OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 24, 2018
Audit: Many entities require ID to access public records
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Not all government public records policies are helping to make records more accessible to residents — especially for those who can't easily prove state residency — a new audit from the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has found.
The audit of municipalities, counties and school districts found that 84 percent of the 259 policies obtained and analyzed by the nonprofit advocacy group between October and March required the person making a request to provide identification proving Tennessee residency.
"It's an example of a requirement that seems to have very little purpose," said Deborah Fisher, executive director of TCOG. "Even if the person wasn't a citizen of Tennessee, why would you withhold the minutes of a public meeting?"
Though state law allows government entities to require a government-issued photo ID to request public records, the state does not require such a provision.
The biggest problem with requiring identification as a condition for access to public records, Fisher said, is that it can be used as a bureaucratic hurdle to delay requests, particularly for routine public records and when there is no reasonable doubt of a person's residency.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, established in 2003, works to preserve and improve access to public information through an alliance of journalists, civic groups and citizens. Its two dozen board members include leaders of news, civic and legal organizations around the state.
The coalition set out to examine 306 policies around Tennessee in all 95 counties to determine whether the legislature's new requirement of written public record policies was in fact promoting transparency and making it easier for residents to obtain copies of public records.
Read more: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/audit-many-entities-require-id-to-access-public-records/
Legal experts: MSU didn't violate Open Meetings Act
Beth LeBlanc and Francis X. Donnelly, DetroitNews
When Michigan State University agreed Tuesday to reach a settlement with the victims of former sports doctor Larry Nassar, the only people aware of the decision were MSU officials.
The first time the public learned of the settlement was when the university announced it Wednesday.
Despite the lack of public oversight, the school's action didn't violate open-government laws, said legal experts.
A public group may consult privately with its attorney about pending litigation if doing so publicly would hurt the group financially during the litigation, according to the state Open Meetings Act.
Among the MSU officials discussing the settlement during a conference call Tuesday night were Robert Young Jr., special counsel, interim President John Engler, and members of the Board of Trustees.
James Stewart, an attorney for The Detroit News, said the fact the phone conversation could adversely impact MSU if it was held publicly showed the school was in compliance with the law.
"Is it a technical violation, maybe, but I have a hard time getting too worked up about it," he said.
Read more: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/05/16/msu-settlement-legal-experts/35002285/
Legal fight rages on over coroner's inquest into teenager's death
FAYETTE — The Missouri Supreme Court could be tasked with interpreting the state's open record laws, Judge Scott Hayes of the 14th Judicial Circuit Court said on Wednesday.
The legal question at hand is whether or not Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler is considered a law enforcement officer under the Sunshine Law. If Flaspohler's office is a law enforcement agency, he would be exempt from making public records from an inquest into the death of Kenneth Suttner.
"No one will listen to a thing I say until the court of appeals makes its ruling," Hayes said in court Wednesday.
No clear timeline was established Wednesday as to when the Supreme Court might hear the case.
Hayes previously ruled in October that the coroner's office is not a law enforcement agency. He later ruled on Feb. 7 that the records were public. However, Flaspohler still maintains that the coroner's office is a law enforcement agency, and therefore exempt from turning over the records and not in violation of the law.
The case in question, Glasgow School District v. Howard County Coroner, has been in legal limbo for 15 months. It stems from the high-profile Suttner case. In December 2016, Suttner, a 17-year-old student at Glasgow High School, killed himself. Reports of relentless bullying of Suttner at school and work led the coroner to call a special inquest into the circumstances of his death.
Read more: https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/local/legal-fight-rages-on-over-coroner-s-inquest-into-teenager/article_9ccd29d8-5932-11e8-b12a-5b307e4d0e5d.html
EPA blocks some media from summit, then reverses course
NEW YORK (AP) — A reporter for The Associated Press was grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of an Environmental Protection Agency building by a security guard Tuesday for trying to cover a meeting on water contaminants in which some reporters were welcomed and others were not.
An aide to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later called to apologize to AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer and said the incident is being looked into. Knickmeyer, who said she was not hurt, was later let into the meeting when the EPA reversed course and opened it to all reporters.
Representatives from CNN and E&E News, which covers energy and environment issues, were also initially barred from the meeting.
Even for an administration with a contentious relationship with the press and a president who has put the phrase “fake news” into the lexicon, Tuesday’s events were unusual.
Pruitt had convened what he called a national summit on dangerous chemicals that have been found in some water systems. Some 200 people attended, including representatives of states, tribes and the chemical industry and environmentalists.
Pruitt’s remarks at the meeting were listed on his public schedule and described as being open to the press on a federal daybook of events.
Knickmeyer said she called Monday about the event and was told by EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox that it was invitation-only and there was no room for her. She said she showed up anyway, and was told by a security guard that she couldn’t enter. She said she asked to speak to a representative from the press office, was refused and told to get out. Photos of the event showed several empty seats.
After security told her that “we can make you get out,” Knickmeyer said she took out her phone to record what was happening. Some of the security guards reached for it, and a woman grabbed her shoulders from behind and pushed her about five feet out the door.
Wilcox issued a statement late Tuesday saying Knickmeyer “pushed through the security entrance.” After the AP objected to the characterization, the spokesman issued a second statement removing that account and instead saying Knickmeyer “showed up at EPA but refused to leave the building after being asked to do so.”
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/7c5ce52b316a4c91930a0998cd613115/EPA-blocks-some-media-from-summit,-then-reverses-course
GOP fundraiser subpoenas AP over hacked emails, setting up legal showdown
A top Republican fundraiser has subpoenaed the Associated Press for information about the source of hacked emails that formed the basis of recent reports about him, people familiar with the matter tell POLITICO.
The AP has received the subpoena from Elliott Broidy — the subject of several recent articles about his efforts to lobby President Donald Trump and the U.S. government to adopt a hard-line stance against the Persian Gulf state of Qatar — and is planning to resist it, according to the outlet’s director of media relations, Lauren Easton.
The impasse sets up a potential legal standoff over press protections at a time when political battles are increasingly being waged via leaks of hacked data. A copy of the subpoena obtained by POLITICO demands the AP turn over all its information about its sources, including their names, along with information about how the AP obtained the hacked emails.
While several outlets — including the Wall Street Journal and the Hollywood Reporter — have published articles based on Broidy’s stolen emails, the businessman is singling out the AP for a subpoena because of the lengths the outlet has gone to conceal the identity of its sources, according to a person familiar with Broidy’s thinking.
While other outlets have provided Broidy with the original PDF documents they received containing Broidy’s emails, the AP appears to have only provided Broidy with scans of printouts of the emails, according to the person. Original PDF documents contain metadata that can be helpful for forensic analysis when attempting to trace the source of a hack, while scans of printouts lack such metadata.
Read more: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/22/republican-fundraiser-hacked-emails-ap-603404
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 17, 2018
'Golden State Killer' lawyers fight to keep documents sealed
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Defense attorneys for the man suspected of being the 'Golden State Killer' argued Wednesday that prosecutors' search and arrest warrants should not be released publicly.
The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed a motion to unseal the information related to the April arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer. He is suspected of committing at least a dozen murders and more than 50 rapes across California in the 1970s and '80s.
DeAngelo's public defender, Diane Howard, argued that making the documents public would result in media coverage that could taint witnesses and jurors, leading to an unfair trial. Prosecutors first moved to seal the warrants, arguing their release could hinder the ongoing investigation.
Howard's motion provides fresh, if limited, details about what type of information prosecutors put forth to obtain the arrest warrants. They include details on rapes DeAngelo allegedly committed, which can't be tried because they are past the statute of limitations, she wrote.
Also included is a statement attributed to an unidentified homicide victim, witness statements from decades ago, theories on DeAngelo's alleged methods and evidence items, according to the motion.
"Publicizing this information will affect the reliability of witness testimony and the fairness of the trial," Howard wrote.
The affidavits do not include extensive information about the use of genealogical websites used to link DeAngelo to the case through DNA, she wrote.
Attorneys for the news outlets argued unsealing the warrants could provide additional details about the techniques used to identify him. Their motion also cites the longstanding right to access court records and the immense interest in the case.
A hearing on the news outlets' case is scheduled for Monday.
Judge says 1st Amendment protects paper accused of littering
QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York judge has dismissed littering charges filed against a newspaper publisher after complaints from people who didn't like the paper's political coverage or how it was delivered.
The Post-Star says Queensbury Town Justice Michael Muller ruled that the "This Week" newspaper is protected by the First Amendment and cannot legally be considered "refuse, trash or litter."
Muller found that the weekly published by The Post-Star contained "newsworthy articles of general public interest" as well as advertising.
A group upset over Post-Star coverage of the Queensbury town supervisor race had urged residents who didn't want the unsolicited home delivery of "This Week" to file complaints with the sheriff's office.
The prosecutor did not oppose the paper's motion for dismissal.
Post-Star publisher Robert Forcey says he's happy with the decision.
Councilman proposes bill to expedite FOIL for journalists
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City councilman wants city agencies to give journalists priority to receive responses on Freedom of Information Law requests.
Democratic Councilman Ritchie Torres, who represents the Bronx, has introduced new legislation that would create a category of professional journalists for whom FOIL requests would be expedited. The New York Times reports the legislation would require city agencies to deliver requests within 10 business days, and then a further six month deadline.
Torres said Tuesday that the bill was inspired by reporting on the administration of President Trump as well as Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio's legal battle to bar disclosure of certain emails.
A spokesperson for the mayor says he opposes Torres' bill, saying members of the media shouldn't have priority over other New York residents.
Muskegon school board may have violated Open Meetings Act again
MUSKEGON, MI – As the Muskegon Public Schools Board of Education works to "hit the reset button" and earn back the community's trust, its members may have again violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
Discussion related the 2018-19 budget that may have needed to take place in an open meeting was part of a closed session on "personnel matters" on Thursday, May 3. That became evident when the board discussed the 2018-19 budget in open session on Tuesday, May 8, and continually referenced the closed session conversation.
After the May 8 meeting, board President Cindy Larson admitted that the board had discussed "personnel matters" related the budget in closed session. The conversation seems to have included cutting positions and reducing some salaries.
"Here's the problem, honest to God - and maybe I'm just not smart enough to figure this out - when we talk personnel, it directly impacts the budget, so it's really hard to separate the two, and that's what happened in closed session," Larson said. "We had absolutely every intention, which we did, to discuss personnel, but personnel also impacts the budget. That's all I can say."
When asked after the May 3 meeting if the 2018-19 budget had been discussed in closed session, Larson said, "No, we talked about personnel issues."
Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA), personnel-related topics that can be discussed in closed session are complaints, suspension or discipline and evaluations, but only if a closed meeting is requested by the individual.
"That does not sound like it fits within the reasons for going into closed session," said Ashley Glime, an attorney for the Michigan Press Association Media Hotline, of the board's consideration of budget-related personnel cuts in closed session. "It definitely sounds like they're trying to get around the rule. ... If there's ambiguity, it should be decided in favor of an open meeting."
Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2018/05/muskegon_school_board_misused.html
Attorney: Board of Regents likely violated open-meetings law
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence attorney says the Kansas Board of Regents likely violated state open-meetings laws by employing the former University of Kansas chancellor as a special adviser without taking a public vote.
Attorney Max Kautsch said regents could've violated state law when they gathered in a closed-door session to approve Bernadette Gray-Little's salary as special adviser, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
"It seems pretty clear to me that it is a violation," Kautsch said.
Kautsch's criticism stems from a recently released letter written in 2016 by the board's president offering Gray-Little a more than $510,000 salary with the position "as an expression of our gratitude."
Board spokesman Matt Keith provided the newspaper with a 28-page FAQ document authored by the Kansas attorney general's office and said the regents have "the authority to discuss personnel matters in executive session."
"Accordingly, the board's practice has generally been to conduct any discussions dealing with personnel matters in executive session," Keith told the newspaper.
He said the act doesn't prohibit the board from reaching a consensus in executive session as long as it doesn't "take binding action in executive session."
But Kautsch argues that the board's offer letter fits the description of "binding action," which he said can only be made in public session.
"We already know it is unseemly because it took this long for it to become public," Kautsch said. "It seems like it is a violation of the open meetings act and a violation of the public's trust."
Gray-Little announced stepped down as chancellor last summer. She has declined to comment on her advising role, referring questions to the board.
Read more: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2018/may/08/media-attorney-argues-board-regents-violated-open-/
Brockhouse requests DA investigate possible meeting violation by City Council
Councilman Greg Brockhouse has requested that District Attorney Nico LaHood investigate whether the City Council violated the Texas Open Meetings Act last week when the body concluded that San Antonio should not submit a bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention.
After an executive session meeting on Thursday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced to the local press corps that San Antonio would not seek the convention, saying that the majority of the council agreed that the cost of pursuing the event — an international spectacle that could draw 40,000 visitors, including 15,000 members of the media — outweighed the potential economic impact that has been estimated to be as much as $200 million.
After the meeting, Brockhouse and Councilman Clayton Perry both lambasted the decision. Besides attacking Nirenberg for “failed leadership,” Brockhouse also suggested that the closed-door meeting was a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Late Tuesday, he sent a one-page letter to LaHood alleging that the meeting violated the act and seeking an investigation into the matter.
Nirenberg said in a statement that the closed session was conducted within the scope of the law.
Read more: https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/politics/article/Brockhouse-requests-DA-investigate-possible-12898723.php
Missouri House votes to toughen open records law
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House has passed a bill that would increase the attorney general's power to investigate open records violations.
The proposal, approved Tuesday in an 85-59 vote, would give the attorney general's office subpoena power when investigating state agencies for suspected violations of Missouri's open records law. Attorney General Josh Hawley has said his inability to subpoena witnesses inhibited his investigation of Gov. Eric Greitens' office's use of a message-destroying app earlier this year.
The bill would not, however, increase penalties for violators. A provision for higher penalties was in a more expansive version of the same proposal that passed the House last month but later stalled in the Senate.
This bill now heads to the Senate.
School district shuts down information after Stoneman Douglas shooting
The Broward school district’s repeated, emphatic — and it turns out, false — statements that Nikolas Cruz had not been in a controversial disciplinary program fit a pattern of an institution on the defensive and under siege.
Facing significant legal and political exposure over the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the district has tried to keep information from the public and put out untrue and misleading statements, frustrating parents who say this is the time for maximum transparency.
The district is fighting in court against the release of school surveillance video. It flatly refused to issue any records regarding the shooting to the news media, in a possible violation of the state’s open-records law. Superintendent Robert Runcie has blocked critics, including parents, from his Twitter account. More than two months after the shooting, a Broward Sheriff’s detective told a state commission on school safety that he was still waiting for the district to provide all of Cruz’s disciplinary records.
The worst came last week, when Runcie acknowledged that his forceful denials that Cruz had been involved in the Promise program, which is intended to provide an alternative to the arrest of students for minor offenses, were wrong. The district had repeatedly dismissed as “fake news” suggestions that Cruz was in the program.
Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-florida-school-shooting-district-stonewalling-20180510-story.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 10, 2018
Bentley schools to pay former superintendent until September
BURTON, MI – Bentley schools will pay former superintendent Chris Arrington through September as part of a separation agreement with the district.
Arrington, who took over the superintendent role in August 2016, announced his resignation at the March 29 board meeting after being placed on non-disciplinary paid leave in December 2017 as part of an investigation into job-related concerns under the district's whistleblower policy.
The separation agreement, obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal through a Freedom of Information Act, notes Arrington was paid an annual salary of $115,000, as well as healthcare benefits of which he'll still be eligible for until fall.
Elaine Beckelic, president of the Bentley Board of Education, noted in an email on multiple FOIA requests that Arrington and the governing body entered into "a memorandum agreement and mutual releases."
City rejects request to ID officers in shooting
HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington is refusing to release the names of officers involved in an April shooting that left one man hospitalized.
Joshua David Ramey, 26, of Huntington, was shot by a Huntington police officer April 23, according to interim Police Chief Hank Dial, after two police officers responded at about 9:15 p.m. in the 3500 block of Bostwick Road, off Nickel Plate Road in the Guyandotte area, to reports of a suspicious person.
The Herald-Dispatch submitted a request for the police report concerning the incident under the Freedom of Information Act after Dial declined to release the names.
On Monday, City Attorney Scott Damron also declined the request.
"I have conferred with the appropriate officer at the Huntington Police Department, and I have determined that this matter is the subject of an ongoing police investigation. Therefore the release of the documents is exempt pursuant to the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act," Damron wrote in his response.
Damron concluded the letter by stating the city would be in a position to provide the documents once the investigation is completed.
According to previous statements from Dial, the officers had encountered the suspect outside of a residence and the man became combative with the officers, who first used a Taser in an attempt to subdue him. That didn't work and police soon after shot Ramey after he allegedly reached for a firearm in his possession.
Dial said Ramey's injuries did not appear to be life-threatening. One officer was treated and released from a hospital for injuries sustained in the incident.
Both officers were placed on administrative leave and will be offered counseling, standard procedure for officer-involved shootings with the department, Dial added.
Ramey has been arrested by Huntington police at least twice this year, and once in Putnam County, in cases alleging he was in possession of firearms, a large amount of cash and controlled substances. At the time of the shooting, he was out of jail on bonds amounting to $75,000 in two counties. He had an active warrant for his arrest for missing a hearing in Cabell County earlier in April, according to court documents.
The April shooting was the first officer-involved shooting for Huntington police in four years.
ACLU files federal suit over bus station citizenship stops
BANGOR, Maine (AP) — The Maine American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to get citizen checkpoint records stemming from a stopped coach bus.
The Bangor Daily News reports the ACLU filed the suit Tuesday after U.S. Customs and Border Protection failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act Request that was filed in January. According to the suit, customs agents stopped a coach bus at the Bangor Transportation Center on Jan. 14 to check the passengers' citizenship status.
The suit claims the event is just one of many reports of customs agents stopping bus passengers without a warrant or probable cause. The ACLU says the department records are of "significant public interest."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials declined to comment on pending litigation.
Information from: Bangor Daily News, http://www.bangordailynews.com
City won't release settlement figure in lawsuit over strip search allegations
Hazel Park elected officials, the city manager, clerk and attorney, are withholding details of a lawsuit settlement reached with two women who claim they were forced by police to expose and shake their breasts during a 2016 traffic stop.
Several municipal and Freedom of Information Act attorneys say the settlement should be public information, based on the state's Freedom of Information Act.
Hazel Park City Manager Edward Klobucher told MLive on Thursday, May 3 that he didn't know the settlement amount, didn't possess a copy of the settlement agreement and wasn't going to "hunt it down."
Klobucher and city attorney Janet Drumm offered multiple reasons why the settlement couldn't be released: the city doesn't possess a copy; it was a confidential agreement and therefore protected by attorney-client privilege; and insurance company attorneys approved the settlement without the city's prior approval.
The attorneys "basically settled it without checking with us first" and "we were not happy," Klobucher said.
Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2018/05/hazel_park_doesnt_know_how_muc.html
Judge: police don't have to release body-cam footage of stop
CHESTERFIELD, Va. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a Virginia police department is not required to publicly release body camera footage from a controversial traffic stop.
The judge said the footage is considered part of a criminal investigation and falls under an exemption in Virginian's Freedom of Information law.
The ruling came after Chesterfield police denied Reason magazine's request for a copy of the footage. Police also denied a request from The Associated Press.
Police invited reporters to view the video at headquarters.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the footage shows a car pulled over after rolling through a red light. Asked if he has anything illegal, the driver says he has a knife and starts to reach for it. An officer then aims his gun at him.
No shots were fired and no charges were filed.
Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.richmond.com
Victoria open meetings case heading to Minnesota Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — President Trump knew about a six-figure payment that Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.
How much Mr. Trump knew about the payment to Stephanie Clifford, the actress, and who else was aware of it have been at the center of a swirling controversy for the past 48 hours touched off by a television interview with Rudolph W. Giuliani, a new addition to the president’s legal team. The interview was the first time a lawyer for the president had acknowledged that Mr. Trump had reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the payments to Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels.
It was not immediately clear when Mr. Trump learned of the payment, which Mr. Cohen made in October 2016, at a time when news media outlets were poised to pay her for her story about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump in 2006. But three people close to the matter said that Mr. Trump knew that Mr. Cohen had succeeded in keeping the allegations from becoming public at the time the president denied it.
Ms. Clifford signed a nondisclosure agreement, and accepted the payment just days before Mr. Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Trump has denied he had an affair with Ms. Clifford and insisted that the nondisclosure agreement was created to prevent any embarrassment to his family.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/04/us/politics/trump-hush-payment-stormy-daniels.html?utm_source=CNN+Media%3A+Reliable+Sources&utm_campaign=f2bfa2323a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_06_06&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e95cdc16a9-f2bfa2323a-91452821
Appeals court: Stories on Minnesota cop death were protected
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday in favor of two media organizations that covered the 2012 killing of a police officer, saying news stories that named a man as a suspect were protected because they accurately summarized official law enforcement statements.
The case stems from the Nov. 29, 2012, killing of Cold Spring police Officer Tom Decker. Shortly after Decker's death, authorities announced that Ryan Larson was arrested — but Larson was released days later without being charged and was later cleared.
Larson sued Twin Cities television station KARE-TV and the St. Cloud Times for defamation, arguing they went too far in reporting that authorities suspected him of ambushing and killing the officer. The media outlets argued their reporting was protected because it was based on information provided by law enforcement. The Associated Press was among the news organizations that filed briefs in support of the defendants.
The appeals court agreed with the media outlets, ruling that the "fair-report privilege" protects news reports that accurately summarize or fairly abridge information relayed by law enforcement during official news conferences or news releases.
Read more: https://apnews.com/dc58e9b696b740e9b6f08caaaf2b45a1/Appeals-court:-Stories-on-Minnesota-cop-death-were-protected
Rhode Island judge lifts order barring juror contact
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island judge who had barred reporters and members of the public from contacting jurors in a high-profile murder trial has lifted her order.
The Providence Journal filed a lawsuit alleging First Amendment rights violations after Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel gave the order last month after a jury convicted Jorge DePina of second-degree murder in the death of his 10-year-old daughter.
The New England First Amendment Coalition, the New England Newspaper and Press Association Inc., and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island backed the paper.
In her reversal Monday, Vogel wrote that "members of the media are not precluded from contacting the jurors."
The newspaper's executive editor says he is "gratified that the court has confirmed our First Amendment right" to report on the case.
FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case
When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to "credible" sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.
Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, and after talking with sources they filed FOIA requests for all correspondence and documentary evidence of the allegations that were submitted to the governor's office. After a month, the office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, no correspondence and no investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' office now says it made a mistake when it said it didn't have a complaint detailing sexual harassment allegations against a longtime ally of the governor who was fired last month.
Read more: https://t.co/XcpPLIQkBq
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 3, 2018
AP, other media seek access to records in Mueller probe
The Associated Press and other news organizations asked a judge to unseal records in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, citing overwhelming public interest in a case they said was among the most important in American history.
The news media coalition is asking specifically for transcripts of hearings in the ongoing prosecution of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as well as access to sealed search warrant applications filed by investigators.
Any interest in protecting the integrity of the probe, which is examining potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, is outweighed by the public's right to the records and by public interest in "one of the most consequential criminal investigations in our nation's history," the media court filing states.
The other organizations in the coalition include The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and Politico.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/04/25/us/politics/ap-us-trump-russia-probe-media-access.html
Flint Journal: Former school superintendent rated ineffective days before he's ousted
Former Flint School District Superintendent Bilal Tawwab decided to leave Flint schools three days after he was given the lowest rating available during his evaluation, the Flint (Michigan) Journal reports.
Tawwab was rated "ineffective" in his review for the 2016-17 school year, according to documents obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal in a Freedom of Information Act request.
"Superintendent refused to sign when given this document on January 30, 2018," wrote Board of Education President Diana Wright in the only written comment made on the evaluation.
Tawwab then told the district that he'd serve out his contract through the end of next school year and would leave Flint schools, according to a Feb. 2 statement from Wright.
He didn't last that long.
Tawwab and two others on his staff were placed on administrative leave on March 13.
Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2018/04/former_flint_superintendent_ra.html
AP: Texas church gunman vowed not to hurt anyone 5 years earlier
The gunman in a mass shooting at a Texas church last year told a military judge in 2012 he "would never allow myself to hurt someone" again while admitting to abusing his stepson and a long struggle with anger, according to Air Force records obtained by The Associated Press.
The documents and transcripts offer a rare look at Devin Patrick Kelley speaking at length and in his own words, as few examples have previously surfaced in the six months since he opened fire during a Sunday service in tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Kelley killed more than two dozen people in November 2017 in the worst mass shooting in Texas history. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was shot and chased by two men who heard the gunfire at the church.
The AP obtained hundreds of pages surrounding Kelley's court-martial through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Read more: http://qconline.com/news/national/years-before-massacre-gunman-promised-not-to-hurt-anyone/article_fc58244c-e233-53d7-985c-218222285ae4.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • April 26, 2018
AP, four other news organizations pressed for release of Cohen client ID
An attorney representing five news organizations, including The Associated Press, successfully persuaded a judge to release the name of a third client of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in a notable victory for public access.
Joining with The New York Times, ABC News, Newsday and CNN, AP engaged attorneys Rachel Strom and Robert Balin to be present during the hearings for Cohen in New York.
Strom helped to keep the hearings open on one day, over several objections, while Balin seemingly made the difference in another day’s disclosure of Sean Hannity’s name as a client of Cohen’s – a revelation that made headlines.
The judge, after hearing Balin’s legal arguments, said that the client’s desire not to be named publicly was not enough under the law.
Judge rules that state documents in Jacob Wetterling case must be released
A Minnesota judge has ordered the release of state files related to the 27-year investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Family members had objected to the release of certain documents they considered too personal, but District Judge Ann L. Carrott ruled that a Minnesota law unambiguously states that investigative files become public once a case has concluded, unless there’s a specific exception in the law.
A coalition of news media and open government entities has sought access to the full record.
CMU's Sue Guevera earns at least $340,000 under new deal
Central Michigan's historic run to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 has earned long-time coach Sue Guevara a substantial raise that draws her significantly closer to the highest-paid women's basketball coaches in the state, The Detroit News reports.
Guevera's new contract, officially signed earlier this week, will pay her a base salary of $290,000 a year, according to details obtained by the paper through a Freedom of Information Act request. That's a 19.3-percent raise from the $234,000 she was earning under a revised deal signed in March 2015.
Her new, five-year contract runs through the 2022-23 season, a two-year extension.
North Dakota Industrial Commission falls 8 months behind on meeting minutes
The North Dakota Industrial Commission is eight months behind in publishing meeting minutes, and it’s not the first time for such a delay, the Bismarck Tribune reports.
Minutes for the commission that regulates oil and gas development, the Bank of North Dakota, the State Mill and Elevator and other entities have not been updated since last July.
Executive Director Karlene Fine said her assistant has been out for medical reasons for six months, which contributed to the delay.
“I’ve been having to carry the load for her and myself,” Fine said. “I haven't had a chance to get the minutes finished or up and posted. Our goal is to get them up after every meeting.”
But Sarah Vogel, who once served on the commission as former North Dakota attorney general, said the blame for the backlog ought to fall on the elected members of the Industrial Commission, not the staff.
Unsealed documents: Deputy says man's shooting was justified
A federal judge unsealed court documents that show a North Carolina deputy's strategy for fighting a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of a man fatally shot on his porch in 2015, The Associated Press reports.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle made the documents public after media outlets had argued there was no compelling reason for keeping the information secret. Lawyers representing a law enforcement agency, the Harnett County Sheriff's Office, argued they were following laws requiring secrecy for certain investigative documents. The judge said he found no "important governmental interest" was served by keeping them under seal.
The media outlets — The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, WRAL-TV, WTVD-TV and The Associated Press — said their goal was transparency, not influencing the outcome of the case.
The documents elaborate on the timeline and circumstances surrounding the death of John David Livingston, who was fatally shot in 2015 by a Harnett County deputy.
Iowa governor acknowledges complaint about fired ally
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' office acknowledged it does have a complaint detailing sexual harassment allegations against a longtime ally of the governor who was fired last month, The Associated Press reports..
The acknowledgement is a reversal of earlier denials, which the office says were an oversight. The Republican governor said she is withholding a written complaint from the public to protect victims who reported allegations against former Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison.
An aide to Reynolds received the complaint against Jamison on March 23, the governor's office told The AP. Jamison was fired the next day.
The governor's office argued the complaint isn't subject to the Iowa's open records law.
"The public's right to know has to be balanced with the interests and well-being of the victims. They requested confidentiality, and I can't allow them to be victimized again by betraying that trust," Reynolds said in a statement.
Detroit News: Calley manager forced out of county post, according to records
Former Oakland County economic development leader Matthew Gibb was asked to resign by Executive L. Brooks Patterson five days after allegedly yelling at an employee and being called a "bully" by another, according to documents obtained by The Detroit News.
Gibb, who is now gubernatorial campaign manager for Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, insists his resignation was planned and unrelated to an internal investigation of a Jan. 24 staff meeting. He announced he was stepping down as deputy executive on Jan. 30.
Records disclosed to The News under a Freedom of Information Act request show Patterson had solicited Gibb's resignation a day earlier after determining it was "in the county's best interest" to "terminate" his employment.
The move followed an internal inquiry into a heated confrontation between Gibb with marketing and communications supervisor Paula Harrington, whom he accused of insubordination in an exchange she described as "intimidating and embarrassing."
Read more: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2018/04/23/patterson-gibb-terminate-oakland-county/34184769/
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • April 19, 2018
News media sue over California's new execution rules
The Los Angeles Times and other news media organizations sued over California's new execution rules, saying they would bar journalists from fully reporting on the lethal injection procedure. The lawsuit is the latest challenge as the state seeks to resume executions for the first time since 2006.
The execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison leaves critical steps out of public view, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco against the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the corrections secretary and San Quentin's warden.
The lethal drug used in an execution would be prepared and administered from a separate neighboring "infusion control room" that would be out of view because of the way the complex was constructed in 2008.
Read more: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/news-media-sue-over-californias-new-execution-rules/ar-AAvMwNV
AP: Fighting for access in Cohen hearings
An attorney representing five news organizations, including The Associated Press, successfully persuaded a judge to release the name of a third client of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in a notable victory for public access. Joining with The New York Times, ABC News, Newsday and CNN, AP engaged attorneys Rachel Strom and Robert Balin to be present during the hearings for Cohen in New York on Friday and Monday.
Read more: https://blog.ap.org/industry-insights/fighting-for-access-in-cohen-hearings?utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=AP_CorpComm
Government starts making White House visitor logs public
Climate change skeptics, a foe of regulations, a lobbyist for motor manufacturers and the conservative Heritage Foundation are among those who've gotten a foot in the gates of the White House complex in President Donald Trump's administration, according to records the administration began releasing after a watchdog group sued to see them.
The Associated Press reported that Public Citizen filed suit in August saying the Trump administration was violating the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release information about visitors to four agencies within the White House campus. The Trump administration and the group agreed to a settlement for the release of the information on Feb. 13.
The information provides a glimpse of who has found an audience in the Republican White House, under a president who spent a lifetime in private business.
Navy: Training jet flew too low – for thrills – before crash
The Navy is citing pilot error for a military training jet crash in Tennessee that killed the two aboard, saying it was being flown for thrills and too low.
Navy officials said in a report the T-45C Goshawk was flying below allowable altitudes last October when it plunged into a forest near Tellico Plains. The report was emailed to The Associated Press, which requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.
The crash killed 31-year-old instructor Lt. Patrick Ruth from Metairie, Louisiana, and 25-year-old student pilot Lt. j.g. Wallace Burch from Horn Lake, Mississippi. Both were stationed at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi.
Read more: https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2018/04/15/navy-training-jet-crashed-based-meridian-mississippi/519129002/
Complaint: Atlanta city officials violated open records law
Two news outlets have filed a complaint with the Georgia attorney general alleging open records violations by Atlanta city officials.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that it, along with WSB-TV, filed the complaint with Attorney General Chris Carr. It alleges "a culture of political interference" surrounding open records requests at City Hall.
The newspaper reports that the complaint gives 10 examples of alleged violations of the Georgia Open Records Act and "a pervasive culture of non-compliance" dating to July 2016.
The complaint seeks mediation to create enforcement measures to ensure compliance and the appointment of an independent public records officer.
Wisconsin paid $591,000 to settle misconduct, harassment claims at university
The state paid at least $591,000 in settlements in the last decade in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault or harassment, by UW-Madison employees and its affiliated hospital, public records show.
The records had been requested by the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison and other media outlets, the newspaper reported.
UW-Madison released records of 20 cases of alleged misconduct involving faculty, staff and students, as well as the university’s investigations of them.
The State Journal and other media sought the records after the State Journal chronicled the university’s handling of sexual harassment complaints in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.
Read more: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/university/state-paid-k-to-settle-misconduct-harassment-claims-at-uw/article_9544870d-73bc-5e5b-870d-5697b3983126.html
Lawyers: Journalist was detained by ICE because of reporting
Lawyers for a journalist who was arrested in Tennessee and then placed in an immigration detention facility said that the government was trying to suppress his reporting and violated his rights of freedom of speech and the press, The Associated Press reports.
Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center have asked a federal court to release Manuel Duran Ortega, a reporter who was arrested earlier this month in Memphis during a demonstration that coincided with days of remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in that city.
Duran, 42, was working for Spanish-language media outlet Memphis Noticias and has written stories raising questions about local police and their cooperation with federal immigration officials, one of his attorneys at the SPLC said.
A spokeswoman with the Memphis Police Department and a federal immigration official insisted that Duran's journalism had nothing to do with his arrest and detention. U.S. immigration officials maintain that Duran's immigration status was flagged to them only after he was arrested by local police.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/fe29c2bb9c7743cb992a89a461b39c86
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • April 12, 2018
AP: Mulvaney gives big pay bumps to his hires at consumer agency
Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's appointee to oversee the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has given big pay raises to the deputies he has hired to help him run the bureau, according to salary records obtained by The Associated Press. Mulvaney has hired at least eight political appointees since he took over the bureau in late November. Four of them are making $259,500 a year and one is making $239,595. That is more than the salaries of members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and nearly all federal judges apart from those who sit on the Supreme Court. The salary records came as part of a records request submitted by the AP earlier this year. … Mulvaney, as Trump's budget director, has long railed against government spending. One of his first directives as acting CFPB director was to announce he needed zero dollars in funding to run the agency, pledging to spend down the bureau's surplus fund this quarter before requiring more money from the Fed — the CFPB is funded by the Fed and not through the traditional congressional budget process.
Read more: http://newsok.com/article/feed/1975544
Ann Arbor News: Former special education staffers face child abuse charges
Two former Ann Arbor Public Schools employees are facing child abuse charges related to incidents authorities allege happened in a Burns Park Elementary School special education classroom in the fall of 2016, the Ann Arbor News reports. Police say a teacher struck a student in the head and a teacher's assistant kicked a student. Lisa Mannor, 35, of Ypsilanti, and Tiffany Massey, 31, of Belleville, today are charged with one count of fourth degree child abuse, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or probation for up to five years. … Both women have since resigned from Ann Arbor Public Schools. Ann Arbor Public Schools staff were made aware of the allegations on Oct. 12, 2016, according to a memo from the human resources administrator included in Mannor's personnel file. The Ann Arbor News reviewed Mannor's and Massey's personnel files through the Freedom of Information Act.
Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2018/04/ex-ann_arbor_schools_special_e.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • April 4, 2018
Lansing State Journal: Michigan State paid $500,000 to track social media on Nassar
A public relations firm billed Michigan State University more than $500,000 for January as it tracked social media activity surrounding the Larry Nassar case, which often included the accounts of victims and their families, journalists, celebrities and politicians.
The work, which also included collecting and evaluating news articles, had previously been done by members of MSU’s Office of Communication and Brand Strategy, some of whom continued to do so in January.
The work by Weber Shandwick, a New York-based firm, totaled $517,343 for more than 1,440 hours of work, according to documents obtained through a public records request. … Weber Shandwick no longer works with the university, an MSU spokeswoman said. She did not provide a reason and referred comment to the firm.
Read more: https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2018/03/28/msu-spent-500-k-january-monitor-social-media-accounts-nassar-victims-others/447378002/
MSU rejects News' request for Nassar boss records
Michigan State University leaders have denied The Detroit News' appeal to review the personnel file of the ex-dean of the college's medical school and former boss of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar.
The decision came the same day authorities arrested William Strampel, the former dean at MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The newspaper sought records concerning Strampel through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act in December — the same month he took a medical leave and weeks before Nassar was sentenced for sexual assaults involving former patients.
A Detroit News investigation found the dean was among at least 14 university staffers who received reports about Nassar's misconduct in the two decades before his arrest.
AP: Health care inadequate in tribal jails
At a tribal jail in Washington state, an inmate with a broken leg banged on his cell door, screaming for pain medication, only to be denied.
Hundreds of miles away, a diabetic man jailed on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming needed insulin, yet government records say authorities were unable to get any for him.
And jail staff at other reservation lockups on several occasions mistakenly gave inmates the wrong medication.
These episodes, and dozens of others noted in limited detail in 2016 jail incident reports collected by the federal government, underscore what health professionals and jail administrators describe as a deep-seated problem: Scores of federally funded jails on reservations have no in-house nurses or other medical staff, often leaving corrections officers to scramble in emergencies to determine whether to send an inmate to the hospital, or provide basic care themselves — sometimes with unfortunate consequences. Jail data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs from 2017 was not yet available.
(This report is part of the CJ Project, an initiative to broaden the news coverage of criminal justice issues affecting New Mexico's diverse communities, created by the Asian American Journalists Association with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. For more information: http://www.aaja.org/cj-project.)
Oregonian: How Nike dominated Oregon high schools in one fell swoosh
A caravan of coaches paced the empty halls at Sandy High School in search of a symbol.
Inside one classroom, a sales representative showed off the latest in Nike gear. In another, it was Adidas. An agent pushing Under Armour waited inside a third.
The Oregonian reports that the sports apparel companies were jostling to outfit varsity teams at the 1,400-student school at the base of Mount Hood. School officials craved the payday that came with exclusivity, which helps score free merchandise in an era of fluctuating state funding.
"We weren't trying to create competition," recalled Wade Lockett, the school's athletic director at the time of the 2016 event.
It almost didn't matter. In the battle for Oregon high schools, Nike had already won.
Nike dominates Oregon's high school marketplace, inking deals to exclusively outfit 93 percent of all large public institutions that hold apparel agreements, according to an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Swooshes appear on prep uniforms from Pendleton to Portland to Central Point – and nearly everywhere in between.
The newsroom filed public records requests for apparel agreements with every school district at the Class 5A and 6A athletic levels, where schools typically exceed 675 students. Out of 80 public schools, 75 have agreements with shoe companies. And of those, 70 are with Nike.
Nike provides its schools with free gear worth more than $1 million a year, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive's review, a sum that doesn't include merchandise given to four of five private schools that also wear the Swoosh.
Read more: http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/page/how_nike_dominated_oregon_high.html
Grand Rapids Press: State senator urged regulators to ignore environmental protestors
A state senator asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to look beyond protesters to issue permits for a proposed potash plant in central Michigan, according to an email from a DEQ official.
Michigan Potash Co. LLC is waiting on the results of its application for a facility near Evart, that requires DEQ permits. The Colorado-based company's proposal is to extract potash, used as crop fertilizer, through solution mining by pumping water or brine into targeted zones to dissolve and recover the potassium-rich salt commodity.
The proposal, which the DEQ said originally included two wells with an assumed capacity to pump 1,000 gallons of water from the ground per minute, as well as mining wells and disposal wells, drew comments of concern from some area residents worried about water and environmental impacts.
Jennifer A. Ferrigan, a geologist and permit coordinator at the DEQ, said in emails obtained by MLive and the Grand Rapids Press through a Freedom of Information Act request that Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, called her in May 2017 about the proposed Potash plant.
"His concern was also that the DEQ look beyond the protesters, to issue these permits if they are in compliance with the Part 625 mineral wells statute and rules," the email states, in part. "I told him we consider any comments we receive, and evaluate the comments with respect to Part 625 statute and rules."
Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2018/04/state_senator_encouraged_deq_t.html
Sioux City (Iowa) Journal: Enrollment down for South Dakota family planning program
The first patient to receive services through Siouxland Community Health Center's Title X family planning program needed an expired birth control implant removed.
As the appointment progressed, health care providers discovered a potential sign of cancer.
"She came in, we removed (the implant) and we found a relatively substantial lump in her breast," Brandi Steck, the health center's HIV and Title X program manager, said. "She said she noticed the lump about two months ago and just didn't know where to go." …
The health center is a sub-recipient of Title X funding from the Family Planning Council of Iowa. Title X is a federal grant program that provides low-income Americans with family planning and preventative health care services, including cervical cancer screening, contraception, infertility counseling and STD testing.
Iowa's new $3 million Family Planning Program (FPP) replaces the Iowa Family Planning Network (IFPN), or the Medicaid waiver for family planning. Providers who offer abortion services can't participate in the FPP. ...
According to the data, which was obtained by the Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FPP had 6,542 enrolled members in December 2017, just 46 percent of the enrollees the IFPN had in December 2016. Family planning program enrollment has been declining since at least December 2013, according to the data.
Media outlets ask to unseal evidence in deputy shooting case
A North Carolina sheriff's office can't prove a compelling reason to keep evidence secret while it fights a lawsuit alleging a pattern of excessive force that culminated in a deputy fatally shooting a man at his home, a group of media outlets argued.
A lawyer for the news outlets filed a motion to intervene in the case, asking the federal judge to unseal deposition transcripts and other evidence. The group includes The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, WRAL-TV, WTVD-TV and The Associated Press.
The underlying lawsuit was brought by plaintiffs including the mother of John David Livingston, who was fatally shot in 2015 by a Harnett County deputy. Others allege excessive force in separate instances.
Kentucky governor wins initial round in social media fight
Kentucky's Republican governor has won an initial round in his court fight over whether he violated free-speech rights by blocking people from his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove denied plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Gov. Matt Bevin from blocking anyone from his social media accounts.
The case is part of an emerging national debate about whether elected officials infringe on First Amendment rights in doing so. Bevin is a frequent user of Twitter and Facebook.
In his ruling, Van Tatenhove said the governor was not suppressing speech but "merely culling his Facebook and Twitter accounts to present a public image that he desires."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky sued Bevin on behalf of two Kentucky residents who were blocked by Bevin on social media. The ACLU says more than 600 people have been blocked from seeing the governor's postings or engaging with him there.
Settlement filed in newspaper's suit over witness payments
A legal settlement in a suit by a Las Vegas newspaper requires Clark County prosecutors to disclose records of payments made to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the settlement to a suit the newspaper filed in 2014 against the District Attorney's Office was filed recently in District Court.
According to the newspaper, the payments were kept secret from defense attorneys for nearly a decade until a Review-Journal investigation revealed their existence in August 2014.
County commissioners recently voted to pay the newspaper $55,000 for attorney fees as part of the settlement.
Eastern Michigan spent $23 million on sports in 2017
Eastern Michigan University used $23.1 million of institutional funds to subsidize its $32.3 million athletics budget during 2017, according to financial figures reported to the NCAA.
NCAA financial disclosure documents, obtained by The Ann Arbor News in a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that EMU spent $1.64 million less on athletics in 2017, compared to 2015. The $23.1 million spent in 2017 equals $1,040 spent per student last year to subsidize the athletics budget.
The university made news last week when it announced plans to slash that budget by an addition $2.4 million by cutting four sports - softball, wrestling program, men's swimming and diving and women's tennis - as the university aims to erase an overall budget deficit between $4.5 million and $5.5 million. Last month, EMU announced it was cutting nearly 60 staff positions to help erase the shortfall.
Cosby judge rejects media request on jury pool
The judge in Bill Cosby's sex assault retrial has rejected a news media request to let two pool reporters into the courtroom where potential jurors are being questioned as a group.
Judge Steven O'Neill said that Cosby's lawyers objected to the Pennsylvania News Media Association's request because they feared it could hurt their ability to find a fair and impartial jury.
Reporters are watching the proceedings on a closed-circuit feed from an adjacent courtroom. The camera shows the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers, but not potential jurors.
O'Neill says individual questioning of potential jurors will take place directly in front of reporters.
Cosby is charged with drugging and molesting a former Temple University women's basketball official at his home in 2004. He has pleaded not guilty.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • March 29, 2018
Justice Department won’t release report on Spokane police
The U.S. Department of Justice has refused to release its report on the Spokane Police Department's reforms after a public records request and appeal by The Spokesman-Review.
The newspaper says that the report details how well Spokane police implemented 42 recommendations from the Justice Department's collaborative reform process, a voluntary review the department undertook starting in 2012. The reform was focused on evaluating policies related to use of force.
The Justice Department denied the newspaper's information request on Dec. 1, citing an exemption in the federal Freedom of Information Act. The newspaper appealed the decision, which was denied again under the same section of the law.
Delaware spends $370,000 defending against prison riot lawsuit
The state of Delaware has spent more than $370,000 defending two former governors and a half dozen current and former prison officials against a federal lawsuit filed after a deadly inmate uprising last year.
The sum was reported by Delaware's Office of Management and Budget in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Delaware State News.
Correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd was killed and three other prison staffers were taken hostage during the February 2017 uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
Army Corps faces questions about vetting border wall company
Federal officials are saying little about how they chose a Nebraska startup to build an $11 million section of border wall in California, including whether they knew of the company's connections to a construction firm flagged in a government audit for "many potential fraud indicators."
The top Democrat on the House Committee on National Security is seeking answers from the Department of Homeland Security on what vetting was used last year to select SWF Constructors of Omaha for the job. The company, founded last year with only one employee, is an offshoot of Edgewood, New York-based Coastal Environmental Group, which has been repeatedly sued for underpaying or failing to pay subcontractors.
A 2016 Interior Department internal audit report obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request found that Coastal had cash flow problems and violated federal requirements to promptly pay workers. Those problems were cited even before it was hired in 2013 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clean up two wildlife refuges following Superstorm Sandy.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • March 21, 2018
Miami Herald: Authorities release video of Parkland shooting after lawsuit
Newly released surveillance footage appears to support the Broward sheriff’s account that a campus deputy rushed to the Parkland high school building where a mass shooting was unfolding — but never entered to engage the gunman. Authorities released the video showing Deputy Scot Peterson and a civilian security guard hurrying on a golf cart to Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in the initial moments of what became Florida’s deadliest school shooting. But as shooter Nikolas Cruz remained inside for another four minutes — killing 17 people and wounding 15 — Peterson appeared to remain around the southeast corner of the building. … The release of the video stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and other media outlets against the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County school district, seeking release of video clips.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article205289309.html
New York Times: Federal agency courted alcohol industry for study on drinking
It was going to be a study that could change the American diet, a huge clinical trial that might well deliver all the medical evidence needed to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle. That was how two prominent scientists and a senior federal health official pitched the project during a presentation at the luxurious Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2014. And the audience members who were being asked to help pay for the $100 million study seemed receptive: They were all liquor company executives. The 10-year government trial is now underway, and Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken and other alcohol companies are picking up most of the tab, through donations to a private foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health. … The New York Times looked at the study after obtaining emails and travel vouchers under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as from interviews with former federal officials.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/17/health/nih-alcohol-study-liquor-industry.html
Des Moines Register: Confessions of lottery scammer
12-15-18-29-38-41. Eddie Tipton jotted down the numbers on a yellow sticky note as he sat at his desk in Urbandale more than a decade ago. Around him were more sticky notes filled with number sets that he carefully wrote down as they spun up on his computer screen. The numbers were generated by a cryptic two-line software code Tipton had planted in his employer’s computer system at the Multi-State Lottery Association. The office building was virtually empty as Tipton ran test after test, zeroing in on the possible winning numbers for an upcoming $4.8 million lottery jackpot drawing in Colorado. His code would let him narrow the drawing’s winning odds from 5 million to 1 to 200 to 1. And, over time, it would allow him to hijack at least five winning drawings totaling more than $24 million in prizes in Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma — the biggest lottery scam in U.S. history. The Des Moines Register obtained court transcripts of the confession through an open records request.
Read more: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/2018/03/15/how-gaming-geek-checkered-past-pulled-off-biggest-lottery-scam-u-s-history/397657002/
Pioneer Press: Minnesota’s bid for Amazon headquarters
Amazon HQ2 won’t be in Minnesota. But not for a lack of trying. On Thursday, Sept. 7, the Seattle-based online retail behemoth publicly announced it wanted to build a 50,000-employee second corporate headquarters in a major North American city and would entertain pitches. The deadline: Oct. 19. And everyone went nuts. Here and around the continent. Within hours, Greater MSP — a Twin Cities regional development agency — had assumed the lead and was working with top state bureaucrats and planning a meeting for the next morning in the Governor’s Residence to mount Minnesota’s bid in what would be a 6-week whirlwind that was done largely out of the public eye. It didn’t succeed. In January, Amazon announced that from among 238 proposals from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Scarborough, Maine, there were 20 finalists. The Twin Cities was not among them. The closest was Chicago. The company has said its final choice will be announced later this year. But those behind Minnesota’s roughly 100-page bid, which included 18 metro locations, say it was a worthy exercise in both its aspirations and in the crucible it created to bring to the fore what the state has to offer. Much of it remains shrouded in secrecy. But last week, the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development released reams of public documents, notes and emails in response to public information requests by the Pioneer Press and other news organizations. The records filled three file boxes.
Read more: https://www.twincities.com/2018/03/18/the-amazon-hq2-scramble-minnesotas-failed-bid-in-3-short-chapters/
Newspaper challenges Rhode Island’s refusal to release Amazon pitch
The Providence Journal is challenging Rhode Island's refusal to release its pitch for Amazon's new headquarters even though the state didn't make the cut for potential sites.
The newspaper reports that it filed a complaint with Rhode Island's attorney general, arguing the decision violates state law allowing access to public records.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has said the state wouldn't release its pitch for the $5 billion new campus for competitive reasons.
Other states, including neighboring Massachusetts, made their bids public.
The Journal filed a public records request Jan. 25, after Rhode Island wasn't selected. That request and an appeal were denied.
The newspaper says the public has a right to know what Amazon was offered.
Read more: http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180312/journal-challenges-ris-withholding-of-failed-amazon-hq2-proposal
Detroit Free Press: Judge orders University of Michigan to release records
A state judge has ruled the University of Michigan improperly withheld financial information from the Detroit Free Press about a top university official, rejecting the argument that his compensation formula was a “trade secret.” The judge also ordered the university to pay the newspaper's legal fees, which have yet to be determined. The open-records lawsuit the Free Press filed in November asked the judge to order the university to turn over how it calculates the compensation for its chief investment officer. The university previously declined the Free Press’ Freedom of Information Act request for the relevant documents. The Free Press sought the documents as part of a broad probe published last month into the governance and oversight of the university’s endowment now valued at more than $11 billion.
Read more: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/03/16/judge-orders-u-m-turn-over-documents-withheldlated-open-records-law-withholding-pay-documents-free-p/423408002/
New email system will archive Montana lawmaker emails for 5 years
The Montana Legislature is replacing its current email system with one that is expected to make it easier to comply with open records requests.
The new email has an automatic archive system that will retain legislators' emails for five years after their terms end to comply with state law, the Missoulian reports.
Lee Newspapers of Montana reported in January 2017 that state employee emails were not being stored in the state archives.
Todd Everts, legal director of the state's Legislative Services Division, noted a lawsuit was filed against the division and Republican Sen. Jennifer Fielder a year ago by the ethics group Campaign for Accountability, after the division and Fielder failed to release records that had been requested.
Read more: http://missoulian.com/news/local/montana-legislative-council-approves-new-email-system/article_c533dd8e-492e-535f-acdc-7e7880efb6b8.html
Grocer group asks judges to bar food stamp figures' release
A grocery trade group has asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to block disclosure of annual food stamp revenues for stores participating in the federal program.
The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reports a Food Marketing Institute lawyer told a three-judge panel that releasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program information would cause competitive harm.
The group appealed a judge's 2016 ruling that the sales figures through the program are public records. They appealed after the program's administrator, the U.S. Agriculture Department, declined to do so in the Argus Leader’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Gavin Villareal, a Food Marketing Institute attorney, says the numbers could be used to determine a store's total sales. Newspaper lawyer Jon Arneson says there's no way to know the percentage of a store's overall sales that come from the program.
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