media
Missouri residents who have been blocked from posting opinions on Gov. Eric Greitens' social media accounts say they are frustrated that the governor apparently doesn't want to hear opinions from those who challenge or disagree with him. The extent to which people have been blocked from the governor's social media accounts is hard to determine. In August, the Columbia Missourian filed an open records request to determine if Greitens was blocking users, to obtain records of direct messages and to get information related to the accounts' creation. When Greitens' office refused to provide the information, the newspaper filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office. In response to the Missourian’s records request, Greitens' office argued that the Facebook and Twitter accounts used by the governor are not considered official state accounts because they were created before Greitens took office. The question of whether Greitens' original accounts were personal or public has not been resolved. No case law in Missouri addresses when public officials can block users on social media.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/missouri/articles/2017-12-17/missourians-discuss-being-blocked-on-greitens-social-media
Correction: Conflicted Interests story
In a story Dec. 6 about potential conflicts of interest among state legislators, The Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity reported erroneously that Nevada lawmakers in a special session last year took a historically unprecedented step in waiving requirements that legislators disclose potential conflicts of interest when they approved money for an NFL stadium. Lawmakers took a similar step with budget-related matters during a special session in 2009, according to legislative documents.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/correction-conflicted-interests-abridged-story/2017/12/14/72a04f36-e11a-11e7-b2e9-8c636f076c76_story.html?utm_term=.978708f0e979
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Dec. 14, 2017
Missouri attorney general weighs in on Confide messaging app
Missouri's attorney general says that he's weighing whether to appoint a special investigator to check into use of the secretive Confide messaging app by several senior members of Gov. Eric Greitens' office. Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, was asked by Democratic state Sen. Scott Sifton of the St. Louis area to investigate after The Kansas City Star reported last week that it determined Greitens and some of his staff have Confide accounts connected to their personal cellphones. The app deletes messages and prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages. Hawley said at a news conference Dec. 11 Monday that he can't directly investigate Greitens because he's defending the Republican governor's office in other legal cases, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported . But Hawley could appoint a special investigator, and he said he's looking at case law to determine whether to do so.
Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/national-politics/article189196519.html
Minnesota school official suspended for handcuffing student
A St. Paul, Minnesota, public schools assistant principal who had a middle school student handcuffed for being disruptive received a three-day suspension without pay. =The disciplinary letter signed by the assistant school superintendent says Gene Ward Jr. showed "extremely poor professional judgment" in his decision to have the student handcuffed. The Pioneer Press obtained details of Ward's January suspension through an open records request. The incident happened at Battle Creek Middle School after Ward questioned a student about cellphones stolen from a locker room. Ward's disciplinary letter says he ordered a security guard to handcuff the student because he was being loud and disruptive.
Ward told the newspaper he made his decision and "got consequences for it" and that he understands the concerns about placing students in handcuffs. He now works another school.
Missouri governor’s team facing pushback over messaging app
Several senior members of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' office have accounts with a secretive app that erases messages after they've been read, raising concerns among government-transparency advocates that the app could be used to undermine open-record laws. The Kansas City Star reported that it determined the governor and some of his staff have Confide accounts connected to their personal cellphones. The app deletes messages and prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages.
It's unclear whether the governor and his staff are using the app for state business, campaign work or other government communication, or for personal matters.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/missouri/articles/2017-12-07/missouri-governor-staff-use-secretive-app-to-communicate
Attorney general: Sex harassment complaints should be secret
Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel says he agrees with legislative leaders that sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and their staff should be kept secret. Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly last week agreed that complaints will remain confidential out of respect for the privacy of the victims and those they have accused. Schimel has long touted himself as a champion of Wisconsin’s open records law. But he told The Associated Press during a year-end interview that the legislative leaders have struck the right balance. He said there's a strong argument for releasing the records so the public can see them and hold government officials accountable. On the other hand, victims typically report incidents with great reluctance and expect confidentiality.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/wisconsin/articles/2017-12-06/ag-agrees-sex-harassment-complaints-should-be-secret
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Dec. 7, 2017
Wisconsin legislative leaders deny access to sexual harassment complaints
Wisconsin legislative leaders' recent decision to deny access to sexual harassment complaints against their fellow lawmakers and Capitol staffers is another example of how Wisconsin's top policymakers sometimes operate in secret, unbound by open meeting and records laws every other governmental body in the state must follow. Here are some key things to know about the refusal to release the complaints and how the Legislature plays by its own rules. The Associated Press and other news outlets asked the Senate and Assembly's chief clerks for complaints alleging sexual harassment their offices have compiled over the last decade. Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk and Assembly Chief Clerk Pat Fuller both said releasing complaints would have a chilling effect on people reporting incidents, and that outweighs the public's right to view the documents. The clerks work for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both Republicans.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/sns-bc-wi--madison-matters-sexual-misconduct-records-20171203-story.html
Report: Whistleblower lawsuit in Kentucky child abuse case settled
A Kentucky agency accused of trying to cover up mistakes in a child abuse case in which a girl was tortured has settled a whistleblower's lawsuit, a newspaper reports. As part of a sealed settlement on Nov. 13, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services paid former internal investigator Bridget Frailley $43,000, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported. It said it obtained the terms of the settlement in Franklin Circuit Court through the Open Records Act. The Herald-Leader reported in June that Frailley sued the agency, saying she had refused to falsify her reports on how the cabinet's child-protective office in Madison County erred by leaving a girl with her father and his then-girlfriend.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kentucky/articles/2017-12-01/state-pays-43k-settles-suit-alleging-child-abuse-cover-up
ACLU files suit to force Nebraska to provide death penalty records
The ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit Dec. 1 alleging the Department of Corrections violated the state's open records act and asserting Corrections Director Scott Frakes must disclose records relating to lethal injection drugs. The organization said the department didn't comply with its open records requests related to Nebraska’s lethal injection protocols and information on the sources of execution drugs. The Lincoln Journal Star, the Associated Press and other media outlets have also reported their requests for records have been denied. The complaint is against Frakes and the Department of Corrections, and was filed in Lancaster County District Court. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith said the department does not comment on pending litigation. The Journal Star, AP and other media requested information on the suppliers of the drugs and other pertinent facts immediately after the state sent notification to death row inmate Jose Sandoval of the four drugs that would be used in a pending execution.
Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/aclu-files-suit-to-force-nebraska-to-provide-death-penalty/article_8e298af8-7f45-5579-9682-dfc9696ca681.html
NAACP seeks Tulsa police records on use-of-force, complaints
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. has filed an open records request with the Tulsa police department seeking documents related to use-of-force incidents and complaints it's received from citizens. The group announced the request Dec. 1, and is also seeking copies of training manuals, community policing guidelines and records on stops and searches of suspects. The group says it has been monitoring citizen concerns about excessive force since last September, when a white Tulsa police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man. The officer, Betty Jo Shelby, was charged with manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher and was acquitted in May by a jury. Prosecutors argued that Shelby overreacted. Videos from a patrol car dashboard and a police helicopter showed Crutcher had his hands in the air.
2 papers sue over rejected requests for body-camera footage
The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star allege in a lawsuit that Wichita officials didn't follow the state's open records law in denying access to police body-camera footage in two cases. The suit filed Dec. 1 in Sedgwick County District Court says officials were wrong not to release footage of an Iraqi man being handcuffed while trying to deposit a $151,000 check, which later was determined to be legitimate. The man alleges he was racially profiled. Also rejected was a request for footage of a case involving a Wichita police officer, who is alleged to have been involved in an off-duty hit-and-run crash. Eagle editor Steve Coffman says he hopes the lawsuit will bring clarity. City attorney Jennifer Magana didn't immediately return a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Report: Nebraska jails profiting from high phone call fees
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska says some counties in the state are profiting from exorbitant fees for phone calls made by inmates in jails. The organization began investigating the phone call system after receiving multiple complaints from families who were financially struggling to stay in touch with inmates. The ACLU of Nebraska used open records requests to gain information about the costs of calls. For-profit telephone companies contract with jails to handle collect and paid calls by inmates. Those contractors then give a portion of the profits to local counties. The report found that while inmates in state prisons can make a 15-minute call for $1.50, inmates in county jails may pay $7 to $19 for a similar call. The high fees limit inmates' access to the basic need of communicating with their families and lawyers, the ACLU of Nebraska said. County jail inmates are typically poor and can't afford to pay the phone fees, said Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/nebraska/articles/2017-12-01/report-nebraska-jails-profiting-from-high-phone-call-fees
Randy Travis loses legal bid to keep DUI footage private
A federal judge has denied a request by country singer Randy Travis to stop the state of Texas from releasing footage of him naked and ranting during a 2012 DUI arrest. The ruling on a request for a preliminary injunction issued Thursday paves the way for the Texas Department of Public Safety to release the footage on Dec. 1, which was requested through open records requests. Travis' family has been in a long legal battle to stop the release of the footage that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which denied his petition. Travis filed a federal lawsuit in September in Texas arguing that that the footage should be considered private under health record privacy regulations. But the judge said he did not show a substantial likelihood of success on the claims.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/texas/articles/2017-11-30/randy-travis-loses-legal-bid-to-keep-dui-footage-private
Missouri GOP group's Sunshine Law offensive aims to 'intimidate,' 'obstruct'
A 13-point open records request volleyed into the Missouri state auditor's office by a GOP-aligned group is an attempt to "intimidate" and "obstruct" efforts to review state agencies, Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, said Nov. 30. In a news release, Galloway said the Missouri Alliance for Freedom earlier this month "discontinued" requests filed earlier this year for open records — and filed a new, 13-point request. The move came two weeks before Galloway's office was scheduled to deliver "thousands of documents" to the group. The original records requests are the subject of a lawsuit the group's lawyers filed against the state auditor in July. The Alliance for Freedom originally asked for emails and documents connected to the auditor's probe of the state Department of Revenue and its slow processing of tax refunds, among other things. On Nov. 29, Galloway's taxpayer-paid legal team moved in Cole County Circuit Court to dismiss the lawsuit. They also want to stay indefinitely a discovery request by the alliance.
Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/gop-aligned-group-s-sunshine-law-offensive-meant-to-intimidate/article_b03482d4-06e0-5299-9e71-b20b81a2537c.html
Inquiry blisters Air Force Academy's sex-assault office
An Air Force Academy office that was supposed to help sexual assault victims was crippled by infighting, poor management, rumors and shoddy record-keeping, an internal investigation found. The investigation concluded that the office was derelict in its duties and that the director should be fired, but she resigned, The Colorado Springs Gazette reported Nov. 26. The Gazette obtained a copy of the report under open record laws. The report said former director Teresa Beasley spread rumors about personnel and failed to manage the office effectively. It said under Beasley's leadership, the office wasn't competent to advocate for victims. No working phone number could be found for Beasley, and she didn't immediately respond to a message left by The Associated Press through social media. The Air Force report said Beasley told investigators that for years she did not lead or manage the office well.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/inquiry-blisters-air-force-academys-sex-assault-office/2017/11/28/3c3e0e2e-d481-11e7-9ad9-ca0619edfa05_story.html?utm_term=.cb4e141b3dbb
Court documents reveal Trump paid $1.375M in labor lawsuit
President Donald Trump paid $1.375 million in 1998 to settle a class-action lawsuit involving Polish laborers who demolished a building at the site of Trump Tower. That's according to the settlement agreement unsealed by a federal judge. The New York Times reports (http://nyti.ms/2ibY22O ) Judge Loretta Preska unsealed the settlement earlier this month in response to a motion filed in 2016 by Time Inc. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Laborers had filed the suit in 1983 over the demolition of the Bonwit Teller building, where more than 200 Polish immigrants in the U.S. illegally worked 12-hour shifts for less than half of union wages and sometimes weren't paid. The Republican president has said he had no knowledge of what the project contractor was doing.
Fired Kentucky state worker sent personal mails to women
A former University of Kentucky basketball player was fired from his job in the state’s Labor Cabinet last month after sending personal emails from his government computer to women who work in the cabinet, commenting in his messages on their appearance and calling one “too hot to trot.” The Courier Journal obtained the emails under the Kentucky Open Records Act. The newspaper said in one email, Winston Bennett told a cabinet employee she was "Too hot to trot. Especially on those skirt and dress days, lips stick matching. Lord have mercy. LOL!!! Not too old by a long shot." He regularly referred to another woman as "Princess." And he told another, "I just want to say you are a wonderful lady and I enjoy speaking with you. I also want to say you look very nice today. I hope my saying this does not mess up your shape, kind like eating a cup cake. You are very impressionable. Have a wonderful day."
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/fired-kentucky-state-worker-sent-personal-mails-to-women/2017/11/27/ae01b41c-d3c2-11e7-9ad9-ca0619edfa05_story.html?utm_term=.3d54b7f60b63
Kentucky officials bring reporter to court over open records
Kentucky officials are suing a reporter to try to change the attorney general's decision that a state panel is subject to open meetings law. ]According to The State Journal , one of its reporters, Alfred Miller, is named in the Finance and Administration Cabinet's lawsuit in November. The State Journal appealed to the attorney general in September after requests were denied for meeting schedules, minutes and identities of who sits on the Built-to-Suit Selection Committee tasked with picking who demolishes and rebuilds the Capital Plaza Tower. A decision by Attorney General Andy Beshear and Assistant Attorney General Matt James said the Cabinet didn't provide a valid legal reason not to comply with state open meetings law.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kentucky/articles/2017-11-24/kentucky-officials-bring-reporter-to-court-over-open-records
Kansas judge to review records on teen's 1988 disappearance
A Kansas judge will read thousands of pages of investigative records focusing on the 1988 disappearance of a teenager before deciding whether to release the files to the teen's parents. The parents of Randy Leach, 17, have filed a lawsuit contending the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office and Leavenworth County violated the Kansas Open Records Act by refusing to release the records. The parents, Alberta and Harold Leach, asked the judge to order the release of all records related to their son's disappearance between April 1988 and December 1992, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Randy Leach was last seen that April at a high school graduation celebration in the county. He disappeared along with a car with no trace. No one has been charged and the car was never located.
Read more: http://cjonline.com/news/homicides/crime-courts/2017-11-20/kansas-judge-review-thousands-pages-records-randy-leachs-1988
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 23, 2017
Campaign finance, open records bills among 1st proposed
Campaign finance and public records bills are among the first to be filed for the upcoming Virginia legislative session. Democrats and Republicans in the House of Delegates unveiled several pieces of proposed legislation Monday, Nov. 19. Among the measures Democrats discussed in a conference call with reporters is one that would ban the personal use of campaign finance funds. Virginia currently has one of the least restrictive campaign finance systems in the country, with lawmakers only barred from using campaign funds for personal use once they close out their accounts. House Republicans filed three bills Monday. One would protect the personal information of public college students from being released through open records requests. It comes after a progressive political group used such requests to get students' cellphone numbers as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. The 2018 session convenes in January.
New Delaware policy requires screening of LLCs
Delaware's secretary of state is implementing a new requirement to ensure the state's 1.3 million business entities are regularly screened against a federal database of terrorists, international drug traffickers and other criminals. The News Journal reported Monday, Nov. 19, that it learned of the move to rein in secretive limited liability companies through an open records request. The revised procedure, expected to be put in writing soon, will require all commercial agents representing more than 50 business entities to conduct quarterly checks, comparing their lists of clients against a federal sanctions list.
For smaller registered agents, the Delaware State Department will handle the checks.
Delaware is one of the easiest states in which to set up a company. According to the newspaper, it leads the nation in the number of registered companies without physical homes in the state.
Shootings by officers, other Kansas cases cloaked in secrecy
Some Kansas police departments do not identify officers involved in fatal shootings, and body camera footage from the incidents may never become public. Records in unsolved criminal cases can remain closed indefinitely, even to victims' families. Grieving families can wait years to get answers about relatives who've been killed, and weak state transparency laws can allow law enforcement agencies to avoid public scrutiny, The Kansas City Star reports . And Kansas is less open than other states, including neighboring Missouri. Kansas in 2014 became the last state in the nation to open affidavits that spell out the details behind arrests, though judges in some counties still seal them. A 2016 state law designated officers' body camera footage as a criminal investigation record, meaning that without a court order, authorities can refuse to make it public.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/shootings-by-officers-other-kansas-cases-cloaked-in-secrecy/2017/11/19/195d6fb4-cd40-11e7-a87b-47f14b73162a_story.html?utm_term=.56c9b3bc6579
Wichita police chief wants review of body camera policies
Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he would like to share more with the public — both in terms of information and footage from body cameras — but policies in place limit what he can do. Ramsay said he wants a “comprehensive review of our video policies to make sure we’re up to national standards and best practices.” The chief’s comments were made on a video posted to the Wichita Police Department’s Facebook page Wednesday, Nov. 15, in which Ramsay discussed transparency. Police officials have drawn criticism recently over their handling of a reported hit-and-run that allegedly involved an off-duty police officer. The FBI is now investigating the department’s internal investigation of Tiffany Dahlquist, who resigned from the department last month. Ramsay’s video about transparency had collected nearly 8,500 views less than a day after it was posted. Ramsay said the department has been “more transparent in providing information when an officer is arrested” than under previous chiefs.
Read more: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article184900558.html
Mississippi newspaper wins dispute over government records
The Mississippi Supreme Court is siding with a newspaper in its longstanding effort to get documents from a state agency. In a decision Thursday, Nov. 16, justices said Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel ruled correctly that documents from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources are public records. Officials had claimed the documents were investigative records and did not have to be disclosed under the state's Public Records Act.
The Sun Herald sought the records in 2012. State Auditor Stacey Pickering's office subpoenaed the records and obtained a ruling that said the subpoena prevented Marine Resources from handing over the records. The Sun Herald reported that justices on Thursday also ordered the auditor's office to pay the newspaper's legal fees of about $37,000. Officials have 14 days to request a rehearing. The Supreme Court agreed with Schloegel's ruling that the auditor's office violated the Public Records Act.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/mississippi/articles/2017-11-16/mississippi-newspaper-wins-dispute-over-government-records
Kansas media groups drop open records suit against governor
Three Kansas media organizations have dropped a lawsuit against Gov. Sam Brownback over his office's refusal to release records related to a state magistrate judge's appointment.
The Associated Press, Hutchinson News and Kansas Press Association last week submitted an agreement with Brownback's office to dismiss the case in Shawnee County District Court. Judge Larry Hendricks approved it. The organizations sued in 2015 to obtain documents from applicants for a Reno County magistrate judge's position. Brownback's office argued they were personnel records exempt from disclosure under the Kansas Open Records Act. Hendricks put the case on hold in 2016 while the Kansas Court of Appeals reviewed another lawsuit over the same issue in the appointment of two Saline County commissioners in 2014. The appeals court ruled against the AP and Salina Journal in that case.
Judge backs South Carolina news media in fight over Republican caucus records
A judge has refused a request by South Carolina House Republicans to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a coalition of news outlets — including The Post and Courier, of Charleston, South Carolina — challenging the party's caucus contention it has a constitutional right to ban public access to its meetings and records. The filing doesn't immediately settle the news media's case, but it does give support to the argument that caucus activities should be open under current state law. News media attorney Jay Bender earlier argued that a self-written rule the House passed to exempt its caucuses from public scrutiny cannot replace the state's legislatively vetted Freedom of Information Act.
Read more: http://www.postandcourier.com/politics/judge-sides-with-south-carolina-news-media-in-fight-over/article_e0d4b944-c958-11e7-b441-cbc6669b4256.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 16, 2017
Indiana officials close records on school district
State officials won't release a new report that examines health insurance costs at an eastern Indiana school district. The decision to withhold the information comes as the public prepares to comment on whether the state should take control of the financially struggling Muncie Community Schools, The Star Press reported. The state-appointed emergency managers overseeing the district will also soon make recommendations about whether to cut academic programs, close schools and eliminate teaching positions. The state's Distressed Unit Appeal Board signed a contract last month with emergency management firm Administrator Assistance for the audit. The report was compiled by RE Sutton & Associates, an employee-benefit and insurance brokerage consultant. It aims to provide the district and emergency managers with information about acquiring a new health insurance plan, which makes it exempt from the Access to Public Records Act, said Daniel Shackle, an attorney representing the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.
Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-bc-in--muncie-schools-20171110-story.html
North Dakota governor knew of commissioner's arrest weeks before revealed
Gov. Doug Burgum learned of the North Dakota tax commissioner's recent drunken driving arrest more than two weeks before it was publicly disclosed. Spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Nov. 8 that Burgum learned within days of Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger's Sept. 30 arrest. Rauschenberger disclosed it on Oct. 20. Nowatzki says Rauschenberger is an "independently elected official" and it was up to him when to disclose the arrest. Nowatzki says the case was filed on Oct. 6 and became a record accessible to the public at that time.
Democratic-NPL executive director Scott McNeil in a statement criticized Burgum for "withholding" the news. The timing issue surfaced as part of emails and text messages that political blogger and former Democratic state Sen. Tyler Axness obtained through an open records request.
Arkansas got execution drug made by resistant manufacturer
One of the three drugs Arkansas planned to use in a lethal injection this week was made by a New York company that says it won't sell its products if it fears they'll be used in executions, court documents released Nov. 8 show. A package insert and drug label for the state's supply of midazolam released by the state in Pulaski County Circuit Court identifies Athenex as the maker of the drug, one of three used in Arkansas' lethal injection process. The insert was included as part of an affidavit filed by state Correction Department officials.
The affidavit was filed the day after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce ordered the Department of Correction to release a copy of the insert to Steven Shults, an attorney who had sued the state for the document. The Arkansas Supreme Court last week ruled that a state law keeping the source of Arkansas' execution drugs secret applied to suppliers and sellers, but not drug manufacturers.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2017-11-08/new-york-company-idd-as-maker-of-arkansas-execution-drug
Public report not created in Topeka man's shooting by police
An advocate for open government contends the Topeka and Lawrence police departments are trying to bypass the state's open records laws by not creating a standard public document on the fatal shooting of a man by Topeka police officers more than a month ago.
Both departments have denied requests for incident and offense reports on the Sept. 28 shooting of Dominique White, which is being investigated by the Lawrence police department. They have not created the first page of the Kansas Standard Offense Report, which is a public record under state law and is routinely released, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, said he had never heard of a police department failing to issue such a report.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kansas/articles/2017-11-08/public-report-not-created-in-topeka-mans-shooting-by-police
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 10, 2017
Slain man was shot in back by police, death certificate says
The death certificate for a black man killed by police in Kansas' capital city in September says he died from gunshot wounds to his back. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it obtained a copy of Dominique White's death certificate Saturday. The document isn't a public record. Topeka police said initially that White was shot after a struggle and that at least one shot struck his chest. The death certificate lists "gunshot wounds of back" as the immediate cause of death for White, who was 30 and just months out of prison after being prosecuted for burglary and illegal gun possession. Kelly White, his father, said he believes his son was running away from Topeka police when he was killed. Police authorities declined Monday, Nov. 6, to release body camera footage from the officers involved in the shooting and other officers at the scene. Each department cited provisions of the Kansas Open Records Act that allow law enforcement agencies to keep criminal investigation records closed.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation-world/article183070596.html
North Dakota attorney general says city violated open records laws
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says the city of Mandan violated open records laws by failing to respond to a request in a timely manner.
The city on June 24 received a request for records relating to the employment of a certain named individual and did not respond until July 18. City officials say the delay was due to numerous inquiries from the requester, as well as dealing with its budget and other deadlines. Stenehjem says the city failed to respond to the request within a reasonable time. He says while there are no further measures to be taken by the city, it should review its obligations under open records laws
Court: Withheld evidence means new trial in racial killing
Three U.S. servicemen who have been in prison for 25 years for a racially-motivated murder are entitled to a new trial because prosecutors improperly withheld evidence that would have helped the men's defense, Georgia's highest court ruled Thursday, Nov. 2. Stanley Jackson, a black man, was fatally shot around 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1992, while standing on a corner in a high-crime part of Savannah. Three white servicemen stationed at nearby Fort Stewart — Mark Jason Jones, Kenneth Eric Gardiner and Dominic Brian Lucci — were arrested less than an hour later and charged with murder. State prosecutors failed to disclose a police report that described a similar racially-motivated incident later that night after they were in custody, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines wrote in a unanimous opinion. After police records were released in response to a 2010 open records request, the three men challenged their conviction on constitutional grounds.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/georgia/articles/2017-11-02/court-withheld-evidence-means-servicemen-deserve-new-trial
Georgia attorney general quits defense in server wiping case
The Georgia attorney general's office will no longer represent the state's top elections official in an elections integrity lawsuit filed three days before a crucial computer server was quietly wiped clean. The lawsuit aims to force Georgia to retire its antiquated and heavily questioned touchscreen election technology, which does not provide an auditable paper trail. The server in question was a statewide staging location for key election-related data. It made headlines in June after a security expert disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn't fixed for six months after he first reported it to election authorities. Personal data was exposed for Georgia's 6.7 million voters, as were passwords used by county officials to access files.
Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/business/technology/article/Georgia-attorney-general-quits-defense-in-server-12323451.php
Wisconsin Assembly Committee passes bill limiting access to police body cams
It would be more difficult for the public to view footage taken on police body cameras under a Republican-backed bill that won approval from a Wisconsin Assembly committee Tuesday, Oct. 31, over objections from Democrats and open records advocates.Opponents say the measure, which has support from law enforcement agencies across the state, will worsen relations between the police and communities they serve. Supporters say it will protect the privacy of people captured on body camera footage while also establishing statewide guidelines. Thirty other states have laws related to police body cameras. Of those, 18 address how data captured on the cameras are handled under open records laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/committee-passes-bill-limiting-access-to-police-body-cams/2017/10/31/6609e54a-be77-11e7-9294-705f80164f6e_story.html?utm_term=.0a5d553befef
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 2, 2017
Records: Connecticut offered to buy campus to hold onto GE
Before General Electric decided to relocate its long-established Connecticut headquarters, state officials offered to buy the company's sprawling 66-acre suburban campus so GE could move to a more urban area within the state. It was one of three options offered by Connecticut officials, according to a proposal presented to GE in hopes of fending off a move. The proposal reveals the lengths Connecticut officials were willing to go through to keep the cache of GE and hundreds of jobs in the state. A draft copy of Connecticut's proposal, obtained by AP through an open records request, shows photos and details of various office complexes, mostly in Stamford, which is about 34 miles northeast of New York City and located along Amtrak and commuter rail lines.
Read more: https://www.boston.com/news/business/2017/10/30/records-connecticut-offered-to-buy-campus-to-hold-onto-ge
Judge: State police must turn over pay stubs, overtime data
A judge has told the New Jersey state police they must hand over employee pay stubs and overtime data to an open records advocate who sued for them. State Police officials maintain that disclosing how much troopers make in overtime would pose a security threat because the top overtime earners often work in sensitive areas. The records are being sought by John Paff, an open records advocate who regularly files records requests and posts the results on his blog. His attorney told NJ Advance Media she found the duty assignments of multiple troopers who work in sensitive areas by using information found on social media sites, including the state police Facebook page. The state Attorney General's Office, which represented the state police, declined comment on whether they would appeal.
Ohio proposal to release some grand jury records open for comment
The public can submit comments on a proposed rule change that could lead to some Ohio grand jury records being released to the public. The Columbus Dispatch reports a task force appointed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor in the wake of police shootings recommended the rule change last year concerning secret grand jury proceedings.
The aim of the task force was to increase the public's confidence in the grand jury system following fatal police shootings of blacks that resulted in no criminal charges against officers. The change would allow members of the public to petition a court to open records of grand jury proceedings. The Supreme Court has until mid-January to decide whether to submit the change to the Ohio Legislature for approval.
Iowa State Patrol leader began outside firm without approval
An Iowa State Patrol commander started a consulting firm prior to receiving mandatory approval for outside work and is using photos of himself at government-funded training events to promote the fledgling venture, a review by The Associated Press shows. Capt. Ken Clary, who oversees dozens of troopers who patrol northeastern Iowa, is a founding partner of the year-old Brinkley, Clary and Thomas LLC, which advertises law enforcement litigation and recruitment services. His partners are Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley and Barry Thomas, chief deputy of the Story County Sheriff's Office in Ames. The corporation's website shows a photo of Clary at the FBI National Academy, noting that he was one of 225 law enforcement executives picked to attend the "prestigious training." The state spent $1,867.44 sending Clary to the 10-week program, which concluded in September and was also subsidized by the FBI, according to records obtained through an open records request.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation-world/article181278126.html
Georgia election server wiped after suit filed
A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned. The server's data was destroyed July 7 by technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which runs the state's election system. The data wipe was revealed in an email sent last week from an assistant state attorney general to plaintiffs in the case that was later obtained by the AP. More emails obtained in a public records request confirmed the wipe. The lawsuit, filed July 3 by a diverse group of election reform advocates, aims to force Georgia to retire its antiquated and heavily criticized election technology. The server in question, which served as a statewide staging location for key election-related data, made national headlines in June after a security expert disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn't fixed six months after he reported it to election authorities.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/apnewsbreak-georgia-election-server-wiped-after-suit-filed/2017/10/26/8fa8c578-ba36-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.0aa91dba2596
Juvenile inmates reached prison roof, threw items at guards
Four juvenile inmates reached the roof of a Wisconsin prison housing unit in August, throwing shingles, rocks and pieces of metal at guards before they were subdued, an incident report released Oct. 26 under the state open records law shows. The incident is among a stream of violent clashes between guards and inmates at the prison since a federal court order in July requiring a reduction in the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement. The shared campuses of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake prisons, which house about 160 boy and girl juvenile inmates, have been under federal investigation for nearly three years and are the subject of multiple lawsuits.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/juvenile-inmates-reached-prison-roof-threw-items-at-guards/2017/10/26/5fe3b200-ba84-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.4f4fdd1caf19
University violated law by denying newspaper's request
A ruling by Kentucky's attorney general says the University of Louisville violated the state's open records law by denying a newspaper's request for emails on the former university president's hard drive. The Courier-Journal requested emails between university officials in June, which the school rejected, citing an ongoing investigation. The Oct. 17 ruling states there's nothing in the record to indicate how the release of the evidence would have negatively impacted the investigation. University spokesman John Karman says the university will continue to study the ruling before determining any steps. Former President James Ramsey's hard drive was the focus of auditors who were looking into his alleged misspending. The computer was wiped clean by the school's information technology department despite an order to preserve the hard drive and other records.
South Carolina GOP Caucus wants records suit by AP dismissed
South Carolina Republicans want a judge to dismiss a media lawsuit seeking records involving a political consultant charged in a probe of possible Statehouse corruption. A judge is hearing arguments from the state House Republican Caucus on Wednesday, Oct. 25. The media coalition, which includes The Associated Press, wants the caucus declared to be a public body, subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act, and therefore required to make its records and meetings public. The caucus denied a request to view records of payments to the firms of Richard Quinn and his son, former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, both of whom face criminal conspiracy charges.
City agrees to redact personal info from crash reports
A Tennessee city will stop releasing traffic accident reports with unredacted personal information following a federal lawsuit questioning the efficacy of an ethical rule requiring attorneys to wait 30 days before contacting someone involved in a serious crash.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Chattanooga was ordered to prepare redacted copies in compliance with Tennessee Office of Open Records policy. City Attorney Phil Noblett says driver's license numbers, names and addresses will only be provided to involved parties, their lawyers or their insurance companies. Record requestors who use the information for wrongful solicitation could be charged with a misdemeanor. Attorney Jay Kennamer filed the lawsuit in September after a medical company contacted a woman days after she had been in a crash and offered to refer her to an attorney.
South Carolina GOP Caucus: Open records law doesn't apply
South Carolina Republicans have defended their decision not to give reporters records involving a political consultant charged in a probe of possible Statehouse corruption in their state, arguing Wednesday, Oct. 25, that the courts have no purview over their internal decision-making. The arguments came during a hearing over whether a judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed in April against the House Republican Caucus by a coalition of media outlets including The Associated Press. The coalition has been looking for items sought by special prosecutor David Pascoe in his ongoing probe into allegations of corruption in South Carolina's Statehouse.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/south-carolina-gop-caucus-wants-records-suit-by-ap-dismissed/2017/10/25/0d2a180a-b97c-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.360bbae1c6f9
BuzzFeed sues Kris Kobach over denied records requests
BuzzFeed Inc. is suing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his office for refusing to release emails containing any of 30 terms that relate to immigration or the election. The lawsuit comes after a BuzzFeed reporter asked Kobach's office in June for emails sent or received May 1 that include terms such as ICE, immigrant, Trump, voter, fraud and Mexican. The secretary of state's office at first asked for $1,025 for 13 hours of work and an attorney's review, then refused to release any records when the reported challenged the cost, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Shawnee County District Court. BuzzFeed is asking that Kobach's office be ordered to provide the documents and pay for attorney fees, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/10/24/us/ap-us-buzzfeed-kobach-lawsuit.html?_r=0
Parents of teenager who vanished in 1988 hope for answers
The parents of a Kansas teenager who vanished nearly 30 years ago hope a trial next month will provide clues about whether their son was murdered after he was last seen at a high school graduation party and if his disappearance was properly investigated. Harold and Alberta Leach of Linwood, Kansas, sued Leavenworth County in civil court after county officials rejected their request through the state's open records act to see documents from the April 1988 through December 1992 investigation of 17-year-old Randy Leach's disappearance. The parents believe Randy is dead but said they filed the lawsuit because they have done everything they can think of to find answers.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation-world/article180567331.html
Georgia's immigration enforcement panel draws scrutiny
When Georgia lawmakers passed a sweeping law cracking down on illegal immigration in 2011, they created a board to hold state and local government officials accountable. Over the next six years the Immigration Enforcement Review Board received 20 complaints to investigate, according to documents obtained through Georgia’s Open Records Act. And all but one came from the same person: D.A. King, a longtime anti-illegal immigration activist from Marietta. King, who has sparred with advocates for immigrants, said he helped develop the comprehensive state law that created the board, House Bill 87. So far, only one of the 20 complaints the board has received has resulted in a sanction: Atlanta paid the board a $1,000 fine in August.
Read more: http://www.readingeagle.com/ap/article/georgias-immigration-enforcement-panel-draws-scrutiny
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Oct. 26, 2017
More than a dozen states still refuse to release voter data
These are state-by-state responses to a request for detailed voter data from President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is investigating voter fraud. The information indicates whether a state is willing to comply with, is denying or is undecided on the request for data. Some of the states that are willing to comply have fees or other requirements of the commission. All states that have agreed to comply are withholding some details the commission sought and are releasing only information considered public under state law. The commission sent one request in late June and another in July after a court said the data collection could move ahead.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/more-than-a-dozen-states-still-refuse-to-release-voter-data/2017/10/22/ff4a19ce-b732-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.d020492b3800
Justice Department won't release North Charleston report
The U.S. Justice Department has refused to release a report on the North Charleston Police Department after the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white officer in South Carolina. The federal agency said it was holding onto the material because of its "commitment to respecting local law enforcement," The Post and Courier of Charleston reported. The newspaper filed an open records request for the report sought by North Charleston officials after the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott. The Justice Department's Chaun Eason said the Justice Department no longer releases reports of investigations of local police. In April 2015, Scott was pulled over for a traffic violation by patrolman Michael Slager, who said he fired in self-defense when Scott tried to grab his Taser. Eyewitness video shows Scott was shot as he ran away. Slager pleaded guilty to federal charges and awaits sentencing.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/south-carolina/articles/2017-10-20/justice-department-wont-release-north-charleston-report
Emails: Protests spur college officials to talk with players
As protests over racial injustice grab national attention in pro sports, some college and university officials are having pre-emptive talks with student-athletes and consulting each other amid concerns that such actions will spread to college sports, according to emails released Thursday. After five black cheerleaders at Kennesaw State University knelt during the national anthem at a September football game, athletic officials there sought advice from their counterparts at schools including the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Duke University and Purdue University. The responses they got back offer a glimpse at what's happening in college athletic programs trying to strike a balance between supporting free expression and offending fans and donors. The emails were released Thursday in response to a request for Kennesaw State documents under Georgia's open records law. It was filed by Davante Lewis, the brother of the one of the cheerleaders who took a knee.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/emails-protests-spur-college-officials-to-talk-with-players/2017/10/19/aaf0855c-b511-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.3366df27bd1c
Court: UW must turn over notes to animal rights group
A Wisconsin appeals court says an animal rights group is entitled to a University of Wisconsin System animal experimentation oversight committee's meeting notes. A Dane County judge ruled last year that the Animal Legal Defense Fund wasn't entitled to 10 documents created during an Animal Care and Use Committee meeting in March 2014. The judge said the documents were notes prepared for the originator's personal use and therefore not subject to the state's open records law. The 4th District Court of Appeals reversed that ruling Thursday, Oct. 19. The court found the documents are notes but they were shared among UW employees to create the meeting's minutes and therefore weren't prepared for their creators' personal use. The state Justice Department represented UW. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos says agency attorneys are reviewing the decision.
Texts: Sheriff, lawmaker pushed to stop cheerleader protest
A powerful lawmaker texted a Georgia sheriff and recounted with pride how the two pressured a university president to take action after black cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem at a football game. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the text messages under Georgia's open records act. Kennesaw State University cheerleaders were told they'd be kept off the field in a stadium tunnel at future pregame activities after five of them knelt to protest racial injustice at the game Sept. 30. In the texts, state Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren thanked each other for their patriotism. Ehrhart said Kennesaw State President Sam Olens had to be pressed to act.
"He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism my friend," Ehrhart wrote to the sheriff.
Read more: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/texts-sheriff-lawmaker-pushed-stop-cheerleader-protest-50562458#
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Oct. 19, 2017
Judge: University should let attorney general view documents
A judge has ordered Kentucky State University to let the attorney general examine some documents about alleged sexual misconduct of some of the school's employees. The University of Kentucky's student newspaper asked to see the records last year. But Kentucky State University officials denied the request, saying it would disclose private information. The newspaper appealed that denial to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has jurisdiction over the state's open records law. Beshear asked to view the documents in private before he made a decision on whether they should be public. But Kentucky State University officials refused to let Beshear see the documents. Judge Thomas Wingate ruled Oct. 13 that not letting Beshear to look at the documents "could only thwart the public interest of transparency in government."
Sutton, Jackley support opening access to government records
Two candidates for South Dakota governor have committed to supporting legislation that would give the public access to additional government records including officials' correspondence, a major potential shift in state open records law. Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton recently proposed draft legislation that would remove exemptions restricting access to public employees' correspondence, memoranda, calendars, working papers and telephone call records. Attorney General Marty Jackley, a Republican also running for governor, said he would sign such legislation if elected. Sutton said he would pursue the measure as governor — should he succeed outgoing GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard — if it isn't approved before then. Daugaard can't run again next year because of term limits and leaves office in 2019.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/south-dakota/articles/2017-10-16/sutton-jackley-support-opening-access-to-government-records
Chancellor raises concern about protecting research
Potential customers who are interested in teaming with North Dakota researchers on fields like unmanned aircraft are balking because of the state's open records laws, the head of the university system says. Chancellor Mark Hagerott told the state Board of Higher Education during last month's meeting that some leading research universities are afraid to partner on projects because they fear the state isn't doing enough to protect its data, especially in light of recent worldwide events involving the spread of information. "We literally could have the Chinese asking for all of our research contacts," Hagerott said. "We will not have partners if it continues this way." Hagerott, who was the focus of a 2016 open records dispute that was made public last month, told The Associated Press that he was raising the point "as an open question" and the issue would be addressed by the board's governance committee.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/north-dakota/articles/2017-10-15/chancellor-raises-concern-about-protecting-research
Montana judge orders release of US Rep. Gianforte's mugshot
A Montana judge has ordered the release of a mugshot taken of the state's lone congressman after he was convicted of assaulting a reporter on the eve of the special election that put him in office. Gallatin County District Judge Holly Brown ruled Wednesday that the booking shot of Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte should be made public. County Attorney Marty Lambert would not release the image without a court order, arguing it is confidential criminal justice information. Several media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed motions asking that the booking shot be released. Neither Gianforte nor Lambert opposed the release of the photo. Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on May 24 as Jacobs sought to question him about health care legislation. Jacobs said Gianforte "body slammed" him.
Wisconsin professors raised partisanship worries over center
University of Wisconsin political science professors involved in the creation of a new publicly funded policy center expressed concern that there wasn't enough balance between Democratic and Republican speakers at its first planned major event, newly released emails show. The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership was announced in May and it received $3 million in the state budget that Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last month. Liberals worried it would serve as a conservative think tank despite assurances from university leaders that it wouldn't be partisan. E-mails obtained by the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now under the state open records law that were provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Oct. 11, show that professors raised red flags early on.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/10/11/us/ap-us-colleges-free-speech.html
Iowa judge fired for dismissing case due to unclear acronym
Iowa's prisons agency has fired a judge who cited confusion about an acronym in an inmate's disciplinary report when she refused to punish him for failing to pay back $10 he borrowed, the judge's termination letter shows. Administrative Law Judge Renee Sneitzer alleges her firing amounts to retaliation, renewing questions about the independence of judges who work for the Department of Corrections. In an Aug. 28 letter obtained under the open records law, Savala told Sneitzer that she was being fired because she ignored his July 7 order to send back any problematic reports "so that staff have an opportunity to correct." "You dismissed an offender discipline report simply because the acronym 'DH' appeared in the report and you did not follow my supervisory directive in remanding the report" in violation of work rules, Savala wrote.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/iowa-judge-fired-for-dismissing-case-due-to-unclear-acronym/2017/10/11/793278ea-aeb3-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.f5ac1488a686
Transparency advocates push for cellphone photographs of public records
Open records advocates are pushing for Tennessee agencies to allow citizens to take cellphone photographs of public records. In January, The Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel issued a model policy that forbade requestors from making copies of records with personal equipment, following the adoption of a state law requiring government offices to establish written public records policies. State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, told The Tennessean the restrictions, adopted by the Wildlife Resource Agency and Department of Transportation, put an undue burden on requestors. Bell asked the two departments to review their policies Sept. 20 and petitioned the Office of Open Records Counsel to draft new language. State Comptroller Justin Wilson said the counsel believes the language is appropriate. Bell said he might sponsor a bill addressing the issue.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Oct. 12, 2017
Official: Kentucky obligated to reveal investors in company
Gov. Matt Bevin's administration wrongfully denied a newspaper's request for records identifying shareholders and investors in a company receiving millions of dollars in public support for a new aluminum plant, Kentucky's attorney general said. The state Cabinet for Economic Development violated open records law by refusing The Courier-Journal's request for the names of those owning shares in Braidy Industries Inc., according to the ruling released Monday, Oct. 9. The identities "are unquestionably a matter of public interest," the ruling by Attorney General Andy Beshear's office said.
Read more: http://www.michigansthumb.com/news/article/Official-Kentucky-obligated-to-reveal-investors-12263704.php
Records: Retiring county manager doubled pay before leaving
A county manager in North Carolina more than doubled her pay in the final six months before she retired, according to records. Local media reported that records released Thursday, Oct. 5, show former Buncombe County manager Wanda Greene was paid more than $500,000 in the final six months before she retired July 1. That included her pay, a retirement payout and a retention bonus she gave herself and 10 other employees. Greene had a base annual salary of $247,000. She was county manager for 20 years. The records were released in response to an open records request by Asheville-area media. County attorney Michael Frue would not discuss whether the pay was illegal. Greene's attorney, Thomas Amburgey, would not talk about the matter Thursday. The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating the pay.
Missouri resident says governor blocked her for puke emoji
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' staff say the Republican's popular Facebook and Twitter accounts are unofficial and therefore exempt from public records requests, including one seeking the number of users he's blocked from seeing content on those accounts. Greitens' office denied public records requests from the Columbia Missourian for the number of users blocked from the governor's Facebook and Twitter accounts and copies of his direct messages, the newspaper reported. Blocking users on Facebook and Twitter restricts their ability to see and interact with content with the blocked account. Greitens' attorney, Sarah Madden, said Greitens created those accounts before taking office in January and they are not the governor's official accounts, making them exempt from state open-records laws.
Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/greitens-attorney-says-his-unofficial-facebook-twitter-accounts-are-exempt/article_ec8c79a2-bbac-578e-8546-bbd4e3a7d150.html
First hearing in public records lawsuit against Legislature
An initial hearing Friday, Oct. 6, on a public records lawsuit filed against the Washington state Legislature by a coalition of news organizations established some ground rules moving forward, but a date for arguments won't be set for a few more days. The brief scheduling conference was held before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese, who, with agreement from attorneys from both sides, said that the focus on the cross motions in the coming weeks should focus on the overarching legal argument of whether the Legislature is subject to the state's public records act. Lanese acknowledged that the case is expected to be resolved in higher courts, as whichever side loses is almost certain to appeal. "I'm very unlikely to be the last destination for this case," he said.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2017-10-06/first-hearing-in-public-records-lawsuit-against-legislature
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • OCT. 5, 2017
Ethics cases against judge in open records dispute dismissed
Georgia's judicial watchdog has dismissed ethics complaints against a Georgia judge who was criticized for her involvement in the indictment and arrest of a journalist and his attorney. The Judicial Qualifications Commission has dismissed four complaints filed against Appalachian Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver, the Daily Report newspaper reports . A report filed with the Georgia Supreme Court says the agency found "no grounds" for discipline. The investigation looked into allegations Weaver had abused her position, engaged in "willful misconduct" and "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice."
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/09/29/us/ap-us-open-records-request-arrest.html?mcubz=0&_r=0
Police agency makes it harder for public to get reports
A South Carolina police department is making it harder for the public to gain access to routine reports. The Island Packet of Hilton Head reported Friday, Sept. 29, the Bluffton Police Department now says reporters must file formal open records act requests for full police reports. Previously, the department had made reports including a full narrative of what happened available immediately when reporters requested them. Under the state's Freedom of Information Act, agencies have 10 days to acknowledge requests and more time to fulfill them. The newspaper reports the policy change comes after an article questioning the agency's overtime spending during last year's Hurricane Matthew, saying officers were paid 24 hours a day, whether actively working or not. Department spokeswoman Joy Nelson says the article had nothing to do with the change.
Vos to Walker on budget vetoes: 'I won't forget this'
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told Gov. Scott Walker "I won't forget this" after Walker agreed to make several vetoes to the state budget to win support in the Senate, according to text messages released Thursday, Sept. 28, under the state’s open records law. The Associated Press requested texts exchanges in the days after the Senate passed the state budget on Sept. 15. The Senate only had enough Republican votes to pass the plan after Walker agreed to make a series of vetoes to the budget. Vos, who negotiated a budget deal with fellow Republicans Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said at the time that the senators were holding the Legislature hostage, being selfish and making a "ransom note" to get what they wanted.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/wisconsin/articles/2017-09-28/vos-to-walker-on-budget-vetoes-i-wont-forget-this
Inmate recorded apology hours before he thought he'd die
Shortly before he thought he would be put to death, a Georgia death row inmate recorded an apology to the family of the woman he killed. Keith Leroy Tharpe was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26. But the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, granting a temporary stay to give the justices time to consider whether to take up an appeal in which his lawyers argued his death sentence was tainted by a juror's racial bias. Tharpe, 59, was convicted of murder and kidnapping in the September 1990 slaying of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman. The corrections department on Thursday released a transcript of Tharpe's holding cell statement in response to an open records request from The Associated Press.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/inmate-recorded-apology-hours-before-he-thought-hed-die/2017/09/28/63f3b5fa-a479-11e7-b573-8ec86cdfe1ed_story.html?utm_term=.ed44cacf181b
UHSAA sues state, alleging unconstitutional control
The Utah High School Activities Association filed a lawsuit against the Utah State Board of Education, State of Utah and the state's attorney general over what it claims is unconstitutional overreach into its affairs. The UHSAA, which governs the athletics and extracurricular activities of Utah's high schools, filed the case Wednesday, Sept. 29, in an attempt to get recently passed legislation ruled unconstitutional. The UHSAA's lawsuit argues it is a private nonprofit corporation, so it does not have to comply with the state's open records laws, and it is being unfairly targeted by code so narrowly defined that it only applies to the UHSAA. The suit claims the law "specifically targets the UHSAA and places a burden on the UHSAA that is not placed on other similarly situated, private, nonprofit corporations."
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • SEPT. 28, 2017
Kansas sees spikes in inmate transfers among state prisons
Kansas officials are debating how much an increase in moving inmates among prisons has fueled unrest in recent months that included a riot at one facility. Kansas has seen several spikes this year in the number of inmates transferred among prisons, data from the state Department of Corrections shows. The department said the short-term increases in inmate transfers are tied in some cases to staffing problems at its prisons in Lansing and El Dorado. But it also attributed them to the relocation of a vocational program earlier this year and an ongoing effort to even out the number of maximum-security inmates in the three largest prisons, partly to thwart gang activity. The department released the figures to The Associated Press following an open records request.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kansas/articles/2017-09-24/kansas-sees-spikes-in-inmate-transfers-among-state-prisons
Supreme Court: Sioux Falls must release $1M arena contract
The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled Sioux Falls officials must make public a contract the city negotiated over repairs to the Denny Sanford Premier Center. Sioux Falls officials have refused to release details of the contract, which reimbursed the city $1 million. City officials negotiated the settlement with contractors who worked on the project are warping was discovered on exterior metal panels of the $115 million arena. Argus Leader Media sued in 2015 to force the city to release the contract. A judge ruled in favor of the city, but the state Supreme Court reversed that decision Thursday, arguing the contract cannot be kept secret. The Argus Leader reports the high court concluded the contract does not meet exceptions to South Dakota's open records law. A spokeswoman for Mayor Mike Huether says city officials are reviewing the decision.
Minnesota fight between governor and lawmakers exposes legislative expenses
Minnesota lawmakers billed the state for more than $335,200 in housing and other expense reimbursements from July 1 to Sept. 1 a two-month period when the Legislature was not in session for a single day according to court documents filed in the legal battle between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders. Spending items range from payroll and office expenses to State Fair Tickets ($3,750) and flowers ($482). The information disclosed does not link the expense reimbursements to the 201 individual members of the Legislature, or indicate if the sometimes-hefty expenses were racked up by Republicans or members Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party. The latest turn in the months long dispute provides a rare glimpse into the finances of the Legislature, which is not subject to the same open record laws as other public entities in Minnesota, such as cities and county governments.
Read more: http://www.startribune.com/court-fight-between-gov-mark-dayton-lawmakers-shines-light-on-hefty-legislative-expenses/445861783/
Post-vigil protest for slain Georgia Tech student; 3 arrests
Three people were arrested during a protest that followed a vigil for a Georgia Tech student who was fatally shot by campus police, a university spokesman said. Police shot and killed Scout Schultz late at night on Saturday, Sept. 16, after the 21-year-old student called 911 to report an armed and possibly intoxicated suspicious person, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said. Georgia Tech issued alerts urging students to shelter indoors Monday night because of violent protests. Video posted on social media showed a police vehicle burning in the street and officers pinning people to the ground as onlookers shouted at them. Authorities have not identified the officer who shot Schultz. Georgia Tech on Monday refused to release personnel or disciplinary reports involving the officers, saying such information is exempt from Georgia's open records law.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-georgia-tech-protest-20170919-story.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • SEPT. 21, 2017
Holding federal institutions accountable becoming harder
(Part of an ongoing examination of threats to First Amendment freedoms by The Associated Press, the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors)
There are cracks in the curtains President Donald Trump tried to draw around the government early in his presidency, but the slivers of light aren't making it easier to hold federal officials accountable for their actions. Trump still refuses to divest from his real estate and hotel empire or release virtually any of his tax returns. His administration is vigorously pursuing whistleblowers. Among scores of vacant senior jobs in the government is an inspector general for the Department of Energy — led by Secretary Rick Perry, former governor of Texas — as it helps drive the region's recovery from Hurricane Harvey. Rebuilding from the deadly storm seems certain to be a $100 billion-plus endeavor involving multiple federal departments and an army of government contractors. If the ghosts of Katrina, Sandy and other big storms are guides, the bonanza of taxpayer dollars is a recipe for corruption. And that makes transparency and accountability all the more critical for a president who has bristled at the suggestion of either one.
Read more: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/national-international/Shadows-of-Secrecy-Spread-Across-Federal-Government-444998923.html
Request denied: States try to block access to public records
(Part of an ongoing examination of threats to First Amendment freedoms by The Associated Press, the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors)
In February, Arkansas lawmakers marked the 50-year anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act with a resolution calling it "a shining example of open government" that had ensured access to vital public records for generations. They spent the following weeks debating and, in many cases approving, new exemptions to the law in what critics called an unprecedented attack on the public's right to know.When they were finished, universities could keep secret all information related to their police forces, including their size and the names and salaries of officers. Public schools could shield a host of facts related to security, including the identities of teachers carrying concealed weapons and emergency response plans. And state Capitol police could withhold anything they believed could be "detrimental to public safety" if made public.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/across-us-lawmakers-chip-away-at-publics-access-to-records/2017/09/12/99c303ca-980d-11e7-af6a-6555caaeb8dc_story.html?utm_term=.717d5455376b
Kobach's use of private emails for Trump panel questioned
A Kansas Press Association leader and a media attorney are accusing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach of flouting a year-old state open records law by using a private email account for his work as vice chairman of President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud. Max Kautsch, a Lawrence attorney who specializes in free speech and open government issues, said Kobach's contention that he is serving on the commission as a private citizen is "obviously totally insane," The Kansas City Star reported . And Doug Anstaett, the press association's executive director, said Kobach is "dead wrong." The 2016 law says that public officials' emails on public business are subject to disclosure under the Kansas Open Records Act even if they are on a private account or device.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/kobachs-use-of-private-emails-for-trump-panel-questioned/2017/09/18/d278e2c2-9cc5-11e7-b2a7-bc70b6f98089_story.html?utm_term=.fc345f94dc34
Judge says 'shadow insurance' documents can remain secret
An Iowa judge has ruled that the details of "shadow insurance" subsidiaries created by several life insurers can remain confidential. Indiana University professor emeritus Joseph Belth sought the documents last year under Iowa's open records law, saying he believes they would expose risky financial practices that could bankrupt some insurers. Judge Lawrence McLellan sided Thursday, Sept. 15, with the industry and state regulators, saying the documents are part of the companies' "plans of operations" and exempt from disclosure. Companies such as TransAmerica have taken advantage of an Iowa law to transfer billions of dollars in liabilities to subsidiaries. Insurers say the arrangements free them from accounting rules mandating that they hold excess cash reserves.
Read more: http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/business/article173474476.html
The Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times honored
The Dallas Morning News and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times have been honored by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas for their open government reporting.
The newspapers on Thursday, Sept. 14, each won the Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award during the foundation's state conference in Austin. The Dallas Morning News, in the Class AA large market category, was recognized for reports exposing problems with the Texas child welfare system. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, in Class A, was honored for stories about the death of Naomi Villarreal, who was a victim of domestic violence. The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the foundation's former executive director. The competition is open to newspaper, broadcast and online journalism.
Colorado county updates online processing of pubic record requests
Colorado’s Boulder County has announced it has updated its online system for processing public records request. Using new software, elected county officials and their staff will "be able to offer greater transparency of public documents and to help improve access to records requested under the Colorado Open Records Act," officials said in a news release. People can access the web-based portal for people's requests for records from multiple Boulder County departments by going to the county's CORA webpage, bit.ly/2xyN4dO. Officials said the new website will allow people to submit public records requests, track the progress of the county's response and download electronic records that others have asked for. The website also provides a searchable archive of previously released requests and documents.
Read more: http://www.timescall.com/news-region-news/ci_31298858/boulder-county-has-new-web-portal-public-records
Lawsuit by AP, others seek emails from Washington lawmakers
A coalition of news organizations led by The Associated Press sued the Washington Legislature on Tuesday, Sept. 12, challenging lawmakers' claim that a tweak made more than two decades ago to the state's public records law excludes them from stricter disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials and agencies. Hundreds of important records are being withheld by the state House and Senate, the lawsuit says, depriving the public of information essential to knowing what is going on in state government.
"The public has a right to know what its elected officials are doing behind closed doors," AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano said.
Read more: http://www.times-standard.com/article/zz/20170912/NEWS/170919800
A timeline of the public records law in Washington state
A coalition of news organizations led by The Associated Press is suing the Washington Legislature over its assertion that state lawmakers aren't required to turn over daily schedules, text messages, emails and other materials related to their work. Here's a look at a timeline of the public records law in the state:
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2017-09-12/a-timeline-of-the-public-records-law-in-washington-state
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Sept. 14, 2017
More than 30 applied for Nebraska patrol superintendent job
The Nebraska State Patrol's new superintendent was chosen from a field of more than 30 candidates from around the nation. Harbor Police Chief John Bolduc of San Diego was unveiled last week as Gov. Pete Ricketts' choice to lead the agency. The governor's office released the applications of the four finalists on Monday after three inquiries and an open records request from The Associated Press. In his application letter, Bolduc pitched himself as a "cultural change agent" with management experience from several different law enforcement agencies. The other finalists were Michael A. Kopy, a staff inspector for the New York State Police's internal affairs bureau; Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Mike Jahnke; and Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Andrew "Buck" Duis.
Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/state-and-regional/nebraska/more-than-applied-for-nebraska-patrol-superintendent-job/article_51635e23-eefe-5cda-b21a-57d16b9d8889.html
Court: Governments can't evade open meetings in small groups
The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday, Sept. 7, upheld a ruling that a government can't set up meetings of less than a majority of public officials to evade the state's Open Meetings Act. The court ruled 9-0 that the city of Columbus was wrong to set up pairs of meetings with the mayor and three city council members apiece in 2014, avoiding the city council's quorum of four members. Those meetings were to discuss an agreement between the city and an economic development agency and maintenance of public buildings. A reporter for The Commercial Dispatch newspaper found out about the meetings but was excluded. The reporter then filed an ethics complaint and the state Ethics Commission ruled that such "piecemeal" quorums were illegal. The city appealed to chancery court, and then again to the Supreme Court when Chancery Judge Kenneth Burns also ruled against the city.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/mississippi/articles/2017-09-07/court-governments-cant-evade-open-meetings-in-small-groups
Judge: Emanuel does not have to turn over list of private emails in FOIA fight
A Cook County judge has ruled that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not have to produce an index of private emails and text messages he sent and received, dealing a setback to the Chicago Tribune in its continuing fight with the city over the mayor's electronic communications. Judge Kathleen Pantle made the ruling Thursday, Sept. 8, in the Tribune's ongoing lawsuit that alleges Emanuel skirted the state's open records laws by refusing to release communications about city business that he had conducted through private accounts. Pantle, in a previous ruling, sided with the Tribune when she ruled that the state's public records law does not distinguish between official and personal accounts so long as the matter relates to government business. She later ordered the city to give to the Tribune an index of certain emails and text messages the mayor sent and received.
Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-rahm-emanuel-email-lawsuit-20170908-story.html
Wisconsin AG's office has spent $83k on promotional material
The Wisconsin attorney general's office has spent about $83,000 on promotional items since Republican Brad Schimel took office, including bags, pistol cases, candy and custom-made fortune cookies. The Associated Press obtained invoices through an open records request that show Schimel spent $6,269 on messenger bags, $6,000 on pistol cases, nearly $3,200 on candy and $100 on fortune cookies containing custom-ordered messages such as, "The time is right to make new friends" and "no one's been hurt from laughing too much." The spending also included nearly $10,000 for coins promoting Schimel's "kicking ass every day" mantra. The items had been purchased since January 2015. Most of it was handed out as gifts to attendees at DOJ conferences.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/wisconsin/articles/2017-09-06/wisconsin-ag-spends-83k-on-promotional-items