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OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 17, 2017
New York Times: FOIA material shows how a TV giant rids itself of regulations
The day before President Trump’s inauguration, the top executive of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest owner of television stations, invited an important guest to the headquarters of the company’s Washington-area ABC affiliate. The trip was, in the parlance of the business world, a deal closer. The invitation from David D. Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, went to Ajit V. Pai, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission who was about to be named the broadcast industry’s chief regulator. Mr. Smith wanted Mr. Pai to ease up on efforts under President Barack Obama to crack down on media consolidation, which were threatening Sinclair’s ambitions to grow even bigger. Mr. Smith did not have to wait long.
Within days of their meeting, Mr. Pai was named chairman of the F.C.C. And during his first 10 days on the job, he relaxed a restriction on television stations’ sharing of advertising revenue and other resources — the exact topic that Mr. Pai discussed with Mr. Smith and one of his business partners, according to records examined by The New York Times. “These are invaluable and effective tools, which were taken away by the commission,” according to a summary of their meeting filed with the F.C.C. It was only the beginning. Since becoming chairman in January, Mr. Pai has undertaken a deregulatory blitz, enacting or proposing a wish list of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr. Smith and his company. Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a rush of regulatory actions has been carefully aligned with Sinclair’s business objectives.
Free-speech debate swirls as officials block on social media
An emerging debate about whether elected officials violate people's free speech rights by blocking them on social media is spreading across the U.S. as groups sue or warn politicians to stop the practice.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Maine Gov. Paul LePage and sent warning letters to Utah's congressional delegation. It followed recent lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky and President Donald Trump.
Trump's frequent and often unorthodox use of Twitter and allegations he blocks people with dissenting views has raised questions about what elected officials can and cannot do on their official social media pages.
"People turn to social media because they see their elected officials as being available there and they're hungry for opportunities to express their opinions and share feedback," said Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah. "That includes people who disagree with public officials."
Most of the officials targeted so far — all Republicans — say they are not violating free speech but policing social media pages to get rid of people who post hateful, violent, obscene or abusive messages.
Texas governor won't say whom he blocks from public Twitter account
In June, the American-Statesman sent public records requests to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, among other Austin- and Texas-based politicians, asking for lists of whom they block from following their public, taxpayer-funded Twitter accounts.
The governor, citing public safety concerns, said, no. His fear: Russian hackers.
Lawyers for each office said they are asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to rule that the information is exempt from required public disclosure. Both argue that divulging the names of the blocked accounts constitute “a computer network vulnerability report.”
Abbott and Patrick cited a May Time magazine article that discusses Russian hackers who used tailored Twitter messages to take over a computer upon clicking a link in the tweet, a type of phishing attack.
Open records policy set for administrative court records
Kentucky's Supreme Court justices have established an open records policy to guide the media and public in seeking access to administrative information in the state courts.
It's the first open records policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts, and helps fill a gap in Kentucky's Open Records Act, which does not apply to the judicial branch of state government.
Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said the judiciary has "long complied with the spirit" of the open records law but it is "time to formalize our commitment into written policy."
"What was our custom now is the law," he said.
The AOC is the administrative arm of Kentucky's court system.
New law allowing TV testimony could face legal challenge
Victims and witnesses in criminal domestic violence cases in New Jersey can now testify by closed-circuit television under a new law enacted by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
But experts and lawmakers say the measure could face legal challenges.
The legislation passed the Democrat-led Assembly and Senate without any opposition and puts New Jersey in a class with at least one other state to allow television testimony from witnesses of any age. Delaware enacted a similar law in 2015.
Experts predict the law could face a legal challenge because of the constitutional right of defendants to confront their accusers. But the law's backers say the law allows for public viewing and cross examination.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 10, 2017
Washington Post: Police officers fired, then sometimes rehired
Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts. Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses. … Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been comprehensively studied or tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records — including firings — from public disclosure. To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.
Charlotte Observer: Many officials don’t preserve texts
“Loud mouths that don’t even live in Mooresville pitching a fit.” That’s how one elected official described, in a text message to the mayor, some homeowners who were lobbying the town of Mooresville earlier this summer to keep development off 137 acres near Lake Davidson.
Mooresville Commissioner David Coble thought it was a private text. But it ended up projected like a slideshow on a wall during a public town commission meeting. North Carolina law says texts sent or received by government officials are part of the public domain – but a Charlotte Observer survey found many local governments across the state aren’t following the law. Few places even have policies that would make sure employees and elected officials are saving texts. In Coble’s case, his texts were released after neighbors sent public record requests. …
Getting these kinds of text message records from government officials elsewhere in the state, however, could prove difficult for the public. State officials have been warning public officials for nearly five years about the need to archive text messages as public records. … The Charlotte Observer asked more than 20 municipal officials across North Carolina whether they regularly collect and archive text messages. Eight local governments gave no answer, including Wake and Guilford counties and Winston-Salem, Raleigh, and Durham. Of the 14 cities and counties that responded, just two – the cities of Charlotte and Kings Mountain – said they either require employees to preserve text messages or they use software to routinely download texts.
AP: Justice Department promises to go after government leaks
Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to rein in government leaks that he said undermine American security, taking an aggressive public stand after being called weak on the matter by President Donald Trump. The nation's top law enforcement official cited no current investigations in which disclosures of information had jeopardized the country, but said the number of criminal leak probes had more than tripled in the early months of the Trump administration. Justice Department officials also said they were reviewing guidelines put in place to make it difficult for the government to subpoena journalists about their sources, and would not rule out the possibility that a reporter could be prosecuted. "No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight to advance their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information," Sessions said in an announcement that followed a series of news reports this year on the Trump campaign and White House that have relied on classified information. … Media advocacy organizations condemned the announcement, with Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, saying the decision to review existing guidelines was "deeply troubling."
New information expected to be released in killings of Coronado students
New details about the slayings of two Coronado High School students was to be released after an El Paso County judge lifted a seal on a key court document, according to The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz ruled that an arrest affidavit detailing the investigation into the deaths of Colorado Springs students Natalie Cano-Partida, 16, and Derek Greer, 15, be made public within 72 hours.
The judge granted the three-day delay at the request of prosecutors, who asked for time to personally discuss the contents of the document with families of the young victims, who they said haven't been told how the killings occurred.
The Gazette was among the media outlets that requested the release under Colorado's open records laws, citing the public's right to be informed about public safety threats. Several of those accused in the case have publicly claimed gang ties.
ACLU sues Maryland governor over social media blocking
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for blocking people who disagree with him on his official Facebook page and deleting their comments.
The ACLU sued on behalf of four people, saying their First Amendment rights were violated.
Hogan's spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, calls the lawsuit "frivolous." She says the governor's office has a clear policy and will "remove all hateful and violent content" and "coordinated spam attacks." She says the ACLU "should be focusing on more important issues."
The ACLU says censoring constituents on social media has become a pressing issue nationwide. The ACLU filed a similar lawsuit Monday against Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, and the Knight First Amendment Institute is suing President Donald Trump for blocking people on Twitter.
Nevada newspaper loses high court bid to name pot business owners
The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected a newspaper's appeal seeking to make public the names of people who own marijuana operations in the state.
The Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/ybwu85w9 ) filed suit against the city of Sparks two years ago after city officials redacted the names of local owners of medical pot establishments from business license records.
Washoe County and the city of Reno are among jurisdictions that have made that information public. A district judge initially agreed those names cannot be kept secret.
But the Supreme Court ruled the information is exempt from public disclosure requirements because the Nevada Legislature specifically made it confidential.
Sparks Assistant City Attorney Doug Thornley says the city believes it's a safety issue because of the large amounts of cash on hand at the cash-only businesses.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 3, 2017
DeKalb water bill audit blames flawed technology and oversight
DeKalb County’s inability to fix its chronic problems with water billing is due, in part, to a muddled management structure and an outdated reliance on paper instead of technology, according to a highly anticipated outside audit. The 127-page draft audit, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request, includes 22 recommendations to address longstanding issues that have led to extreme bills for many county residents.
Though the audit contains no surprises about the causes of billing inaccuracies, it does highlight foundational challenges: inadequate customer service, failing technology, reliance on temporary workers, poorly trained employees, disjointed management and human error.
Read more: www.ajc.com
Trial opens in case seeking details on executions in Arizona
A civil trial has begun in Phoenix over whether Arizona must reveal the source of its execution drugs, with an attorney for news organizations saying the public needs those details to determine whether the state is effective in carrying out the death penalty.
"We don't know if it's operating properly," attorney David Schulz said during his opening statement at the trial in Phoenix.
Schulz also said state rules requires some members of the execution team to have a license to place IV lines, but the public doesn't know if those people have training to determine if a prisoner has been properly anesthetized and is feeling pain.
Lawyers for The Associated Press, Arizona Republic and other plaintiffs say they have a First Amendment right to know the source and potency of lethal injection drugs and the qualifications of the executioners.
They filed the lawsuit seeking the information after the 2014 death of condemned inmate Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination before he died in what his attorney called a botched execution.
Other plaintiffs include Guardian News & Media, Arizona Daily Star, CBS 5 (KPHO-TV) and 12 News (KPNX-TV).
Arizona currently has 118 prisoners on death row.
Wetterlings hope to keep news media out of privacy fight
The parents of Jacob Wetterling, a Minnesota boy who was kidnapped and killed in 1989 in a case that remained unsolved until last year, have asked a judge to keep the media out of a privacy fight over the investigative file.
An attorney for Patty and Jerry Wetterling filed the motion in Stearns County District Court in response to a legal challenge by several news organizations and open government groups that want full access to the voluminous case file, the Star Tribune reported.
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall determined this spring that the county's entire investigative file was public under Minnesota's open records law now that the investigation is over. She was set to release the documents last month. But the Wetterlings filed a lawsuit to keep some of the documents private, saying they deal with personal family matters that were irrelevant to the investigation.
Danny Heinrich confessed last year to sexually assaulting and killing 11-year-old Jacob.
Maine governor says inappropriate FOA use is designed to disrupt
Maine's Republican governor says that misuse of public access law is costing the state "thousands of dollars" and is designed to disrupt his administration.
Gov. Paul LePage spoke out against what he called inappropriate use of Maine's Freedom of Access Act during an appearance on WGAN-AM. He said he supports the law, but misuse of it by media members has resulted in "a foot thick of papers" related to FOA.
LePage's statement came in the wake of a Portland Press Herald story that relied on the access law to report that LePage, his staff and security spent more than $35,000 on luxury hotels, restaurants and travel in Washington, D.C., last spring.
ACLU challenges Kentucky governor's social media blocking
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky has filed a federal lawsuit over Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's blocking of Facebook and Twitter users.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare Bevin's action a violation of the First Amendment and to prohibit the governor from further blocking. Bevin often posts videos on Facebook and news and other statements on his official Twitter account.
The suit was filed on behalf of two Kentucky residents who were blocked by Bevin on Facebook and Twitter. The ACLU says more than 600 people have been blocked from seeing the governor's postings.
Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said the blocking doesn't violate free speech rights.
Closed-door meetings focused on possible use of downtown library building
Members of the Joplin (Missouri) City Council have met in three small groups with at least one representative of Missouri Southern State University without public notice in regard to a possible use for the former Joplin Public Library.
Emails disclosed through an open records request filed with the city by The Joplin Globe show that three meetings were held involving two to three council members each time.
A lawyer for the Missouri Press Association, Jean Maneke of Kansas City, said those types of meetings are contrary to the intent of the Missouri Sunshine Law addressing open meetings and records.
City Attorney Peter Edwards said there was no violation. "I think it is very clear that small group meetings do not violate the open records law," he said in an email.
The city attorney said council members routinely hold individual discussions with people who ask to speak to them.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 20, 2017
Portland Press Herald: Governor travels to luxury hotels, dines on public dime
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, his staff and security detail spent more than $35,000 on luxury hotels, restaurants and travel to Washington, D.C., over a three-month period last spring as the Republican governor attended meetings or sought audiences with members of Congress and the Trump administration. LePage’s appointment calendar also lists dozens of “private appointments” during his four trips to the nation’s capital this winter and spring. His office has refused to provide more details about those appointments. Taxpayers footed most of the bill for the governor’s travels, although his office said some expenses were reimbursed by outside groups such as the Republican Governors Association. It was unclear last week how much Maine state government was reimbursed, however. Four months have passed since the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald first sought LePage’s travel expenses, and his office has yet to fully comply with the public records requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Camera cover-ups
A federal Homeland Security law enforcement officer was assigned to Metro transit patrol as part of a beefed-up security plan for the busy Fourth of July weekend. He didn’t like what he saw. Late in the afternoon on July 4, the officer walked into the North Hanley MetroLink substation to find 12 St. Louis County police officers milling about. A resulting Metro check of video footage determined that not only were county police officers loitering in the North Hanley security office instead of patrolling trains or platforms, at one point they covered the security camera with an envelope and tape. That incident was not unique. At least eight times since 2015, the camera inside the MetroLink substation that serves the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Express Scripts has been covered by county police officers, according to records obtained by the Post-Dispatch through a public records request. At a time in which St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has said he doubled the number of officers patrolling the transit system to deal with a spike in violence, the public documents, photos and video demonstrate a disturbing pattern of county police officers loitering in offices, covering a camera and refusing to cooperate with Metro public safety officials.
Wichita Eagle: Disciplinary action grew at prison amid staff shortages
Disciplinary cases against inmates at El Dorado Correctional Facility surged this spring as its population increased amid staffing shortages, according to the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle. As of mid-July, the prison has had more than 2,400 disciplinary cases this year. That’s on track to surpass the 2,841 cases at the facility in all of 2016. The rising number of cases underscores concerns among a union for corrections officers and some lawmakers over safety at the facility, which is under stress because of difficulty filling empty positions. The state also must pay overtime to current workers to maintain staffing requirements and the union says some employees are now being forced to work 16-hour shifts. … The Eagle obtained the data from the Kansas Department of Corrections through an open records request.
Wisconsin DOJ to publish list of open record requestors
Wisconsin’ Department of Justice has started publishing a list of pending record requests online.
The agency announced in a news release that it has added the list to its website at https://www.doj.state.wi.us/office-open-government/responses-public-record-requests and will update it weekly. The list contains the name of the requestor, a description of the records being sought and when the request was made.
The release said the agency is looking into whether it's technically feasible and appropriate to post all responses to public record requests online as well. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the agency is considering posting the responsive records as well.
Hackers had access to millions of Social Security numbers
Hackers who breached a Kansas Department of Commerce data system in March had access to more than 5.5 million Social Security numbers in 10 states, along with another 805,000 accounts that didn't include the Social Security numbers, according to records obtained from the agency.
The department will be required to pay for credit monitoring for most of the victims of the hacking, according to records obtained through an open records request by the Kansas News Service (http://bit.ly/2gQcgoq ).
Besides Kansas, the other states affected by the hack are Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Oklahoma, Vermont, Alabama and Illinois.
The Kansas News Service obtained the information through an open records request.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 20, 2017
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri prisoner was assaulted, state workers lied
For as long as 10 days, one inmate at a state prison in Farmington sexually and physically abused a cellmate in a manner so severe that his prison term was extended 22 years. Austin Gallup ultimately pleaded guilty to abusing the St. Louis County man in 2013 in what the victim’s attorney calls torture. During that period, Missouri Department of Corrections employees failed to properly check on the two inmates, who were locked alone together in one of the more restricted areas of the prison. Moreover, the state workers falsified logs and failed to follow procedures aimed at protecting inmates from other prisoners. Those are among the new revelations in a state investigation obtained this month by the Post-Dispatch through an open records request.
Chicago Tribune: Emails show scope of scandal at Chicago's water department
City emails newly obtained by the Chicago Tribune cast light on the scope and offensiveness of racist, sexist and anti-gay slurs by politically connected supervisors at the top levels of the Chicago water department. An image of a Ku Klux Klan "scarecrow" amid a watermelon field, a picture of a naked woman on a beach and off-color comments about gay people found their way into inboxes between early 2013 and April — a month before an investigation of the emails led to high-ranking officials losing their jobs at the Department of Water Management. The emails, among nearly 1,300 provided by the city in response to a request under the Illinois open records law, include more overtly sexist and anti-black messages than those in an earlier, more limited batch obtained by the Tribune that also contained anti-Islamic insults. And the new emails for the first time reveal homophobic statements. They also show that they were sent and received during a yearslong period without any sign that supervisors, including recently ousted department Commissioner Barrett Murphy, did anything to quash the troubling chatter. And in at least one case, Murphy forwarded an offensive email to another department employee.
Hundreds of Georgia inmates escape, but not for long
Fear and a frantic national search followed the escape last month of a pair of armed robbers who allegedly killed two correctional officers along a rural stretch of highway in Putnam County.
Prison breaks are often the stuff of Hollywood movies. But how often do convicts actually get loose? An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of data found that Georgia has recorded hundreds of inmate "escapes" in the past seven years. But few of them spur the kind of national dragnet that Ricky Dubose and Donnie Russell Rowe's short-lived bid for freedom did. In fact, most are inmates on the verge of being released who simply walk away, records show. And more than half are back behind bars within days. … The AJC based its reporting on warrant logs provided by the DOC in response to an open records request.
Read more: www.AJC.com
Facebook fighting court order over law enforcement access
Facebook is fighting a court order that blocks the social media giant from letting users know when law enforcement investigators ask to search their online information, particularly their political affiliations and comments.
Major technology companies and civil liberties groups have joined Facebook in the case, which resembles legal challenges throughout the country from technology companies that oppose how the government seeks access to internet data in emails or social media accounts during criminal investigations, The Washington Post reported.
Facebook is arguing in the D.C. Court of Appeals that the order violates First Amendment protections of the company and individuals.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. Many documents have been sealed in the case and hearings have been closed to the public.
The timing of the investigation and references in court documents that have been made public suggest the search warrants relate to demonstrations during President Donald Trump's inauguration, when more than 200 people were charged with rioting, the newspaper reported.
New York Times: Twitter users sue Trump over blocks
A group of Twitter users blocked by President Trump sued him and two top White House aides, arguing that his account amounts to a public forum that he, as a government official, cannot bar people from.
The blocked Twitter users, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, raised cutting-edge issues about how the Constitution applies to the social-media era. They say Mr. Trump cannot bar people from engaging with his account because they expressed opinions he did not like, such as mocking or criticizing him.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 13, 2017
News Journal: Public information appeals languish in AG’s office
Greenwood kettle corn maker Dan Kramer appreciates life in the slow lane. Except when it comes to state government, according to a story in The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware.
All told, the septuagenarian has spent more than four years waiting for the Attorney General's Office to rule on his public information requests, making him the longest-running petitioner in recent memory. "You're just sitting here, wondering what in the world is taking so long for them to come to a conclusion," drawls Kramer, who has filed six appeals with the state attorney general since 2011, four of them unsuccessful. "It totally flabbergasted me." State law mandates that Delaware's top law enforcement official rule on Freedom of Information Act appeals within 20 days. In reality, the appeals process drags on for months or even a year, long after governments vote on contracts or approve controversial developments, a News Journal analysis found.
Lexington Herald-Leader: 100 Kentucky students had their state test scores lowered to zero. Here’s why.
The 2015-16 statewide tests scores of 25 fourth-graders at Clark County’s Strode Station Elementary were lowered to zero after Kentucky Department of Education investigators determined that their teacher obtained a test booklet from a locked room without authorization and taught information from it before the exam, state documents show. In all, Kentucky education officials changed the test scores of at least 100 students to zero after violations of the testing code were found in 2015-16 on required statewide tests, the most recent year for which results are available. Because of the time the investigations into allegations took, superintendents across the state have been receiving letters of confirmation in 2017 for the violations that occurred in 2015-16. Some notification letters were dated as late as May 2017. …
Statewide, nearly 200 educators or school staff were required to have extra training when violations were found in the 2015-16 assessments, according to documents obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Media groups challenge privacy protections for Wetterling file
Ten media organizations are seeking to legally challenge the family of Jacob Wetterling over its attempt to keep private some investigative documents related to the 11-year-olds 1989 abduction and murder, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
The Minnesota Newspaper Association, Minnesota Broadcasters Association and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information are among parties challenging a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Jacobs parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, to prevent the release of sensitive investigative documents that include personal information about their family.
The organizations are trying to intervene in the case because of concerns about the broader impact a judge’s potential ruling could have on state privacy laws. Interventions allow outside parties into a lawsuit to protect their interests.
Virginia high court rules against newspaper in lawsuit
A Virginia newspaper has lost a bid to compel the release of court records that would shed light on criminal defendants and cases across the state.
The Daily Press filed a lawsuit to get access to a database from the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia that the newspaper says would provide information such as the names and races of defendants.
Virginia's highest court upheld a lower court ruling denying the newspaper's request. The justices said the General Assembly has designated the court clerks as the "custodians" of court records, so the newspaper has to get the information from the individual clerks.
Marisa Porto, publisher and editor-in-chief for the Daily Press Media Group, based in Newport News, Virginia, said in a statement that she is "baffled" by the decision and believes the issue needs to be addressed by the General Assembly.
Poynter: Court rules on video recording case
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of journalists and ordinary bystanders video recording police. The three-judges appellate panel ruled in the cases of a Temple University student, Richard Fields, and Amanda Geraci, who was a member of a police watchdog group in Philadelphia called Up Against the Law.
The case drew a “friend of the court” brief from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and was joined by 31 other media organizations including the National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, The Associated Press, Gannett, McClatchy, NPR, The New York Times, The Online News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.
The groups argued that the right to video-record police in a public place is a First Amendment right. And if the police could stop a bystander from recording an officer in a public place, then police could stop journalists too.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuits on behalf of Fields and Geraci.
Pennsylvania governor OKs bill removing police videos from open records law
A new Pennsylvania law exempts police audio and video recordings from the state's Right-to-Know Law, leaving the release of those records largely to the discretion of police.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that also clears legal hurdles that kept police departments from using body cameras, likely expanding their use greatly.
The legislation was supported by police groups. Lawmakers passed it overwhelmingly. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed it, warning it'll keep police videos largely out of public view.
Judge says University of Kentucky violated open records law
The University of Kentucky violated the state’s Open Records Act by improperly withholding documents about a failed business deal between UK HealthCare and a Hazard cardiology firm from the Herald-Leader, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled.
UK also violated the Open Meetings Act with an unannounced Power Point presentation about problems with the business deal to the UK Board of Trustees during what was supposed to be an informal dinner in May 2016, Goodwine ruled. UK failed to keep minutes of that meeting and refused to provide a copy of the Power Point presentation afterward once the Herald-Leader of Lexington, Kentucky, requested it.
No one from the newspaper was present at the meeting, which did not have an agenda.
AP: Facebook now deleting 66,000 posts a week in anti-hate campaign
Facebook said that it has deleted about 66,000 posts a week in the last two months as the social media giant cracks down on what it deems to be hate speech.
The company said in a blog post that deleting posts can "feel like censorship," but that it is working on explaining its process better and improving its enforcement of hate speech.
Facebook defines hate speech as attacks on people based on their race, sexual orientation and other "protected characteristics." The Menlo Park, California, company said it mostly relies on its 2 billion users to report any hateful posts they see. Workers then review the posts and decide whether to delete it.
Facebook Inc. said it plans to hire an additional 3,000 people in the next year to review posts. That's on top of the 4,500 people it currently has reviewing posts.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 29, 2017
AP: Ending guessing game, Trump admits there are no Comey tapes
Ending a month-long guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy, President Donald Trump declared he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey,
"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information," Trump tweeted, he has "no idea" whether there are "tapes" or recordings of the two men's conversations. But he proclaimed "I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."
That left open the possibility that recordings were made without his knowledge or by someone else. But he largely appeared to close the saga that began in May, just days after he fired Comey, then the head of an investigation into Trump associates' ties to Russian officials. Trump has disputed Comey's version of a January dinner during which the director said the president had asked for a pledge of loyalty.
Trump responded at that time, via Twitter, that Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
Imprisoned ex-CIA officer loses appeal of leak conviction
A former CIA officer convicted of leaking government secrets to a reporter lost a bid to clear his name.
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed all but one of Jeffrey Sterling's convictions and said there was no need for him to be resentenced.
He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years after he was convicted under the Espionage Act in 2015 on charges that he divulged details of a CIA mission aimed at stalling Iranian ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. Sterling maintains he was not a source for a book by New York Times journalist James Risen.
The operation, described in Risen's 2006 book "State of War," involved using a CIA agent nicknamed "Merlin" to deliver flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in the hopes that they would spend years trying to develop a product that would never work.
Pentagon believes Chelsea Manning's leaks had no significant impact on U.S. interests
Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning's unauthorized release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010 failed to significantly affect American interests, according to a newly released government assessment.
A federal multi-agency review undertaken in 2011 after the soldier shared the documents with WikiLeaks concluded that their release had little impact on the country's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report suggests, contrary to previous claims raised by Manning's critics.
The government concluded with "high confidence" that Manning's disclosure of over 400,000 records related to the Iraq War would "have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq," according a highly-redacted copy of the assessment obtained by BuzzFeed News through a Freedom of Information Act request and published online, the Washington Times reports.
Manning's separate disclosure of over 90,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan was not expected to have any "significant 'strategic impact'" on U.S. operations, the same report concluded, but its authors nevertheless cautioned that the leak of those documents had the potential to cause "serious damage" to "intelligence sources, informants and the Afghan population."
Sacramento Bee: Teen murder rate far too high
Jackie Diaz kneeled near a statue of the patron saint of adolescents, whispered to her son’s grave and gently rubbed the gravestone as if comforting her child. She does this nearly every day, bringing fertilizer and fresh water so the grass around Isaiah Diaz’s grave stays green.
Here, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in south Sacramento, she is quiet and angry and focused, especially on this day – Oct. 3, 2016 – one year after someone shot her 16-year-old son in his grandmother’s driveway and escaped into the night. … All told, 114 teenagers died violently in Sacramento County since the beginning of 2007. The bloodshed claimed honor roll students and street gang soldiers, young fathers and children of immigrants. Young people in Sacramento between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to be killed in homicides as the general population, and the teen murder rate here is higher than both the state and federal averages, according to an analysis of Sacramento Coroner’s Office records obtained by The Bee through the state’s Public Records Act.
Oregonian: Who’s watching the children?
A 4-year-old with autism walks out the front door of a day care center and into the parking lot of a nearby fast-food restaurant, only to be rescued by a drive-thru customer. A 3 ½-year-old falls from a climbing structure designed for older children. The boy dangles off the ground, tangled in a lanyard that his caretaker improperly allowed him to play with. A 3-year-old is removed from classmates and placed outside in an apparent act of discipline. The boy stands isolated on a dark February night, with temperatures hovering only a few degrees above freezing. Each of these day-care horror stories stems from Iris Valley Learning Center, which amassed one of the worst health and safety records in Oregon over a decade based on sheer volume of state rule violations. The state Office of Child Care tagged Iris Valley with 102 violations from 2007 through 2016. Eight children broke bones while attending the Keizer day care, the largest number of fractures at any provider during that period, according to state records. Inspectors found grimy toys, dirty carpets, a filthy kitchen and too few teachers. And yet, until lurching to action this spring, Oregon's child care office allowed the center to keep serving young children. … Problems within the state agency that provides oversight of childcare facilities have mounted for years with little action, according to an internal state audit from 2016. The report, the contents of which have remained private until now, depicts a regulatory environment chock-full of ineffective safeguards and bureaucratic failures that jeopardize child safety. The report was obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive through a public records request.
On open records, half Florida's legislators rate "F" or "D"
Half of Florida's legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year's legislative sessions, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.
In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation -- which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions -- the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.
Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.
"As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.
Poynter: Knight Foundation awards $1 million to fight misinformation
A mobile game that tracks falsehoods, a tool that busts lie-spewing internet bots and projects aimed at increasing the reach of fact checks are among the winners of a $1 million challenge from The Knight Prototype Fund aimed at improving the flow of accurate information.
The 20 ideas, which are eligible for $50,000 each, come from universities, news organizations and nonprofits across the United States and propose tackling misinformation by educating news consumers, pulling back the curtain on sources of fake news and making fact-checking more memorable and shareable. (Disclosure: The Knight Foundation funds Poynter's coverage of local news.)
Demoted Wisconsin police officer accused of mishandling sexual assault case
The police officer in Beloit, Wisconsin, who was caught listening to a racially charged podcast also was reprimanded for mishandling a sexual assault case and improper use of a town credit card, according to an investigative report.
Officer Richard Felger was demoted from sergeant after an investigation of his performance. Felger was reprimanded for mishandling a sexual assault investigation, improper use of a town credit card and improper use of a work computer, according to the investigation report obtained by The Gazette through an open records request.
Mexico probes spyware attacks on journalists, activists
Mexican prosecutors have opened an investigation into the reported targeting of journalists, lawyers and activists with spyware that is sold exclusively to governments, authorities said.
In a statement, the federal Attorney General's Office said its division responsible for investigating crimes against freedom of expression will probe possible violations such as intercepting private communications and illegally accessing computing equipment.
Prosecutors will seek to analyze the targeted cell phone numbers and identify the source of the spyware attacks, and they will also contact the providers of the technology for information on which government entities have acquired it.
"The Attorney General's Office energetically condemns the illegal intercepts of communications," the statement said.
The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog group, reported this week that Pegasus spyware produced by Israel's NSO Group had been used to target people who were investigating or criticizing the government at the time. They included prominent journalists Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola.
The targets were sent messages containing links that, if clicked on, opened up their communications devices to being exploited and spied upon.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 15, 2017
What officers found when they investigated carnival electrocution
Wichita officers investigating outside a carnival bouncy house where 15-month-old Pressley Bartonek was electrocuted on May 12 found an industrial light and a power box that were not insulated, a police investigative report says. Both were plugged in with extension cords. The base of the light was sitting in water, and the pole was touching a metal guardrail, according to the police reports. A police supervisor who was sent to investigate was also shocked that night when he touched either the guardrail or power box near where the girl was electrocuted. Police took the uninsulated light and power box at the traveling carnival as evidence “related to the electrocution,” says the reports, obtained by The Eagle on June 8 through a request under the Kansas Open Records Act.
Ohio chief justice pursues study of judges' workloads
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is pushing for a study of judges' workloads at a time the number of cases on judges' dockets is steadily declining in Ohio and nationally. O'Connor told a gathering of judges in March the study was a proactive move at a time of a tight state budget, and a chance to explain the changing nature of the judiciary, according to written and recorded minutes of that meeting obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.
O'Connor, a Republican, said no sitting judges would lose jobs as a result. O'Connor will meet with a panel of municipal, common pleas, juvenile court and other judges June 30 for more discussion. A decision is probably weeks away. The court has set aside $250,000 to pay for such a study.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 8, 2017
Sacramento Bee: Oroville Dam crisis was boon to contractors
The helicopters alone cost more than $100,000 a day at one point. Weeks of dredging debris ran to more than $22 million. And on the day after the massive evacuation, as the crisis was peaking, the state spent $3,902 on breakfasts and lunches for emergency workers. The fracture of Oroville Dam’s main flood-control spillway created a near-catastrophe, spawned multiple investigations and left lawmakers and locals grumbling about the state’s stewardship of the structure. One group isn’t complaining, though: the dozens of concrete and gravel contractors, trucking firms, engineering consultants and others that have been paid millions to help the state clean up the mess. “It was a tremendous opportunity for us … a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jeff Lund of Lund Construction Co. in North Highlands, which helped excavate debris from the river channel beneath the crumpled spillway. Lund said his firm was paid about $5 million for its work at Oroville. Well over $400 million will have been spent by the time Oroville’s facilities are restored.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Ponzi scheme or smart investor?
What started as a neighborhood dispute has morphed into a City Hall call for an FBI investigation into how a Milwaukee landlord has raised millions of dollars to fuel his real estate empire. At the center of it is Nicholas Rezny, a brash — at times cocky — 33-year-old with a knack for attracting the attention of law enforcement officials, regulators and lawyers. Through his American Community ReDevelopment Group LLC and dozens of limited liability companies, Rezny says he has an ownership or management interest in about 225 rental units in the Milwaukee area. … He says in a promotional email that "I've beaten Warren Buffett's return every year I have been in business." The Office of the Milwaukee City Attorney and the state Department of Financial Institutions are suspicious, according to letters obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel through open records requests.
Ohio judge issues media-access order in police shooting retrial
The judge in an Ohio police shooting retrial says that many potential jurors are worried about their identities being made public.
Hamilton County Judge Leslie Ghiz cited responses to juror questionnaires in the racially charged murder retrial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati police officer facing charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter for the 2015 shooting of Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man.
"They are seriously concerned about their safety," the judge said after testimony in a hearing she called after news organizations won an appeals court ruling blocking her planned restrictions on news coverage, such as limiting the number of reporters and electronic devices.
Ghiz later in the day released a new plan on media access that followed closely her earlier ruling. The new order allows a fixed-position video camera during jury selection, placed so jurors can't be seen, but it still sharply limits restrictions on the number of reporters and electronic devices.
News organizations are likely to appeal again.
Press groups urge congressional probe on assault of reporter in Montana
A national coalition of press groups urged a congressional ethics panel in Montana to consider disciplinary action against Montana's newly elected congressman, who is charged with throwing a reporter to the ground during a confrontation a day before the election.
Republican Greg Gianforte has yet to face a judge on the misdemeanor assault charge, which further intensified attention on a race that had already garnered wide national coverage.
The groups suggest Gianforte violated the House's code of official conduct when he allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. The groups also say Gianforte violated the code when he issued a news release that was contradicted by eyewitness accounts and an audio recording made by the reporter during the fracas.
"Amid a climate of escalating hostility toward the press it is essential for the House to send a clear message to its members and to the nation that hostile treatment of the press will not be tolerated or ignored," said Gabe Rottman, the Washington director of PEN America, one of several groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, seeking an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
House GOP caucus in South Carolina argues it's exempt from open records law
The House Republican Caucus is asking a South Carolina court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by news outlets including The Associated Press that seeks access to information about an investigation into possible Statehouse corruption.
The dismissal motion contends the caucus is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because of a House rule passed in 2007.
The news coalition's attorney, Jay Bender, argues a chamber rule can't exempt a caucus from state law.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the caucus is a public body subject to the state's open records law, and as such, should make its records and meetings public.
The caucus has denied requests from AP and The State newspaper to provide documents it turned over for Solicitor David Pascoe's investigation.
South Carolina governor says public records law 'step forward' in transparency
A new law closing loopholes in South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act represents "a big step forward" in government transparency, Gov. Henry McMaster said at a ceremonial signing.
The law requires state and local governments, school districts, and other public entities to respond more quickly to public records requests and prevents them from charging excessive fees.
The law took effect with McMaster's signature and capped a seven-year effort to strengthen public access to government records.
"This is a good law. The people ought to know what's going on in government and why it's going on," McMaster said.
But it doesn't go far enough, he added.
To get the bill to his desk, the Senate stripped out a section creating a state hearing officer to quickly and cheaply settle disputes.
Scranton Sewer Authority releases largely unredacted legal bills from sewer sale
The Scranton Sewer Authority released hundreds of pages of mostly unredacted legal and consulting bills from the sale of the Scranton sewer system outlining work performed by numerous attorneys and consultants over several years.
The authority provided the documents to the municipal councils of Scranton and Dunmore, as well as to The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Scranton council and the newspaper each sought, through separate Right to Know Law requests, the legal and consulting bills incurred during the sale of the sewer system serving Scranton and Dunmore to Pennsylvania American Water.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 1, 2017
Federal authorities have launched dozens of new criminal investigations into possible opioid and other drug theft by employees at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, a sign the problem isn't going away despite new prevention efforts. Data obtained by The Associated Press show 36 cases opened by the VA inspector general's office from Oct. 1 through May 19. It brings the total number of open criminal investigations to 108 involving missing prescriptions, theft or unauthorized drug use. Most of those probes typically lead to criminal charges. The numbers are an increase from a similar period in the previous year. The VA has pledged "zero tolerance" in drug thefts following an AP story in February about a sharp rise in reported cases of stolen or missing drugs since 2009. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff in the VA's network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics are suspected of siphoning away controlled substances for their own use or street sale — sometimes to the harm of patients — or drugs simply went missing without explanation. Drug thefts are a growing problem at private hospitals as well as the government-run VA facilities as the illegal use of opioids has increased in the United States. But separate data from the Drug Enforcement Administration obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show the rate of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double that of the private sector.
New York Times defends publication of Manchester photos
The New York Times published several photos showing, in eerie detail, the makeshift shrapnel, shredded blue backpack and powerful lead acid battery used by the Manchester bomber, who killed 22 people. The story accompanying the photos, describing the forensic evidence and crime scene found by investigators, said the bomber’s torso had been heaved toward the entrance of the Manchester Arena. Nothing in the story directly states the source of the material but it says the evidence was photographed and distributed by British authorities. Now, British officials are accusing U.S. intelligence of leaking the material, saying it could seriously impede an investigation into the attack. … Executive Editor Dean Baquet said he understands why some readers are concerned but he stands by the decision: “The judgment is that there is a public benefit to telling people how terrorists work, including the makeup of their bombs, the kinds of packs they carry. The [C.J.] Chivers story did that in a remarkably astute way, including interviews with experts. This was not highly classified information. And it did not violate anyone’s privacy. Nor was it insensitive. I understand the upset. Nothing is more powerfully upsetting than what happened in Manchester. But explaining how terrorists work is important journalism.”
AP: Indiana faces records request backlog as Pence drags feet
The Indiana governor's office faces a backlog of public records requests largely stemming from Vice President Mike Pence's tenure, and the delay has been exacerbated by Pence's refusal to give his successor digital access to his emails, including those sent from a private AOL account he sometimes used to conduct state business.
More than 50 records requests are pending before the office of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who was Pence's hand-picked replacement on the ballot after Trump selected him to be the GOP vice presidential nominee last July.
The vast majority of the requests seek correspondence Pence had with staffers and political groups, including emails routed through his private AOL.com email account, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.
The pending requests are from private citizens, law firms, political parties and news organizations, including the AP.
Vermont judge rules education agency must meet records requests
A Vermont civil court judge has ruled the state Agency of Education must be more responsive in releasing records even if meeting the request means extra work.
The ruling by Judge Helen Toor followed a lawsuit filed against the agency by a former Rutland Herald reporter Lola Duffort and the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Duffort had sought the records under the Freedom of Information Act for a planned story on incidents of bullying and hazing. When the agency refused her request, she worked with the ACLU to file suit seeking the records.
In response to Duffort's request, the agency said the state was under no obligation to produce the report because it was not published as a readable, compiled report before she made her request. But Toor's ruling said the state has the information that was being requested and so must provide it. Haley Dover, a spokeswoman for the Education Agency, said Friday the Herald's requested information was provided to the news organization last week, before the judge's ruling.
She said that as a result of the litigation, the agency created a school-by-school record of hazing, harassment and bullying reports.
Poynter: Bezos donates $1 million for press freedom
The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press announced a $1 million donation from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the biggest gift from an individual in the organization's 46-year history.
"This generous gift will help us continue to grow, to offer our legal and educational support to many more news organizations, and to expand our services to independent journalists, nonprofit newsrooms and documentary filmmakers,” Reporters Committee Chairman David Boardman said. "We’ll also be better positioned to help local newsrooms, the places hit hardest by the disruption in the news industry and whose survival is every bit as crucial to American democracy as those entities headquartered in Washington and New York."
Bezos, who is worth $82.7 billion, purchased The Washington Post in 2013 and has been a demur but firm voice for press freedom in the years since.
Republican candidate wins in Montana after altercation with reporter
A Montana Republican businessman won the state's U.S. House seat after being charged with assaulting a reporter on the eve of the election.
Greg Gianforte apologized for attacking a reporter, who had asked about the GOP health care bill.
"Last night, I made a mistake. I took an action I can't take back and I am not proud of what happened," he said.
Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault after witnesses said he slammed to the ground a reporter who was asking him questions about the Republican health care bill. Gianforte could be heard on an audio tape yelling at the reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian.
Journalists petition University of Minnesota to halt leak investigation
More than 260 journalists have signed a petition urging the University of Minnesota to halt its investigation into the source of news leaks about an athletics department official who was accused of sexual misconduct.
A delegation from the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild delivered the petitions to the University’s Board of Regents. We believe that this investigation of leaks by the University is a direct attack on the First Amendment, the group said in a statement. The petition was signed by some journalists from the Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and several local TV news organizations, among others.
The Board of Regents launched the investigation after KSTP-TV reported that Randy Handel, an athletics department fundraiser, had been accused of sexual harassment, and that a confidential document about the case had been obtained from a member of the board.
The university said it has a legal obligation to keep such information, involving accusations against employees, confidential.
Arizona governor vetoes student press rights bill
Student press advocates have criticized Gov. Doug Ducey for vetoing legislation they say would have shown that Arizona supports the rights of student journalists who investigate shortcomings at their schools.
The measure would have shielded student journalists at public schools, community colleges and universities from administrative censorship of their work at school-sponsored media.
In a veto letter, the governor said he is a strong supporter of free speech and the First Amendment. Yet Ducey said in the statement he worried "that this bill could create unintended consequences, especially on high school campuses where adult supervision and mentoring is most important."
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, questioned what the bill's opponents fear student journalists would write. And Paula Casey, executive director of the Arizona Newspapers Association, said students still would have had to answer to editors and advisers under the legislation.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 24, 2017
Arizona Daily Star: Border detentions in southern Arizona cost taxpayers $2 billion
Taxpayers started footing the bill for housing Ivan Moreno Miranda shortly after a Border Patrol agent caught him on Jan. 14. Moreno Miranda crossed the border illegally near Douglas after being deported in 2013, federal court records show. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against him and on Jan. 17 he was placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service while his case unfolded, at a daily detention cost of about $80. The cost of detaining Moreno Miranda kept growing until Thursday, when federal Judge Raner C. Collins sentenced him to time served. After four months in the custody of the Marshals Service, the cost of housing Moreno Miranda came to about $9,600. … In the last decade, housing people on immigration-related charges in Southern Arizona cost taxpayers more than $1.8 billion, according to statistics obtained by the Arizona Daily Star through public-records requests. The Marshals Service spent about $1.1 billion in Southern Arizona housing people on similar charges in fiscal years 2007-15, according to agency records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Chicago Tribune: Are college prep classes failing to prepare kids?
A full plate of general classes — the most common courses statewide across Illinois public high schools — is supposed to prepare students for life after graduation. But tens of thousands of students taking only general courses in main subjects — often labeled "college prep" in school curriculum guides — were not prepared for college classes, a sweeping Tribune analysis of the class of 2015 found. Those students made up most of the kids across Illinois who were not considered college ready in fundamental academic areas. A variety of factors, including the push to improve graduation rates and eliminate remedial courses, quietly weakened the rigor of some general classes, educators said, leaving students in courses that weren't tough enough.
Public education debates both here and nationwide often focus on school funding, teacher pensions, charter schools and vouchers. Little-mentioned in the discourse, though, is one of the most significant aspects of schooling: The classes kids take. The Tribune examined 4.2 million high school classes taken semester by semester by more than 150,000 students in the class of 2015, starting in fall 2011. … The data from the Illinois State Board of Education, obtained under open records laws, are the most recent available that could be linked to college entrance exam scores.
Vermont becomes latest state to protect journalists' sources
Vermont has become the latest state to enact a law that protects journalists and their sources.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a new law that creates a legal protection for information given to journalists by confidential sources or for conversations that take place off the record.
That means that the identity of anonymous sources is out of the reach of Vermont's legal system, even if those sources are government employees leaking privileged information.
Vermont Public Radio (http://bit.ly/2pXbq9A ) reports that more than two dozen states have similar protections in place.
Reporter says he was roughed up by security guards at FCC
A journalist said he was pinned against the wall by security guards and forced to leave the Federal Communications Commission headquarters after he tried to question an FCC commissioner after a news conference.
Reporter John Donnelly of CQ Roll Call said in a statement issued by the National Press Club that the guards roughed him up and removed him from the building under implied threat of force.
Donnelly said he was trying to question FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly after O'Rielly left a podium, which is a standard journalistic practice.
"We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert ... based on several threats," FCC spokesman Brian Hart said in a statement.
Breaking: HCC board votes not to renew journalism instructor's contract
The Board of Trustees of Hutchinson Community College voted not to renew the contract of journalism instructor Alan Montgomery after a 15-minute closed session during a special meeting.
The board went into executive session with President Carter File and the college's legal counsel, John Caton and Carol DeWald, to discuss personnel matters.
When the board resumed the open meeting, members unanimously approved a resolution declaring its intent to not renew Montgomery's contract. No discussion of the action took place in the public meeting.
Montgomery had been suspended since the beginning of May, following publication of an issue of The Hutchinson Collegian - the student newspaper at HCC - which included an article about Montgomery seeking federal intervention in the college's actions toward a pair of journalism students.
Copies of that issue were confiscated May 1 while students tried to distribute them, although the college released the papers for distribution later in the day. The college also temporarily canceled publication of the final issue of The Collegian, although File reversed that decision the next day.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 17, 2017
Court upholds FOIA decision involving College of DuPage
An Illinois appellate court has ruled that the College of DuPage Foundation is subject to the state's open records law and ordered it to turn over a federal subpoena that the Chicago Tribune requested.
The unanimous decision marks the first time an Illinois higher court has ruled in favor of releasing records in possession of a public college's fundraising organization, the Tribune (http://trib.in/2q3h9NG ) reported.
The ruling upholds an earlier ruling by a DuPage Circuit Court judge.
"The Tribune is very pleased with the decision, which is a victory for transparency regarding the affairs of government," said Karen Flax, the newspaper's vice president of legal.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Parking Authority officials altered records
Just days after the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News formally requested an accounting of compensatory time at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, two top executives asked the agency to eliminate such hours they were owed, according to internal PPA emails.
Deputy executive directors Richard Dickson and Dennis Weldon sent emails to the payroll department to that effect Jan. 17 -- the same day the authority responded to the newspapers' request by falsely stating it had no comp-time records for senior staffers. Weldon, who also serves as PPA general counsel, was copied on that response.
Prior to the Right-to-Know request, the pair had accumulated hundreds of hours of comp time. Legal experts familiar with the Right-to-Know Law say those figures should have been acknowledged by the PPA.
The PPA recently released the emails as a result of a subsequent Right-to-Know request by the newspapers.
The papers had initially sought the comp-time information Jan. 13, after the agency reported that former executive director Vincent Fenerty, ousted in September after a sexual-harassment scandal, had collected $227,000 in comp time and other paid leave, as well as 15 years of free health care.
Lawyer, CEO want charge dropped against journalist
A West Virginia journalist arrested after repeatedly asking U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question said he did nothing wrong, and his attorney and the media outlet's founder want the charge dropped.
Reporter Daniel Ralph Heyman, who works for the independent Public News Service, was arrested by police at the state Capitol in Charleston during Price's recent visit.
He had wanted to ask Price about whether domestic violence is a pre-existing condition under the Republican health care proposal. Heyman got no response. So he tried again. And again.
Capitol police said in a criminal complaint that Heyman, 54, caused a disturbance with his persistent questions and "was aggressively breaching" Secret Service agents who accompanied Price.
North Dakota AG says commission violated open meetings law
North Dakota's attorney general ruled the Devils Lake City Commission was not authorized under state law to discuss in a closed meeting a report that led to separation negotiations for the city's embattled police chief and his second-in-command.
The commission closed its April 3 meeting to the public, saying it could discuss a police department assessment report in an executive session. After the meeting was reopened, the city put Police Chief Keith Schroeder and Capt. Jon Barnett on paid administrative leave.
The report that was discussed in the closed session is public under North Dakota's open records law, and the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald, the Devils Lake Journal and KZZY Radio asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem for an opinion on whether the city violated North Dakota's open meetings law.
South Dakota reporter subpoenaed in tribal marijuana case
Prosecutors plan to call a Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus Leader reporter as a witness in a trial related to a marijuana operation that the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe attempted to start, and the newspaper has objected.
The attorney general's office has subpoenaed Dana Ferguson to testify in the upcoming trial in Moody County of Eric Hagen, a consultant who helped the tribe set up a growing facility, Argus Leader Media reported (http://argusne.ws/2qgkIAl ).
Ferguson joined lawmakers and journalists on a tour of the facility in October 2015, when the tribe was planning to open a recreational marijuana resort to spur economic development. The tribe abandoned the project under fire from state officials, including Attorney General Marty Jackley, saying it had burned the plants.
Arizona Legislature OKs bill shielding student press rights
Arizona lawmakers passed legislation to on Tuesday sent legislation to shield high school and college level journalists across the state from administrative censorship for work under their school-sponsored media.
The Arizona Senate unanimously approved the amended measure after all legislators in the chamber voted for the original bill in February.
Loopholes in South Carolina's public records law could be closed
Legislation closing loopholes in South Carolina's open records law is poised to becoming law without a "crown jewel" provision that would have made it easy and inexpensive for people to force obstinate government agencies to turn over public documents.
An 89-0 vote in the House sent the bill to Gov. Henry McMaster. He says he'll sign it, capping a seven-year effort to strengthen public access to government records.
The Senate approved the bill hours earlier after stripping out the section creating a state hearing officer to settle disputes over requested information.
Idaho asks appeals court to uphold ban on spying at farms
Idaho has asked a federal appeals court to reinstate its ban on spying at farms, dairies and slaughterhouses after a lower court judge sided with animal rights activists who said the ban violated free speech rights.
Idaho lawmakers in 2014 made it a criminal offense to enter agricultural facilities by misrepresentation to gain access to records or to make undercover audio or video recordings. The state's large dairy industry had complained that videos of cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt business.
Animal rights activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued, saying the law criminalized a long tradition of undercover journalism and would require people who expose wrongdoing to pay restitution to the businesses they target.
Seven states have similar measures — Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Utah, Missouri and North Carolina. Legal challenges are pending in Utah and North Carolina.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 10, 2017
Arizona Daily Star: Most hard drugs smuggled through legal crossing points
Amid the daily traffic of workers, shoppers and truck drivers crossing the border on March 21, a customs officer in Nogales noticed a driver acting nervously. A density meter and a drug-sniffing dog led customs officers to 2 pounds of cocaine, 15 pounds of heroin and 17 pounds of methamphetamine stashed inside the speaker box in the Chevrolet Malibu’s trunk, federal court records show. Cases involving hard drugs seized at the U.S.-Mexico border regularly appear in U.S. District Court in Tucson. They also regularly appear in political rhetoric about border security and the opioid epidemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in recent years. On April 24, President Trump tweeted: “The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)! If the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be!” While Trump proposes building a wall to stop drugs from crossing the border and hiring thousands more Border Patrol agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics obtained by the Arizona Daily Star through a public-records request suggest the rhetoric coming from the White House reflects a misunderstanding of how and where hard drugs cross the border. CBP statistics show 81 percent of the 265,500 pounds of hard drugs caught at the U.S.-Mexico border from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2016 were stopped by customs officers at ports of entry, rather than by Border Patrol agents working in the desert and wilderness between ports.
Judge refuses to seal filings in wrongful imprisonment case
RALEIGH, North Carolina — A federal judge in North Carolina rejected requests to seal details in a lawsuit concerning a child murder investigation that led to two brothers being wrongfully imprisoned for three decades, and in a proposed monetary settlement with some investigators.
Five news organizations, including The Associated Press, had asked U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle for access to documents that were filed confidentially in the lawsuit by Henry McCollum and a representative of his half brother, Leon Brown.
A lawyer representing the brothers had sought to permanently seal some documents in the lawsuit and in a settlement between the brothers and the town where 11-year-old Sabrina Buie was slain in 1983.
The News & Observer of Raleigh, The Fayetteville Observer, The Charlotte Observer and WTVD-TV were the other news outlets asking to intervene in the case and oppose keeping lawsuit documents under seal.
AP: GOP chairman warns agencies about requests for records
A House Republican chairman has told a dozen government agencies to exclude communications with his committee from requests made by news organizations, advocacy groups and others through the Freedom of Information Act.
In a series of letters, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas said communications the agencies had with members of his panel and committee staff should not be released, arguing that it often includes sensitive and confidential information.
"All such documents and communications constitute congressional records not 'agency records' for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, and remain subject to congressional control even when in the physical possession of the" agency, Hensarling wrote in one April 3 letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Records and material from the executive branch are subject to requests under the 1967 Freedom of Information Act. Congress, which wrote the law, has exempted itself.
Hensarling's letter to the Treasury Department was first reported by BuzzFeed. The Associated Press obtained additional letters that the Republican lawmaker sent to other agencies within the jurisdiction of his Financial Services Committee.
Colorado governor approves public records mediation
Colorado has a new law encouraging citizens and state agencies to resolve public records disputes outside court.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law. It offers mediation as an option when a citizen wants to challenge a government agency's denial of his or her request for public records.
Under Colorado's Open Records Act, such challenges must go to court — an expense that deters many from pursuing their requests.
The new law keeps that court option. But it also requires the record-keeper to contact the citizen to determine if the dispute can be resolved outside of court, including through mediation.
AP: Iowa regulator used state email for legal work
A powerful Iowa regulator used her government email to conduct private business for her personal law practice and claimed sick leave on a day when she attended a client's court hearing, which are both apparent violations of state rules.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law reveal that Iowa Utilities Board chairwoman Geri Huser used her state account this year to send messages to employees of her law firm, violating state email rules and jeopardizing confidential legal information. They also show she claimed paid sick leave Feb. 6, even though she participated in a court hearing for a legal client that afternoon.
The AP disclosed in March that Huser has operated a busy estate law practice while holding a $128,900-per year state job that has power over utilities, their customers and energy policy.
AP: Georgia losing patience with drug treatment tourists
In the northwest corner of Georgia, where cows and crops vastly outnumber people, a small cluster of privately owned treatment centers has sprung up in recent years for heroin and prescription painkiller addicts.
And most of the patients aren't even from the state.
Relaxed rules in Georgia and stricter regulations in Tennessee created a recipe for the facilities to locate a few miles from the state line. Each year, the Georgia centers draw thousands of addicts from Tennessee, some who drive for hours to get treatment. Locals are fed up with the onslaught of out-of-towners who pick up their meds and leave, and they complained so loudly that Georgia legislators recently passed a law essentially preventing any new clinics from opening up in the area.
Georgia leads the South in number of treatment centers with 71. Florida, with twice the population, has 69.
Last year, one in five people treated at an opioid treatment center in Georgia came from out of state, according to state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities records obtained by The Associated Press under an open records request. In the northwest corner of Georgia, two out of every three patients were from out of state.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 4, 2017
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Man hung in cell for hours at St. Louis lockup while guards streamed Netflix
Missouri Department of Corrections employees streamed Netflix movies on state computers, used personal cellphones on duty and skipped security checks at a facility while an offender there hanged himself and lay dead in a cell for 10 hours. Surveillance footage captured it all, offering evidence that workers weren’t checking on the man even while filling out a log claiming they had. The findings are revealed in a department investigation into the Oct. 24 discovery of David Garceau at the St. Louis Community Release Center, 1621 North First Street. Paramedics pronounced him dead at 5:27 a.m. that day, but he died several hours before. The department investigation found inconsistencies in staff assignments and other mishaps in the unit leading up to Garceau’s death and the time before his body was found, according to an abridged portion of an inspector general’s report. That report was completed Jan. 31 and obtained last week by the Post-Dispatch through an open records request.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Police tech tools outrun the law
Law enforcement agents are deploying an onslaught of new technology to collect information on criminals and unsuspecting citizens alike. Body cameras. Cellphone hacking devices. License plate scanners. Software that can identify faces in surveillance video. It’s all giving authorities in Minnesota and across the country broader and deeper access than ever to data on individuals who often have no clue how information about them is gathered, stored and shared. But the rapid emergence of such tech tools also is raising alarm about the extent of surveillance — and how laws safeguarding data and guaranteeing public access to it are failing to keep up.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are increasingly reluctant to disclose what’s in their high-tech arsenal.
Spicer: White House 'looking into' libel laws
The White House is "looking into" ways to potentially change the nation's libel laws to make it easier to go after reporters whose stories they deem inaccurate, The Associated Press reports.
That's according to President Trump's chief spokesman Sean Spicer who told reporters during a briefing that: "that is something that is being looked into, substantively and then both logistically how it would happen."
Trump had pledged during his campaign to "open up" the nation's libel laws — a process that could not be accomplished by the White House. That would require a constitutional amendment or a reversal of Supreme Court precedent interpreting the First Amendment.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC on Sunday that the issue has been discussed — but cautioned that "how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story."
Trump repeatedly threatened news outlets with lawsuits during his campaign and first lady Melania Trump last month reached a multi-million dollar settlement with the publisher of the Daily Mail newspaper for reporting rumors about her time as a model.
Poynter: New report from Index on Censorship paints a bleak picture for U.S. press freedom
The press freedom situation in the United States is worsening not only because of President Trump's anti-press rhetoric but because of a constellation of factors including arrests, detainment, lawsuits, physical violence and outright censorship, according to a new report.
The report, released by the London-based Index on Censorship this week, chronicles the recent threats to journalist safety and freedom of expression and takes a holistic view of a worsening press freedom climate.
"Smears about the media made by U.S. President Donald Trump have obscured a wider problem with press freedom in the United States: namely widespread and low-level animosity that feeds into the everyday working lives of the nation’s journalists, bloggers and media professionals," reads the introduction to the report. "This study examines documented reports from across the country in the six months leading up to the presidential inauguration and the months after. It clearly shows that threats to U.S. press freedom go well beyond the Oval Office."
Candidate Trump exhibited anti-press behavior on the campaign trail by blacklisting news organizations, denigrating reporters and encouraging his supporters to berate journalists, and his administration has also occasionally muddled reality by presenting what White House aide Kellyanne Conway dubbed “alternative facts,” according to the report.
Media: Proposed rule could block public from court records
NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Lawyers for several media organizations are raising concerns that that a proposed new court rule could bar both citizens and the press from getting court records.
Some against proposed Supreme Court Rule 34 have written letters saying they worry that the language in it gives new powers to lower courts to block the public from seeing records.
The Tennessee Bar Association raises concerns that the current language of the draft would allow lower courts to create a patchwork of exemptions to the public records act around the state.
There is criticism that the language is overly broad and records that should be public could be closed as a result of the wording.
One of the attorney's letters said the proposal doesn't say what citizens should do when they're denied records.
Google targets 'fake news,' offensive search suggestions
SAN FRANCISCO — Google has sprinkled some new ingredients into its search engine in an effort to prevent bogus information and offensive suggestions from souring its results.
The changes have been in the works for four months, but Google hadn't publicly discussed most of them until recently. The announcement in a blog post reflects Google's confidence in a new screening system designed to reduce the chances that its influential search engine will highlight untrue stories about people and events, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "fake news."
"It's not a problem that is going to go all the way to zero, but we now think we can stay a step ahead of things," said Ben Gomes, Google's vice president of engineering for search.
Besides taking steps to block fake news from appearing in its search results, Google also has reprogrammed a popular feature that automatically tries to predict what a person is looking for as a search request as being typed. The tool, called "autocomplete," has been overhauled to omit derogatory suggestions, such as "are women evil," or recommendations that promote violence.
Albuquerque police using Facebook to attack judges, media
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — The Albuquerque Police Department is using its official Facebook page to criticize area judges and local news media.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (https://goo.gl/EKFlRl) in recent months the department has used its social media page to highlight specific actions by judges and the media. In some posts, Albuquerque police criticize them and have attracted hundreds of harsh comments from the public.
Some user comments have called for violence against judges or accused reporters of crimes.
Albuquerque police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza says there is a lot of finger-pointing over the city's crime rates and the police are only trying to tell "the whole story."
Heath Haussamen, a board member of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, says said the chapter opposes the department's use of social media as its main medium for distributing information.
News outlets including AP sue state House GOP Caucus
COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A coalition of news outlets including The Associated Press has sued the state House Republican Caucus in South Carolina to gain access to information about an investigation into possible Statehouse corruption.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare that the caucus is a public body subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act, and as such, should make its records and meetings public.
Caucus attorney Mark Moore said he hasn't reviewed the lawsuit but is comfortable with the caucus's legal positions.
The AP sought a copy of the state grand jury's subpoena of House GOP records and all documents the caucus provided for Solicitor David Pascoe's investigation. Moore has not yet responded to that FOIA request.
The caucus has denied a request from The State newspaper to view payment records to the firms of Richard Quinn and his son, Rep. Rick Quinn, who, as former majority leader, led the caucus from 1999 through 2004.
Richard Quinn declined Thursday to comment on the case or lawsuit. Rick Quinn did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
The coalition also includes The State newspaper of Columbia, The Post and Courier of Charleston, The Greenville News, the South Carolina Press Association, and South Carolina Broadcasters Association.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • April 27, 2017
Former Milwaukee officer subject of multiple investigations
A former police officer whose fatal shooting of a black man sparked riots in Milwaukee last summer was the subject of multiple internal investigations during his short career, according to his recently released personnel file. The Milwaukee Police Department released Dominique Heaggan-Brown's file to The Associated Press through an open records request. The documents show most of the allegations against him were relatively minor and were resolved with orders to review department ethics policies. But the file also suggests early concerns about his judgment, years before he was charged with reckless homicide in last year's shooting and sexual assault in a separate case.
1995 tweak to Washington state law exempts lawmakers from disclosure
When rejecting requests for everything from lawmakers' daily calendars to emails to disciplinary reports, legislative attorneys routinely cite language quietly added more than two decades ago to Washington's public records law. So while the records of elected officials ranging from school board members to county commissioners are subject to public disclosure state lawmakers point to a legislative tweak passed without fanfare in 1995 as the genesis for their self-proclaimed exemption. The 1995 language says public records held by the secretary of the Senate and the chief clerk of the House are considered "legislative records" as defined under a 1971 statute. Critics say that exemption for state lawmakers violates the spirit of Washington's open records laws.