OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 17, 2019
The News & Observer: NC election violations alleged in 2016 were aired with Justice Department official
State findings of North Carolina election manipulation in 2016 were elevated as far as a top Justice Department official in Washington, D.C., but so far no charges have been filed by prosecutors at any level.
The head of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section met with staff from the North Carolina state board of elections about allegedly improper election activities in Bladen County that occurred during the 2016 elections, according to emails obtained by The News & Observer.
AnnaLou Tirol, the acting chief of the Public Integrity Section, was scheduled to meet with Josh Lawson, the state board’s general counsel, and Kim Strach, the board’s executive director, on Jan. 31, 2018. The meeting in Raleigh was set up by Brian S. Meyers, an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The meeting took place and there has been no email correspondence between the board and the Public Integrity Section since a follow-up email a day after the meeting, according to Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the state board.
Read more: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article224299050.html#topicLink=election-fraud-investigation
Times-Picayune: ’They fell asleep’: S&WB probe finds why 2 supervisors didn’t respond, leading to boil advisory
Two Sewerage & Water Board supervisors fell asleep on the job amid a drop in water pressure that led to a precautionary boil advisory on the east bank of New Orleans in mid-November, the utility’s executive director, Ghassan Korban, disclosed Thursday (Jan. 10). The two employees, who had overnight shifts, no longer work for the utility, he said.
The two supervisors were tasked with the same function at the utility’s Carrollton water-pumping plant on the morning of Nov. 17, 2018, when they fell asleep, Korban said. The Sewerage & Water Board’s power and water-pumping equipment was already in a fragile state at the time, made vulnerable by an Entergy line being knocked down by a vehicle and water pumps tripping out during power transfers to overcome the loss of the downed line.
“They were asleep,” Korban said in a meeting Thursday with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s editorial board.
“It was very difficult to predict that two people were going to just act the same way and be 100 percent irresponsible ... by falling asleep,” Korban added. “By the time that was recognized ... that cost us really a handful of minutes that was the difference.”
Read more: https://www.nola.com/politics/2019/01/they-fell-asleep-swb-probe-finds-why-2-supervisors-didnt-respond-leading-to-boil-advisory.html
Sun News of Myrtle Beach: County estimates $75,000 for records; cities offer for free
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — One coastal South Carolina government wanted to charge a newspaper $75,000 for a public records request that other governments filled for free.
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach used a Freedom of Information Act request to ask for all records on payments to settle lawsuits or threats to sue over the past five years.
Horry County told the newspaper it estimated a $75,000 cost to research and produce the records and said it would need an $18,875 deposit before it could even begin to process the request.
The cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach emailed the newspaper the records for free. The city of Conway charged $42.40 because it took a staffer an hour to compile the request and much smaller Surfside Beach charged $21.60, the newspaper reported.
Horry County did not provide a breakdown of how it came up with the $75,000 estimate. State law allows governments to charge for staff time at the salary rate of the lowest paid employee that could fill the request and charge for copies at a rate similar to a private copy business.
The county could be inflating its cost several ways, including charging for printing records it could transmit electronically, said South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers, who said the law requires governments to answer public records requests as cheaply as possible.
"The public should have access to information at the lowest possible cost, and it's hard to imagine this is the lowest possible cost," Rogers said.
The newspaper filed another public records request for emails about its first request and discovered messages from several department heads estimating how much it would cost to get the records. Their separate estimates added up to less than $10,000. County officials refused to explain the difference.
The newspaper also filed a third public records request to see if the county made large estimates for requests from other people. The county told them that would cost more than $10,000 to fulfill.
Read more: https://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/news/local/article223920490.html
Capital News Service: Legislators introduce journalist protections
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two delegates, both former journalists, introduced legislation Monday to protect student journalists from censorship and shield reporters from having to disclose confidential sources.
Dels. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, and Danica Roem, D-Prince William, urged the General Assembly to pass such legislation.
"Journalism matters. Facts matter," Roem said. "We have to get this right."
Sponsored by Roem, House Bill 2250 — introduced for the second year in a row — would protect members of the press from being forced by courts to reveal the identity of anonymous sources.
"The whole point of the shield law is to protect reporters from being jailed for protecting confidential sources," said Roem, a former reporter with The Prince William Times.
Read more: https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/general-assembly/virginia-legislators-want-to-stop-schools-from-censoring-student-media/article_3b95971b-8572-545d-87e8-357db8105489.html
Missouri lawmakers try to limit public access to records
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri House members are trying to exempt themselves from part of a voter-approved requirement that says their work emails are public records.
Republican House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo's proposed change to the House's internal rules would make some of representatives' records confidential, including any that contain "caucus strategy." The proposal, which is expected to come up for debate Tuesday, would also exempt emails with constituents and other related constituent records.
Vescovo was not immediately available to comment to The Associated Press about the proposal , but House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said Democrats would try to amend the plan. She noted that statewide elected officials have been subject to Missouri's Sunshine Law for years — and House Democrats voluntarily complied.
The suggested changes come just months after Missouri voters in November overwhelmingly approved Constitutional Amendment 1 . Known as "Clean Missouri" by its supporters, the measure added lawmakers to a long list of public officials who were already subject to the state open-records law, which grants the public access to government documents.
Read more: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/missouri/articles/2019-01-15/missouri-lawmakers-try-to-limit-public-access-to-records
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 10, 2019
Miami Herald: Florida health officials delayed notifying residents about tainted water, emails show
Linda Lawson thought little of drinking the water from the decades-old well in her backyard, less than half a mile down the road from the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. That changed when her daughter-in-law answered to state workers knocking on her door one afternoon. They came to test the water, a worker said.
She only began to worry when Mark Lander, the head of the Marion County Department of Health, came by at 8:30 one evening in early November with word that she shouldn’t drink from the well anymore. The unlit dirt path to her Central Florida home almost never received visitors, especially at night, and her husband Tim even pulled out his gun with concern that Lander might be an escaped inmate from a nearby prison.
Lander, who declined to comment for this story, delivered a letter that night informing Lawson’s family that chemical levels in their well water were higher than deemed safe. He gave them a couple of cases of water and told them to drink only bottled for the foreseeable future before he disappeared back into the night.
In August, the Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that flame retardants containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) had been used at the Fire College in the past. In early September, the college was told to only drink bottled water.
Lawson’s home was one of three well sites — a Marion County fire station and Texas-based mining company Lhoist North America were the others — where preliminary tests indicated the water had elevated levels of the PFOS and PFOA chemicals, which early studies have suggested can be carcinogens. Other impacts in humans include high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, adverse reproductive and developmental effects and some types of cancer.
It took about four months for state health officials to notify Lawson and others in the community about potentially elevated levels of the chemicals, emails obtained by the Herald/Times show. In September state health officials began discussing means of informing the Fire College, but it wasn’t until late October that they discussed notifying the rest of the nearby community. While state health officials debated for months how to word messages to those affected and put off informational open houses because of Hurricane Michael, neighbors bickered with local health officials asking when their water would be tested. Some preemptively began buying cases of water each week, fearing their own wells might be contaminated.
Read more: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article223624930.html
The Bismarck Tribune: Mandan man's information requests reach 'prolific' levels
Paul Jordan says he’s an advocate for the truth and good government.
Mandan and North Dakota officials say he’s a "prolific and persistent requester" who inundates local government with requests for open records and attorney general opinions.
"It's because every time I turn over a rock, I find something else and it leads me to two more rocks," Jordan said. "I turn over those rocks, and there they are."
Jordan, a retired archaeologist and former military medic, moved to Mandan in 2013. He said he saw neighborhood issues that led him to begin requesting public records that provided him with what he says has been incorrect, delayed or withheld information.
From 2014 to 2017, Jordan submitted more than 300 open records requests to the city of Mandan, according to AG opinions. Mandan city administrator Jim Neubauer said he's since stopped keeping track.
Read more: https://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/mandan-man-s-information-requests-reach-prolific-levels/article_d53eafc2-d0e2-5726-a43b-4e97eeab60ed.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 3, 2019
ACLU, newspaper sue over police department audit
SALEM, N.H. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and the newspaper The Union Leader have filed a joint lawsuit against the town of Salem seeking an unredacted police department audit.
New Hampshire Public Radio reports the ACLU says in its lawsuit that releasing the full report will help restore trust in police and the town.
The audit released Nov. 23 listed several concerns about the police department's culture, including its failure to investigate citizen complaints and managers who ignore the town's authority.
Salem says it is implementing the report's recommendations and searching for a new police chief. Police Chief Paul Donovan resigned in early December.
Deputy Police Chief Robert Morin previously said "significant portions" of the audit were "without merit and contain speculation, opinion and hearsay."
Read more: https://www.nhpr.org/post/aclu-nh-and-union-leader-sue-salem-full-police-report#stream/0
FHCHC violates open meeting laws
The Lyon County Attorney’s Office ruled in favor of The Emporia Gazette on July 11 in its claim that the Flint Hills Community Health Center violated Kansas open meeting laws by barring a reporter from attending its May meeting.
“It is the opinion of the Lyon County Attorney’s Office that the Flint Hills Community Health Center is subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, K.S.A. 75-4317 et seq., based on the foregoing analysis,” read the ruling by Lyon County Attorney Marc Goodman. “Moreover, by closing the meetings to the public and by refusing admittance of an Emporia Gazette reporter to the May 22, 2018, meeting, the Flint Hills Community Health Center was in direct violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, K.S.S 75-4320.
“Therefore, it is in the opinion of the Lyon County Attorney’s Office that the Flint Hills Community Health Center shall re-open its meetings to the public in order to avoid any further violations of the Open Meetings Act.”
FHCHC complied with Goodman’s ruling and its meetings have been open to the media and the public since July. The board has since voted to close the organization’s Madison clinic, but has expressed optimism heading into the new year citing the hiring of several new medical personnel — including Medical Director Dr. James Fast.
Read more: http://www.emporiagazette.com/free/article_ea47a308-9bf1-5f25-99be-f635376c07a9.html
Beshear: CCPL board violated open meeting laws
MURRAY – Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled the Calloway County Public Library Board of Trustees violated open meeting laws by how it described agenda items for a special-called session.
Beshear said the board violated KRS 61.823(3) when it used the acronym “Strategic Plan/S.W.O.T.” to describe an agenda item at a special-called meeting in October.
“… thereby failing to give fair notice of the particular topics to be discussed or acted upon during the special meeting,” Beshear’s opinion wrote, as reported by the Lexington Herald Leader.
That meeting took place Oct. 15; the Ledger & Times was not notified ahead of that special-called meeting, as required by Kentucky Revised Statutes.
Read more: https://www.murrayledger.com/news/beshear-ccpl-board-violated-open-meeting-laws/article_18ba60ca-095e-11e9-b52d-338d6edc4435.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 27, 2018
Honolulu Civil Beat: Hawaii Supreme Court Overturns 30 Years Of Government Secrecy
The Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that overturns 30 years of successful attempts at government secrecy.
For decades, public agencies in Hawaii have withheld countless records from public view by saying they were subject to the “deliberative process privilege,” a vague term of art that legal experts say was often overused and abused.
A legal challenge from Civil Beat combined with the state high court’s ruling seems to unravel all that, saying that such a privilege never existed in state law.
“I’ve always said that I could retire if we won this case,” Civil Beat’s attorney Brian Black said with a chuckle. “This is a huge win for the public.”
The case stems from a public records request Civil Beat filed in 2015 to get access to budget documents used to craft Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spending plan for fiscal year 2016.
Read more: https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/12/hawaii-supreme-court-overturns-30-years-of-government-secrecy/
The Caledonian-Record: District considers speech policy for student journalists
BARTON, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont school district is considering a policy that would protect free speech for student journalists.
The Caledonian-Record reports the Lake Region Union High School board approved a measure last week. Other boards must adopt the rule before it becomes policy for the Orleans Central Supervisory Union. OCSU Superintendent Bev Davis says Vermont law requires the policy.
Under the policy, school-sponsored media won't be censured "because it involves political or controversial subject matter or is critical of the school." Libelous or obscene content won't be protected.
Policy changes follow a September news story by students at Burlington High School about a guidance counselor who had been charged with misconduct. Administrators tried to block students from publishing the story.
Billings Gazette: Judge orders Billings pay newspaper, station in records case
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A judge has ordered a Montana city to pay a newspaper and TV station attorneys' fees and court costs related to a lawsuit.
The Billings Gazette and KTVQ sued the city of Billings to obtain the names of three police officers disciplined for having sex with a clerk while on duty or on city property.
Yellowstone County District Court Judge Donald Harris ruled Thursday the city knowingly assisted and participated as the officers tried to thwart the public's right to know.
The Billings Gazette reports the city's police chief and attorney agreed in April to release the names but didn't object when the officers, Paul LaMantia, Matthew Edwards and Clint Anglin, sought to bar the release.
City Manager Chris Kukulski said he hadn't seen the ruling and declined to comment.
Read more: https://billingsgazette.com/news/local/billings-must-pay-gazette-q-court-fees-for-police-officer/article_1fcac23d-01d4-5086-9517-a1e957281779.html
Ledger & Times: CCPL board responds to open records requests
MURRAY – The Calloway County Public Library Board of Trustees has hired an attorney to help it sort through correspondence required to comply with a pair of open records requests.
In a special-called session held Thursday morning, board chair Audrey Neal said the library had brought on Corey Gamm of Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing, PLLC, a Covington-based firm. According to its website, it has represented clients in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, including the library in the past.
Neal said the hired legal help will help sort out documentation requested from engineering firm Bacon Farmer Workman and WKMS News. While each group’s request differed in content, requested documentation included correspondence between trustees and library employees, Friends of the Calloway County Public Library members, Mark Fredrick of 1st Ky Realty, Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes, former Calloway County Judge-Executive Larry Elkins and others. WKMS’ original request did not include all the trustees, though that was later updated.
The Ledger & Times plans to file its own open records request.
Read more: https://www.murrayledger.com/news/ccpl-board-responds-to-open-records-requests/article_690316b4-04bb-11e9-b8c5-5fbc9621fc7a.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 20, 2018
The Toledo Blade: Emails to Ohio State president illustrate fractured fan base
COLUMBUS — For 22 days in August, Ohio State was under siege — the university, the athletic department, and the football coach.
Urban Meyer’s leave of absence and the subsequent three-week investigation into his actions regarding disgraced wide receivers coach Zach Smith’s domestic abuse allegations rocked OSU, pitting fans, alumni, and university employees against one another.
The Blade accessed 167 pages of emails addressed to Ohio State president Michael Drake through an Ohio open records request that was submitted in August and fulfilled last week. The emails, sent Aug. 22 and 23 in the wake of Mr. Meyer’s three-game suspension, paint a conflicting picture among the university community. They were unanimous in their derision, but on opposing sides, with some calling Mr. Meyer’s punishment too lenient while others excoriated Mr. Drake for being too harsh.
In the emails reviewed by The Blade, a theme emerged: division. Fissures in Buckeye Nation mirror the country’s red state vs. blue state divide. Good manners and decorum need not be displayed.
Read more: https://www.toledoblade.com/sports/ohio-state/2018/12/16/Emails-to-Ohio-State-president-illustrate-fractured-fan-base-1/stories/20181215105
Chicago Tribune: Financial secrecy: 10 of 16 top Chicago mayoral candidates refuse to release full tax returns
Over four years, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown reported $72,000 in income from a side business as a motivational and religious speaker. Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot made nearly $1 million last year as a law firm partner and gave $52,000 to charity. And former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas recorded no taxable income in the year before Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed him to an administrative post at Chicago State University.
Those are just a few facts found in the hundreds of pages of full tax returns released to the Chicago Tribune by six candidates running for mayor in the Feb. 26 election. Another 10 candidates refused to release their complete tax returns, with just one releasing any financial records at all.
Disclosing tax returns is a rite of transparency for many candidates who have run for major elected office, an act of disclosure that not only tells the public how much the political hopefuls earn in income but where their financial interests reside, how they have made their money and what potential conflicts of interest could arise if they are elected.
For the bulk of Chicago’s top contenders for mayor, however, that information remains secret.
Read more: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-met-chicago-mayor-candidates-tax-returns-20181207-story.html
Writer seeks records of probe into Pentagon Papers leak
BOSTON (AP) — A Harvard University professor and writer for The New Yorker is asking a court to order the release of documents related to two grand juries that sat in Boston nearly 50 years ago to investigate the leak of the Pentagon Papers.
Jill Lepore said in documents filed in federal court on Monday that the long-secret records will shed light on the probe into the publication of the top-secret study that revealed the U.S. government misled the public about the Vietnam War. While much is known about the Pentagon Papers, a great deal about the Boston grand juries that convened in 1971 remains a mystery, she says.
"Why and when was the investigation opened? Why was it closed? To what lengths did the government go in conducting the investigation? Did those lengths include illegal wiretapping, as critics alleged at the time?" Lepore asks in the filings. "Unsealing the records is the only way to know the answers to these questions," she said.
The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School filed the case on behalf of Lepore, who is seeking witness testimony, FBI reports and other documents related to the 1971 grand jury investigation. Lepore describes the investigation as a "landmark in the history of the federal government's willingness to investigate and prosecute dissidents, scholars, journalists, and anyone else suspected of involvement with the release and publication of classified government material."
Some details about the grand juries were revealed in newspaper accounts at the time, including the names of people who were subpoenaed to testify. They included linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, who received a copy of the Pentagon Papers from leaker Daniel Ellsberg, a friend of his. The goal of the second grand jury appears to have been to investigate Neil Sheehan, The New York Times reporter who first wrote about the documents, Lepore says.
Read more: https://apnews.com/39262a0df6424df3ab8023b6201aee87
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 13, 2018
Hartford Courant: Courant exclusive: More than 1,000 pages of documents reveal Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's dark descent into depravity
he extent of Adam Lanza’s abject loneliness, the intensity of his scorn for the world, his interest in pedophilia, his astounding list of daily grievances, the reach of his obsession with mass murder — some of the granular details of the Sandy Hook shooter’s last years have been elusive.
More than 1,000 pages of documents obtained by the Hartford Courant from the Connecticut State Police, including hundreds of pages of Lanza’s own writings and a spreadsheet detailing the gruesome work of 400 perpetrators of mass violence, bring into sharper focus the dark world view of a 20-year-old who shot his mother four times as she slept and then killed 20 first-graders and six educators before killing himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's spreadsheet detailing centuries of mass violence served as a road map to murder
Diagnosed as a child with a sensory disorder and delays in speech, he would exhibit a quick mind for science, computers, math, and language. The few acquaintances he had as a teenager came from video-game arcades and online gaming chatrooms. The newly released writings express a wide range of emotions and rigid doctrine, from a crippling aversion to the dropped towel, food mixing on his plate and the feel of a metal door handle, to a deep disdain for relationships, an intolerance of his peers, a chilling contempt for anyone carrying a few extra pounds, and a conviction that certain aspects of living are worse than death.
At the same time, he also predicted that he would make a good father, because he would treat children as independent little people who just didn’t know a lot yet. In a memo-style letter to his mother, Nancy, who lived in the same house, he encouraged her not to be dejected about her life.
These documents, which had been kept from the public until now, were part of the mass of writings, records, and computer files seized by detectives from the Lanzas’ home after the murders. The Courant mounted a five-year quest to obtain the unreleased documents, eventually winning an appeal before the state Supreme Court.
Read more: https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-news-sandy-hook-lanza-new-documents-20181204-story.html
Kansas City Star: KCK police chief had ‘handshake’ deal to live in county-owned house for little rent
For almost a year, Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler has lived in a house owned by Wyandotte County in what is arguably the most beautiful part of the area.
But some say the arrangement is an ugly one for taxpayers — one that lacks transparency and misuses public property.
County residents, open government advocates and a Unified Government commissioner point to the fact that no written lease was in place for almost eight months after Zeigler moved into the house.
Zeigler pays little or no rent on a monthly basis because of credits granted for expenses to make improvements on the house.
Officials put the lease in writing after a citizen inquired about it.
That such a deal was made out of public view raised red flags for Max Kautsch, a Lawrence-based attorney who is a board member at the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government.
“I think the main danger lies in the fact that it’s unclear how taxpayer money is being spent,” Kautsch said. “If there’s no way to track officially who is spending what and how income is coming in, then the taxpayers are at a severe disadvantage.”
Read more: https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article222603675.html
Arkansas newspaper sues over no-boycott pledge for vendors
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas newspaper asked a federal judge Tuesday to strike down a state law that requires government contractors to pledge to not boycott Israel or reduce their fees by 20 percent.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas challenged the law on behalf of the Arkansas Times LP, which says the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College refused to contract for advertising with the newspaper unless the Arkansas Times signed the pledge. According to the lawsuit, Arkansas Times had previously contracted for years with the technical college. The paper is not engaged in any boycott against Israel, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution and imposes an “ideological litmus test” on contractors.
“As journalists, we are fervent believers that the First Amendment’s speech protections are essential to a free and just society - and would never sign a contract that’s conditioned on the unconstitutional suppression of free speech,” Alan Leveritt, publisher and CEO of Arkansas Times, said in a statement. “Regardless of what people may think about this particular boycott, it is not the government’s place to decide what causes Arkansans can or cannot support.”
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/4bc6e59c3bf6407f9e0932823af9f3df
AP: State should disclose inmate-death records: Access counselor
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s corrections agency has refused to release public records about a prison altercation that led to the homicide of a 65-year-old inmate and forced the paid suspension of at least four correctional officers.
The state’s public access counselor in the Democratic attorney general’s office ruled last month that Illinois Department of Corrections officials should release most of the documents regarding the May 17 incident at Western Illinois Correctional Center. The FBI is investigating. Neither FBI nor IDOC officials will comment.
IDOC denied a July Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press for records related to the “altercation with prison staff” that proved fatal to Larry Earvin, arguing they are exempt under FOIA exceptions to disclosure that would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation. But Assistant Attorney General Edie Steinberg ruled Corrections did not show how transparency would interfere.
“Because IDOC did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that the withheld records are exempt from disclosure under (FOIA), this office concludes that IDOC improperly withheld those records in their entireties,” Steinberg wrote in the Nov. 14 opinion directing the agency to produce the records, which is nonbinding.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/b9d5a605496f40e191775fbce8af71d9
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 6, 2018
U of North Alabama Censured Over Free Press Issues
The College Media Association has censured the University of North Alabama after administrators there allegedly fired the adviser of the student newspaper over a negative story it published.
The Flor-Ala newspaper ran a story in September about being denied personnel records of two employees, one of whom has resigned from the university. David Shields, former vice president of student affairs, left in July, and Gregory Gaston, a professor, is not allowed on the campus grounds.
A week after the story published, administrators met with student journalists and the newspaper's adviser, Scott Morris, according to the association. Morris and the students characterized Provost Ross Alexander as “angry” and “frustrated.”
Later that month, Morris was told the provost would be eliminating his job and replacing it with a tenure-track faculty position that required a doctorate, which would result in Morris, a longtime journalist without the credential, being fired.
The association said that administrators could not provide any proof that they were considering changing Morris’s position prior to the newspaper publishing its report. The university also sent out a reminder to professors and other staffers of the institution's rules, which suggest that officials should not speak to the media unless an administrator vets the inquiry beforehand.
Read more: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/11/27/u-north-alabama-censured-over-free-press-issues
Canadian court says reporter must give police material
OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday a Vice Media reporter must give Canada's national police force material he gathered for stories about an accused terrorist in a case that pitted press freedoms against the investigative powers of police.
The high court said in a 9-0 decision Friday the state's interest in prosecuting crimes outweighed the media's right to privacy in gathering the news.
Vice Media said the ruling made it a "dark day for press freedom."
Organizations representing Canadian journalists also decried the decision as setback that imperils their work.
In 2014, reporter Ben Makuch wrote three articles about the involvement of Farah Mohamed Shirdon, formerly of Calgary, with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Shirdon had left Canada for Turkey in March of that year. A month later, he appeared in an ISIL propaganda video that turned up on the internet. He tore up his Canadian passport, threw it into a fire and said, "With help from Allah, we are coming to slaughter you."
Their exchanges in text-messaging service were crucial to the articles.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2015 directed Vice Media and Makuch to provide documents and data relating to communications with Shirdon.
Makuch tweeted: "I am profoundly disappointed in today's ruling, not just as an appellant in this case or a reporter, but as a citizen of Canada."
The Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression also called the ruling deeply disappointing.
"It creates a chill for anyone who wants to speak truth to power or expose government wrongdoing," said CAJ president and CJFE board member Karyn Pugliese. "The country's highest court erred significantly in today's decision."
Read more: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/supreme-court-vice-ben-makush-decision-1.4926102
Michigan businesses are discharging contaminants into water
DETROIT (AP) — Michigan businesses are discharging large amounts of chemical contaminants into the state's waterways every day, according to a newspaper investigation.
State officials began testing 93 treatment plants in February through an Industrial Pretreatment Program to examine discharge being sent by commercial customers.
MLive.com obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that show that 16 of the plants received written orders over the past year to reduce industrial sources of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, found in their discharges.
Exposure to PFAS has been linked in epidemiological studies to some cancers, thyroid disorders, low birth weights, elevated cholesterol and other chronic diseases.
At least 130 businesses have been considered as potential sources of PFAS. Many of the businesses releasing chemicals are plating companies that make chrome parts for the auto industry.
"We haven't used it in almost six years," Lacks Enterprises CEO Nick Hrynyk said of the chemicals. "But it's still there because it just clings."
Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2018/11/businesses_discharging_pfas_in.html
A High School Newspaper Was Suspended For Publishing An Investigation Into Football Players’ Transfers
An Arkansas school district suspended its high school newspaper and threatened to fire the teacher who advises it after student journalists wrote a story criticizing the transfer of five football players to a rival high school.
“They are like, ‘Well, you raised an uproar, we’re going to try and silence you,’” Halle Roberts, 17, the editor-in-chief of the Har-Ber Herald, told BuzzFeed News.
Friday nights mean football in Springdale, a small city in the northwest of the state. So when five varsity players transferred from Har-Ber High School to their archrivals at Springdale High School in the middle of the school year in late 2017 — both schools are under the Springdale Public Schools district — student journalists at the Herald decided to investigate.
The Herald published its monthslong investigation — which questions the legitimacy of the school district’s approval of the transfers — on Oct. 30.
Read more: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/amberjamieson/harber-high-arkansas-student-newspaper-suspended-football
Arkansas school district allows paper to post banned article
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas school district that ordered a student newspaper to take down an investigative report now says the article can be re-published on its website.
A spokesman for the Springdale School District said Tuesday the Har-ber Herald could republish its months-long investigation into the transfer of six football players to a rival high school. The article alleged the students transferred for athletic, not academic reasons, which would violate district policy. Springdale had ordered the article be taken off the paper's website in November and had effectively suspended the newspaper's operations.
By late Tuesday, the article had been re-posted on various websites, including by professional journalists on social media. The Student Press Law Center also posted the article , and an accompanying editorial by the newspaper's staff, to its website.
The article was first published on Oct. 30, said the paper's editor-in-chief Halle Roberts, but students had been investigating the transfers for nearly a year. Three days after its publication, Springdale instructed the Herald to remove the article from its website.
Read more: https://www.sentinelcolorado.com/orecent-headlines/arkansas-school-district-allows-paper-to-post-banned-article/
Police: 23 complaints about Alpha Sigma Phi frat house noise
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Police records show a University of Michigan fraternity received two noise citations even though 23 calls were made over the past year about partying at its off-campus house.
The Ann Arbor News reported Wednesday from a Freedom of Information Act request that police also investigated whether a "40-yard dash" was run over the backs of some members.
Alpha Sigma Phi was removed last month from the school and student-run Interfraternity Council for at least five years following allegations of violent hazing and forced alcohol consumption.
The newspaper reports that officers rarely observed loud partying at the house and that a city attorney believed a radio scanner was used to monitor police dispatches.
The fraternity's headquarters says members violating policies were suspended or expelled and removed from the frat house.
Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2018/12/um_fraternity_avoided_noise_ci.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 23-Dec. 6, 2018
Missouri changes execution media policy after lawsuit
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri will now leave it up to news organizations to pick which reporters witness executions after a journalist was denied access and sued the state.
Changes to the state's execution witness policy are part of a settlement that led U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey to dismiss the lawsuit Tuesday.
Previously, the Missouri Department of Corrections director chose which reporters were denied or granted access to executions. BuzzFeed News reporter Chris McDaniel sued in 2016 after he applied to serve as an execution witness in 2014 but never heard back.
The former St. Louis Radio reporter, who has written several articles critical of Missouri's execution practices, was not approved to witness any of the 17 executions held since he applied, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. The organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of McDaniel.
Legal Director Tony Rothert in a Tuesday statement said the government should not be able to decide which reporters can attend executions based on officials' feelings about their coverage.
"A free press is vital to ensuring that the government remains accountable to the people," Rothert said. "Allowing the government to pick and choose which reporters have access to government functions is a vital threat to fair and unbiased reporting."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann declined to comment Tuesday.
The new policy allows The Associated Press, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Missouri Press Association and another media outlet to select reporters to watch executions. That takes away the director's power to unilaterally deny access to certain reporters.
Read more: https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/missouri-changes-execution-media-policy-after-lawsuit/article_3a852161-0a80-5485-8c00-4af3086f2361.html
Tennessee gov-elect promises to overhaul public records law
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's newly elected governor says he wants to do a complete overhaul of the state's public records and open meeting laws as part of his commitment to making government more transparent.
Republican Bill Lee first revealed the promise on his transition website last week where he outlined his top priorities as governor, which also includes expanding vocational educational training and helping create more jobs for Tennesseans.
According to Lee's transition spokeswoman Laine Arnold, the Republican wants to reduce the number of public records exemptions and address fees and delays in fulfilling public records requests.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee of Comptroller's office found that the state currently has more than 500 open records exemptions — or about six times as many as there were three decades ago.
Read more: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2018/11/12/bill-lee-pledges-overhaul-tennessee-public-records-act-state-state-address-online-comments/1980114002/
Free speech threat seen in prosecuting WikiLeaks' Assange
In a divided Washington, few causes have as much bipartisan support as prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Many Democrats seethed when the radical transparency activist humiliated Hillary Clinton by publishing the content of her campaign chairman's inbox. Most Republicans haven't forgiven Assange for his publication of U.S. military and intelligence secrets. Much of the American media establishment holds him in contempt as well.
But academics, civil rights lawyers and journalism groups worry that an attempt to put Assange behind bars could damage constitutional free speech protections, with repercussions for newsrooms covering national security across the United States.
"This isn't about Julian Assange, this is about the First Amendment and press freedom," said Elizabeth Goitein, who co-directs the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center in New York. "You can't support First Amendment freedoms and still support the government chipping away at those freedoms of people you don't like."
U.S. officials clearly have been itching to get their hands on the 47-year-old ex-hacker for some time; he has been a thorn in Washington's side for almost a decade. And Assange's longtime claim that prosecutors secretly were preparing charges against was vindicated late Thursday when his name accidentally surfaced in an apparently unrelated legal filing.
A person familiar with the situation confirmed that charges against Assange have in fact been filed under seal. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the charges have not been publicly announced.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/389513b6cb1941968daeb08fb7fe15d4
Prison inmate death after run-in with staff ruled homicide
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The death of an inmate following an "altercation with correctional staff" at Western Illinois Correctional Center in May has been ruled a homicide, according to an autopsy report provided to The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information request.
Larry Earvin died from blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen, the death certificate from Clinton County in southern Illinois said. The 65-year-old Earvin sustained 15 rib fractures and two dozen or more abrasions, hemorrhages and lacerations. Surgery to remove a portion of his bowel appears to have followed the injury, the report says.
The FBI is investigating the May 17 incident at the prison in Mount Sterling, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. Illinois Department of Corrections officials declined to disclose details of the altercation.
At least four Western Illinois employees were placed on administrative leave with pay on May 22, according to documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act. Suspended for allegedly violating conduct standards were correctional Sgt. Willie Hedden, 40, of Mount Sterling; correctional Lts. Benjamin Burnett, 33, of Winchester, and Blake Haubrich, 30, of Quincy and correctional officer Alex Banta, 27, of Quincy.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/1c9307774ee941c5a6624e5e67e29116
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 15, 2018
White House pulls CNN reporter Jim Acosta's pass after contentious news conference
(CNN Business)In a stunning break with protocol, the White House said Wednesday night that it's suspending the press pass of CNN's Jim Acosta "until further notice."
The move came just hours after Acosta, CNN's chief White House correspondent, drew the ire of President Donald Trump and his allies by asking multiple questions at a post-midterms news conference. Trump insulted Acosta and called him a "terrible" person.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement that Acosta would be stripped of what's known as a "hard pass," which gives him access to the White House grounds.
CNN said in a statement that Acosta has the network's full support.
The revocation of his pass "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference," the statement said. "In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support."
Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/07/media/trump-cnn-press-conference/index.html
Words and walkouts aren’t enough. CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta’s press pass.
CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta is a smart, tough reporter. He can also be a grandstander who seems to thrive on conflict with President Trump and doesn’t always know when to stop his aggressive questioning.
But whether you like Acosta’s style, it’s clear the White House crossed a bright line Wednesday when it took away Acosta’s “hard pass,” which allows him the access he needs to cover the White House.
That action amounts to punishing a member of the press for doing his job of informing the public — and then creating a false pretext to justify that relatiation.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/words-and-walkouts-arent-enough-cnn-should-sue-trump-over-revoking-acostas-press-pass/2018/11/08/c207f4e6-e35a-11e8-b759-3d88a5ce9e19_story.html
Statement from ASNE, APME and ONA on the revocation of Jim Acosta's White House press pass
On Wednesday afternoon, the president of the United States engaged in another unprovoked verbal attack on the news media during a post-election press conference. Wednesday night, the White House took the incredible step of revoking a reporter's credentials for doing his job. The American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Online News Association condemn the president's rhetoric and demand the immediate reinstatement of CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass.
Our organizations have - jointly and separately - raised concerns about the president's attempts to delegitimize the press in the past, noting that his statements have no basis in fact, serve to stoke anger and fear in the public, and embolden some to threaten or harass news professionals. As disturbing, outrageous and potentially dangerous as the president's statements were, they pale in comparison to the decision of the White House to suspend Acosta's press pass "until further notice" and deny him access to the White House grounds for doing nothing more than asking pointed questions of the president.
A free and independent press is currently one of the primary checks on this president. Calling us names does not dampen our enthusiasm to do our jobs. Calling us the enemy of the people does not affect our determination to serve our communities and the citizens of this country. Barring access to one reporter will not stop - or even soften - our questioning. Journalists work to report the news accurately and fairly, and that means asking hard questions of every elected official, including the president of the United States of America.
Expert: Acosta video distributed by White House was doctored
NEW YORK (AP) — A video distributed by the Trump administration to support its argument for banning CNN reporter Jim Acosta from the White House appears to have been doctored to make Acosta look more aggressive than he was during an exchange with a White House intern, an independent expert said Thursday.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted the video, which shows Acosta asking President Donald Trump a question on Wednesday as the intern tries to take his microphone away. But a frame-by-frame comparison with an Associated Press video of the same incident shows that the one tweeted by Sanders appears to have been altered to speed up Acosta’s arm movement as he touches the intern’s arm, according to Abba Shapiro, an independent video producer who examined the footage at AP’s request.
Earlier, Shapiro noticed that frames in the tweeted video were frozen to slow down the action, allowing it to run the same length as the AP one.
The tweeted video also does not have any audio, which Shapiro said would make it easier to alter. It’s also unlikely the differences could be explained by technical glitches or by video compression — a reduction in a video’s size to enable it to play more smoothly on some sites — because the slowing of the video and the acceleration that followed are “too precise to be an accident,” said Shapiro, who trains instructors to use video editing software.
Read more: https://apnews.com/c575bd1cc3b1456cb3057ef670c7fe2a
CNN sues Trump to get Jim Acosta's press pass restored
CNN on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and top administration officials demanding that correspondent Jim Acosta's access to the White House be restored, a dramatic turn in the president's years-long battle with the press that sets up a court fight over the First Amendment.
"While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," CNN said in announcing the lawsuit, which asks for a restraining order requiring that Acosta's security credentials be returned. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."
The White House revoked Acosta's credentials, known as a "hard pass," several hours after a testy exchange with the president during a news conference last week. Trump told Acosta "CNN should be ashamed" for employing him during the back-and-forth, which included a White House staffer attempting to take the microphone out of Acosta's hand.
Read more: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/13/cnn-sues-trump-administration-985747
CNN and Jim Acosta lawsuit is about free speech, free press and due process
CNN's lawsuit against President Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly and other officials focuses on two main issues: the right to free speech and free press, and the right to due process.
In filings Tuesday, CNN says the White House revoked correspondent Jim Acosta's "hard pass" press credentials to the White House based on his reporting. Trump frequently calls CNN "fake news" and has said CNN journalists are “just dishonest, terrible people.”
Two iconic Supreme Court cases will come into play here, but it's a lesser-known lower court decision that could most help CNN's cause.
The CNN lawsuit relies on cornerstone U.S. Supreme Court decision N.Y. Times v. Sullivan (1964), which promotes the widest protection to political speech, calling it a "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
Read more: https://www.poynter.org/news/cnn-and-jim-acosta-lawsuit-about-free-speech-free-press-and-due-process
White House says it has 'broad discretion' on press access
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's administration contends it has "broad discretion" to regulate press access to the White House as it fends off a legal challenge from CNN and other outlets over the revocation of journalist Jim Acosta's "hard pass."
In a legal filing ahead of a Wednesday hearing on CNN's request for a temporary restraining order to restore Acosta's access, the government argues it "was lawful" to punish Acosta for his behavior during a contentious Trump press conference last week.
It rejects the idea that Acosta was "otherwise eligible" for White House access, saying: "The President and his designees in the White House Press Office have exercised their discretion not to engage with him and, by extension, to no longer grant him on-demand access to the White House complex so that he can attempt to interact with the President or White House officials."
Trump himself, in an interview published Wednesday, was uncertain how the court fight would end, saying, "We'll see how the court rules. Is it freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won't sit down?"
Trump told The Daily Caller that "guys like Acosta" were "bad for the country. ... He's just an average guy who's a grandstander who's got the guts to stand up and shout."
The White House's explanations for why it seized Acosta's "hard pass," which grants reporters as-needed access to the 18-acre complex, have shifted over the last week. Acosta has repeatedly clashed with Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in briefings over the last two years.
The Associated Press joined with a group of 12 other news organizations planning to file an amicus brief in the case Wednesday.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/c42e343583bd4d3f86c44151582aad95
Trump claims video distributed by White House wasn't altered
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump claimed on Friday that a White House-released video depicting contact between a staffer and a CNN reporter wasn't altered, and he seemingly threatened to revoke the White House press credentials of more reporters.
Trump insisted that the video distributed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was simply a "close-up" and "was not doctored."
"Nobody manipulated it. All that is is a close-up," said the president, who then attacked the reporter for asking the question and called him "dishonest."
A frame-by-frame comparison with an Associated Press video of the same incident from Trump's postelection news conference Wednesday shows that the video tweeted by Sanders appears to speed up CNN reporter Jim Acosta's arm movement when he makes contact with a White House intern who was trying to take away Acosta's microphone. The speedup appears to make the gesture more threatening.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/8c4b1b634fe64ebba75bbf98edf9db4f
Wisconsin agency won't release records on harassment claims
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials are refusing to release records detailing allegations an agency employee harassed female co-workers at a Milwaukee hotel, saying disclosure would hurt workers' morale and human beings make mistakes.
The Associated Press used an open records request to obtain a March 2018 disciplinary letter informing a DNR employee that he or she would be suspended without pay for a day in April. The letter stated that the employee, whose name and division was redacted, was socializing with co-workers in January at the Hilton Hotel in Milwaukee the night before the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference.
The worker became drunk, stared inappropriately at a female co-worker and made an inappropriate comment to another female co-worker, the letter said. The worker acknowledged during an investigatory interview in February that the behavior wasn't appropriate and "crossed a line."
The letter offers no other details. The AP filed another open records request seeking all documents connected with the investigation. The agency's administrative policy adviser, Victoria Harmon, responded Oct. 31 with an email denying the request.
She wrote that releasing the documents would hamper the agency's ability to hire competent employees as well as future internal investigations if workers knew their statements would be released publicly.
Read more: https://www.wpr.org/dnr-wont-release-records-harassment-allegations
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 8, 2018
Don Meredith's daughter suffered as her family fought over her care
With his larger than life personality, Dallas Cowboys quarterback and television football host Don Meredith lived in the public spotlight.
Privately, he sought to ensure a lifetime of care for his youngest child, Heather, who was born with physical and intellectual disabilities.
As a result, Heather, now 49 and described as “pleasant and bubbly,” enjoyed a quiet, comfortable life in Kentucky at Stewart Home & School, a well-appointed, private residential center in Frankfort for many years.
But after he died in 2010, events took a different turn when control of Heather's affairs passed to the football star's widow, Susan Meredith, his third wife and Heather's stepmother.
Over the past year, alleged abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of Heather culminated in a court battle in Frankfort over control of Heather’s affairs, pitting Susan Meredith against Heather's mother, Cheryl King, who was Don Meredith's second wife.
The monthslong controversy over Heather’s well-being ended this year with a court settlement in which King replaced Heather's stepmother as guardian and Susan Meredith agreed to add more than $1 million to Heather's trust, which contained less than $300,000 at the time.
The abuse allegations and dispute over Heather's care unfolded in a series of confidential court and social services proceedings.
But more than 1,000 pages of documents from a separate investigation by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, obtained by the Courier Journal through an open records request, detail the controversy triggered by a 2017 complaint of alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of Heather from Franklin District Court, which oversees guardianship cases.
Read more: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2018/11/01/don-meredith-daughter-family-fight-care-kentucky/1291455002/
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: DA releases case file linked to synagogue shooting suspect after media challenges sealing order
The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office Friday afternoon released a 1979 sexual assault case file for the presumed father of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting suspect.
The 39-page file for Randall G. Bowers, who was accused of rape and related charges, does not contain any detailed information about the alleged attack in April 1979.
The DA's office had the file sealed by a judge late Thursday after it was requested by the media.
Prosecutors said they sought a sealing order to give them time to notify the victim and witnesses about the media's request and to protect their privacy.
Worshipers embrace before the start of the Shabbat service, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, at Congregation Rodef Shalom in Shadyside. The Shabbat service, the first since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, was open to people of all faiths.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and WTAE-TV all objected to the sealing. They filed a motion to have the record unsealed, arguing it was a violation of the presumptive openness of the courts.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2018/11/02/Post-Gazette-New-York-Times-challenge-sealing-case-father-of-synagogue-shooting-suspect-robert-bowers/stories/201811020098
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 2, 2018
Judge rules coroner violated the Sunshine Law by withholding Suttner requests
Howard County’s coroner violated the Missouri Sunshine Law when he wrongfully withheld public records from the Columbia Missourian, a Boone County Judge ruled Wednesday.
Sandy Davidson, the Missourian’s attorney and an MU communications law professor, called the ruling “a victory for transparency in government and the public’s right to know.”
The ruling came after Davidson filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of the Missourian Publishing Association, asking a judge to rule that the transcript from an inquest into death of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner is a public record.
Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler previously refused to give the transcript to the Missourian following two separate Sunshine Law requests for the document.
Boone County Circuit Judge Jeff Harris wrote in his judgment that the transcript is not an “investigative report” like Flaspohler claimed and thus not a closed record under the Sunshine Law, as Flaspohler has argued.
Read more: https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/local/judge-rules-coroner-violated-the-sunshine-law-by-withholding-suttner/article_2cc39d2a-dd49-11e8-b2df-13f0a2a59621.html
Clean Missouri ballot initiative hopes to shine sunlight on lawmaker's records
If you want to request a Missouri state lawmaker’s emails, whether you’ll get them will depend on who you ask.
That’s because some Missouri legislators have long-maintained that as individuals they are exempt from the state’s open records law, known as the Sunshine Law. But a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot hopes to make lawmaker’s adherence with the law a requirement, rather than a choice.
Amendment 1, more commonly known as “Clean Missouri,” would institute ethics reform across the legislature, including requiring legislative records to be made public.
While most of the spotlight has been placed on the proposal’s effort to overhaul how districts are drawn and its fight to remain on the ballot, updating the Sunshine Law is an important tenant of the amendment, said Benjamin Singer, communications director for Clean Missouri.
“Legislators have tried to evade public scrutiny and avoid transparency, but it’s our government, and the people of Missouri deserve to know what their representatives are doing,” Singer said.
Critics of the proposal believe that shining sunlight onto lawmakers’ office emails could invade constituents’ privacy.
Even one instance “of information getting out there and harming a constituent rather than helping them — then that’s one time too many,” Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, said.
But it’s unclear if Missourians would have a means of recourse through the Attorney General’s Office — the entity tasked with enforcing the Sunshine Law — if Clean Missouri passes.
Read more: https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/elections/clean-missouri-ballot-initiative-hopes-to-shine-sunlight-on-lawmaker/article_0295e480-d629-11e8-a4a5-d37b9a14ee46.html
Illinois attorney general hopefuls pledge records access
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — There was good news in an August letter to The Associated Press: The Illinois attorney general's public access counselor had ruled in favor of the AP's Freedom of Information Act request for records that the Department of Human Services had refused to disclose.
The bad news: The AP requested them in 2011.
The agency complied this month, handing over the names of teenagers and young adults hired for taxpayer-financed summer jobs a decade and more ago.
But the lengthy wait for a decision by the public records arbiter points to problems that have dogged it since its introduction — workload and backlogs — which both candidates for attorney general in the Nov. 6 election pledge to fix.
The counselor had 2,330 unresolved appeals of FOIA requests denied by government agencies as of Oct. 12, according to records disclosed by the attorney general's office that day. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat not seeking re-eleection, said that number has been reduced, but declined further comment.
Read more: https://www.nwherald.com/2018/10/30/illinois-attorney-general-hopefuls-pledge-access-to-records/adsyd5q/
Secret moves hide Wisconsin lawmakers' actions from public
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — It was 10:30 p.m. on June 3, 2011, the last day of deliberations on Wisconsin's state budget. Members of the Joint Finance Committee, some with deep circles under their eyes after days of fighting over budget items, perked up when two Republicans, Sen. Glenn Grothman and Rep. Robin Vos, unveiled a surprise: a massive tax cut worth hundreds of millions of dollars for manufacturers and agricultural businesses.
The official estimate projected that when fully phased in, the measure would cut revenue to the state — which had already made large cuts to education and other programs to balance the budget — by $128.7 million a year.
Democratic Rep. Tamara Grigsby of Milwaukee appeared stunned by the size of the tax cut, asking the Legislative Fiscal Bureau representative to add up the total cost over its four-year phase-in.
"This is nauseating," said Grigsby, who left the Legislature in 2013 and died in 2016. "Really? $320 million to start, and then $128.7 million after that per year? Really? Wow. Wow."
Read more: https://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2018/10/last-minute-surprises-and-secretive-moves-hide-wisconsin-lawmakers-actions-from-public-view/
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 26, 2018
Audit shows company failed to keep drug costs low for taxpayer-funded Medicaid
The health insurance group that billed Ohio twice the amount of its competitors to deliver medicine to Medicaid patients also fell significantly short of its goal to keep drug costs low.
The revelation is yet another from an audit by HealthPlan Data Solutions that was commissioned by the Ohio Department of Medicaid to determine whether the state is getting fair prices on drugs.
Portions of the audit were at first kept from the public, but a judge recently ordered that they be made public in response to a Dispatch public records request.
Auditors for HealthPlan found that the pharmacy benefit manager Envolve charged too much overall for drugs as compared to what it agreed to in its contract with Buckeye Health Plan. It is unclear how much more Envolve charged for prescription drugs because the number is redacted, or blacked out.
Three sources, including one who helped write the contract, told The Dispatch the overcharge was in the millions.
Read more: http://gatehousenews.com/sideeffects/audit-shows-company-failed-keep-drug-costs-low-taxpayer-funded-medicaid/site/dispatch.com/
Mayor pro tem agrees to unblock activists on Facebook
DENVER (AP) — A Colorado elected official agreed to unblock two anti-fracking activists from her official Facebook page as part of an agreement in a lawsuit accusing her of violating free speech rights by censoring her government social media page.
The Denver Post reports the stipulation says Thornton Mayor Pro Tem Jan Kulmann will not block anyone or delete any further comments from her official Facebook page while the lawsuit proceeds.
The agreement comes after Boulder County commissioner candidate Cliff Willmeng, co-founder of the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United, and Marine Corps reservist Eddie Asher filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver alleging Kulmann deleted their posts on the mayor pro tem's official Facebook page.
Kulmann's attorney, Stan Garnett, calls the case a "complete publicity stunt" brought by two individuals campaigning for Proposition 112, the "Safer Setback Initiative."
Read more: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/10/22/jan-kulmann-facebook-oil-gas-fracking/
National Press Club: Award-Winning Journalist To Judge Who Denied Him Asylum: "I Must Implore You For My Life"
EL PASO, Texas, Oct. 23, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- After eight hours of waiting outside an immigration courtroom, journalist Emilio Gutiérrez-Soto on Monday had an opportunity to make a personal appeal to the judge who last year ordered him deported to the country where he has been threatened with death. The hearing was delayed when Gutiérrez's attorney discovered that the judge had not read or seen crucial evidence on the journalist's behalf.
"I must implore you for my life," Gutiérrez told Judge Robert Hough, adding that he was also appealing for his son, Oscar, who fled to the United States as a teenager with his father after the veteran Mexican journalist's exposés of military corruption made him the target of death threats.
"He has been the victim of the work of an honest journalist," Gutiérrez said, as he gazed from the judge to his now 25-year-old son.
Hough said he is not sure whether he will consider the testimony in his deliberations on the case, which has drawn widespread attention and support for Gutiérrez from journalism organizations and free speech advocates across the globe. The judge said he will issue a ruling sometime in January, after attorneys for the Gutiérrezes and the U.S. government file written arguments in the case.
The case was reopened after the National Press Club, along with 18 other journalism organizations, joined an appeal of Hough's deportation order, which questioned Gutiérrez's credentials as a journalist and argued that the government of Mexico could protect him if he were. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed before the Board of Immigration Appeals, the journalism groups produced scores of news stories written by Gutiérrez and a series of official reports, including one from the U.S. State Department and one from the United Nations, that noted how ineffective the Mexican government has been at protecting reporters.
Read more: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-press-club-award-winning-journalist-to-judge-who-denied-him-asylum-i-must-implore-you-for-my-life-300735837.html?tc=eml_cleartime
Sandy Hook shooter's writings ordered released to public
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter's personal belongings, including personal journals containing stories about hurting children and a spreadsheet ranking mass murders, must be released to the public because they are not exempt from open record laws, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Thousands of documents already have been released from the investigation that ended without determining a motive for the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, but the writings could provide insights into the thinking of the shooter, Adam Lanza.
The Hartford Courant and other media organizations requested to view Lanza's belongings, which were seized by authorities during a search of Lanza's home and described in a state police report released about a year after the shooting. State police rejected the requests, citing privacy rights in the state's search and seizure law.
The Courant appealed to the state Freedom of Information Commission, which in 2015 ordered state police to release the documents. But Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman overruled the commission in 2016 — a decision overturned Tuesday in the 5-0 Supreme Court ruling.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/f3f618c5f4f546ba9554eeb8a66f173e
Hawley champions open government. So why doesn’t he use email the public can see?
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley portrays himself as champion of openness in government, proclaiming “the people of Missouri deserve an open, honest and transparent government.”
But Hawley, 38, is one of two statewide officials who do not use email on the job, making it difficult for voters — or his political opponents — to know how he conducts official business.
Hawley’s office told The Kansas City Star that the attorney general “does not find it necessary or helpful” to use email for state business. His spokeswoman, Mary Compton, noted that Hawley’s two predecessors, Democrats Chris Koster, 54, and Jay Nixon, 62, did not use email either.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Auditor Nicole Galloway all use email — and to some extent, texts — for official business, their offices told The Star.
Read more: https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article220225615.html#storylink=cpy
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 18, 2018
We May Finally Get To See Honolulu Police Salary Information
More than a year after the statewide police union sued to stop the Honolulu Police Department from releasing the names, ranks and salaries of most officers, a judge has ruled in favor of the city — and Civil Beat.
The dispute began when we made our biennial request last summer for the names and salaries of all public employees in Hawaii — something we do because taxpayers have an inherent right to know who works for them and how much they cost.
Most agencies responded in a timely fashion and the information has long since been published in our public employees salary database.
HPD police officers line up to congratulate promoted officers after promotions ceremony held at McCoy Pavillion, Ala Moana Beach Park.
The HPD also was on the verge of a quick release of the information until the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers filed suit in September 2017. SHOPO argued that the department should withhold the names of all officers who had ever worked undercover. HPD said it planned to withhold only the names of current undercover officers.
Circuit Court Judge Virginia Crandall held a hearing on the matter in May and issued her ruling Wednesday. In it she noted the HPD said it “conducted a case-by-case assessment to assure that each police officer that is identified on the roster is performing normal or regular police duties.”
Read more: https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/10/we-may-finally-get-to-see-honolulu-police-salary-information/
District to pay out over $200,000 in public records case
Portland Public Schools will ultimately spend more than $200,000 to find out that the identity of public employees on leave is, in fact, public information.
In a ruling Friday from Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Judith Matarazzo, the school district will pay attorneys' fees and other costs incurred by the Portland Tribune and parent Kim Sordyl in the course of fighting the district's lawsuit to prevent the release of that information.
"The amount of time, effort and money it takes to enforce public records laws shows a broken system," said Sordyl, a PPS parent and education advocate who sits on the Oregon Board of Education. "Oregon law is toothless. I'd like to see penalties for employees who intentionally violate public records laws."
The two-year battle began with a November 2016 request from reporter Beth Slovic, who subsequently came to work for the Portland Tribune, for a list of employees on paid administrative leave. The longtime schools reporter had received this information routinely in the past, but that time the request was denied.
"I never intended for this to be a battle," Slovic said. "It was always surprising to me that PPS decided not to turn over these routine records."
Read more: https://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/408509-307610-district-to-pay-out-over-200000-in-public-records-case
Lawsuit filed against Kent County alleges Open Meetings Act violations
GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- A group of citizens are suing the Kent County Board of Commissioners on claims the public body violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA).
The suit argues county officials violated the state's meeting laws at their Sept. 27 board meeting when the public was barred from attending nearly all of the proceedings and let in, one-by-one, only during public comment.
It requests a judge to find the board in violation of OMA at its Sept. 27 meeting, invalidate all actions by the board at that meeting and compel the board to comply with OMA at all future meetings.
Grand Rapids resident Marta Johnson filed the suit Thursday, Oct. 11, in Kent County Circuit Court. She and fellow resident Christian Bell previously filed a complaint with the Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who told them it would be a conflict of interest for him to take up the case.
Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2018/10/lawsuit_filed_against_kent_cou.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 11, 2018
Austin American Statesman: Inside Texas State’s year of hate: neo-Nazi propaganda fight
SAN MARCOS — The morning after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, a series of flyers appeared on the Texas State University campus featuring a photo of armed men set against the backdrop of an American flag. “Now that our man Trump is elected,” the flyers read, ”(it’s) time to organize tar and feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this Diversity Garbage.”
Students and faculty immediately began imploring university administrators to move quickly to quash what they considered dangerous hate speech spreading across campus. “We are not dealing with ‘different opinions’ here,” wrote assistant religious studies and philosophy professor Rebecca Raphael in an email to university Provost Eugene Bourgeois. “These are threats of physical assault. University leadership needs to call it what it is, and not treat this as if it’s part of academic discourse.”
Yet, internal communications obtained by the American-Statesman show that administrators struggled to formulate a response — not just to that first propaganda attack, but to waves of similar incidents over the next 13 months. At one point, Texas State administrators floated the idea of an auto-bot response to the increasingly frequent attacks— but, ultimately, they concluded it might be seen as insincere.
Between the November 2016 election and December, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups targeted Texas State at least 10 times, more than any other school in the United States over that period, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Read more: https://www.statesman.com/news/20181005/inside-texas-states-year-of-hate-neo-nazi-propaganda-fight
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle: We know details of 911 calls from Charlie Tan's home. They aren't what you think
On July 25, 2009, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office was called to the Pittsford home of the Tan family.
Multiple times before this call, law enforcement had been dispatched to the two-story house with the neatly manicured lawn. And, as had happened multiple times before, the father, Liang Tan, had a complaint about a family member.
Liang Tan, commonly known as "Jim," told deputies that he and his wife, Qing, known as "Jean," had argued, and she had "grabbed his right forearm and scratched him," a Monroe County Sheriff's Office report shows.
"Qing then told Liang that if he stayed in the house she would call police and say that he hit her," according to the report.
While it has been known that the Monroe County Sheriff's Office had multiple calls from the Tan's Pittsford home at 37 Coach Side Ln. between 2003 and February 2015 — the month when Liang Tan was fatally shot in the house — the specific reasons for most of the calls has not before been public. However, the Democrat and Chronicle has obtained many of the reports, and they paint a picture different than what the community has largely assumed were the nature of those 911 calls and the law enforcement response.
Read more: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2018/10/02/charlie-tan-exclusive-911-calls-murder-liang-jim-tan-qing-jean-tan-dateline-nbc/1291732002/
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Legal bills raise new questions about Atlanta airport contracts under Reed
Shortly after Kasim Reed became mayor, his administration hired his former law firm to handle sensitive legal issues at the city’s prime asset, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Paul Hastings LLP defended the fairness of lucrative contract awards when the Reed administration was accused of steering them to political donors; helped resolve the threat of a whistleblower lawsuit by fired airport general manager Miguel Southwell; and ultimately advised the city’s response to a federal corruption probe of his administration, including at the airport.
Now, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found that two of the firm’s partners — both close associates of Reed — had financial interests that experts say could have disqualified Paul Hastings from defending the city against claims that some airport contracts were awarded unfairly.
The AJC’s investigation found that Paul Hastings partners William K. Whitner and Dennis Ellis fought legal challenges to lucrative airport contracts on the city’s behalf, according to hundreds of legal invoices obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act.
Read more: https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt--politics/legal-bills-raise-new-questions-about-airport-contracts-under-reed/i4lM6svpiJWLdNyfviuxsM/
State sued over list of officers with credibility issues
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing the state for access to a list of police officers with credibility problems.
The state Department of Justice is required to maintain a list compiled by police chiefs who've determined that an officer's credibility has been harmed by committing a crime, lying or other inappropriate actions. News outlets requesting the list are given a redacted version that shows 171 officers but not their names.
The attorney general's office has said releasing the names is an invasion of privacy. The lawsuit's plaintiffs argue the public has a right to the information.
The media organizations participating in the lawsuit include the Nashua Telegraph, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Concord Monitor, the Portsmouth Herald, the Keene Sentinel and InDepthNH.org.
Read more: http://www.unionleader.com/courts/union-leader-aclu-to-sue-for-secret-list-of-police-officers-flagged-for-violence-credibility-and-other-issues-20181005
Tennessee Supreme Court hears reporter defamation case
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Supreme Court took up the question Thursday of whether a reporter can be sued for defamation when reporting fairly and accurately on a public proceeding.
Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk is suing a Nashville investigative reporter over 2016 stories on a lawsuit Funk claims accused him of soliciting a bribe, extortion and blackmail.
At issue is whether reporting accurately on the lawsuit protects Phil Williams, or whether that's unimportant if Funk's attorney can show Williams harbored ill will against the official.
Funk's attorney, John Enkema, told the justices on Thursday they should uphold more than 100 years of precedent in which Tennessee courts have taken into account a reporter's personal feelings when judging whether a news report is defamatory.
The justices questioned Enkema intently about the possible ramifications of that posture.
"Say a high federal official defames people right and left," Justice Holly Kirby said. "Wouldn't a reporter be hamstrung from reporting it for fear of defamation?"
Read more: https://apnews.com/da9559c762ea41e284bf81f89622435d
City restores deleted Facebook comments on marijuana proposal
NORTON SHORES, MI – Comments in support of the legalization of marijuana posted on a Norton Shores Police Facebook page have been restored after complaints that their removal was inappropriate government censorship.
The issue arose after the police department shared a Facebook post from AMP Muskegon on Monday, Oct. 1. AMP Muskegon is an anti-drug, community health organization that opposes an upcoming ballot measure to end the marijuana prohibition in Michigan.
Several residents posted comments that disagreed with the post, and city officials acknowledge those posts were hidden from public view.
The situation was resolved on Wednesday, Oct. 3, and each comment was made public after the city received several complaints regarding the incident.
One of those complaints came in the form of a strongly-worded Freedom of Information Act request sent by a member of the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists, or MACRA.
Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2018/10/norton_shores_police_called_ou.html
Newspaper seeks to unseal records in coal baron's appeal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia newspaper is asking a federal court to unseal documents filed as former coal baron Don Blankenship sought to have his criminal mine safety conviction overturned.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports it filed a motion Wednesday to intervene in the case so it can argue that 14 documents should be made available to the public and press.
The court filing says Blankenship's accusations of prosecutorial misconduct have been widely circulated and the public has a right to know what information he's using to support the allegations.
Blankenship, who was CEO of Massey Energy, was convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards at Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in a 2010 explosion.
His conviction was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider a further appeal.
Read more: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/blankenship_trial/gazette-mail-seeks-to-unseal-blankenship-documents/article_6689008c-6719-5311-a6a9-604d09084fb0.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 4, 2018
Kent County likely violated state law by barring public from meeting
GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Kent County likely violated state public meetings law earlier this month.
Jennifer Dukarski, associate general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, says the county likely violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act by barring protesters wholesale from the Kent County Board of Commissioner's relocated Sept. 13 meeting and asking for identification at the door.
People who breach the peace at a meeting can be excluded from attendance, according to the Act, but excluding those in the group not causing a disruption is tantamount to suppressing free speech, Dukarski said.
"You're denying the voice of an entire group of people who have a certain opinion on a matter of import in the community," Dukarski said. "It's a problem, and it runs the risk of being unconstitutional."
Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2018/10/kent_county_likely_violated_st.html
Off limits: Report on state college abuse kept from public
Even as top Pennsylvania officials assail the Catholic Church over its cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, a state agency is refusing to release a report on allegations of sexual abuse by a high-ranking state university administrator despite lingering questions about how the accusers’ complaints were handled.
In a case that bears some broad similarities to — and contains important differences with — the Pennsylvania church scandal that exploded in August, Pennsylvania’s higher education agency won’t agree to allow the public to see the 10-year-old report on former East Stroudsburg University Vice President Isaac Sanders. The report has taken on fresh significance in the wake of a new federal lawsuit by Sanders over his firing that could put Pennsylvania taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.
The office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro — acting as the higher-ed agency’s lawyer — says the report on Sanders remains subject to an 8-year-old confidentiality agreement and can’t be released. But Sanders’ lawyer says he “could care less” if the document is disclosed, and the students who accused Sanders of sexual assault and harassment have long wanted the state’s evidence against him made public, only to be rebuffed by state officials.
The government’s position that it should remain out of public view stands in sharp contrast to Shapiro’s well-publicized effort to force the Catholic Church to be more transparent about child sexual abuse.
Read more: https://apnews.com/2642fc0b73584d0b886749e8e1c7eaf9
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 27, 2018
Sun-Sentinel: Cops in Parkland shooting under investigation for crimes
Florida’s top law enforcement agency says it is investigating whether police committed crimes while responding to February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Immediately after the shooting, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate law enforcement’s response to the shooting, including actions by school deputy Scot Peterson, who took cover outside rather than rush into the building as teachers and children were being shot.
Now, the FDLE tells the South Florida Sun Sentinel that its investigation is criminal in nature. The claim surprised legal experts and raised questions about whether police could be held criminally liable for faltering and not swiftly taking down the shooter.
In addition, experts question whether the label of a criminal investigation is actually designed to shield public records from view. Florida law allows law enforcement to withhold some records related to active criminal investigations.
Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-school-shooting-police-response-investigation-20180921-story.html
The Denver Post: Shrouded Justice: Complaints against Colorado lawyers hidden from public
Dozens of lawsuits filed against lawyers across Colorado — including malpractice cases whose plaintiffs are themselves lawyers — have been hidden from the public for years, keeping secret the details of any alleged misconduct and misdeeds.
The lawsuits have been suppressed, at least one of them forever, by the judges who presided over them and typically at the request of the lawyers being sued, The Denver Post found. The bulk were sealed at the time a settlement was reached, records show.
In several cases, The Post learned, the defendant lawyers were concerned that potentially negative information about them could be made public — one worried that future clients would avoid her because of the allegations in the lawsuit — according to interviews and copies of documents from several suppressed cases shared with the newspaper.
The array of alleged misconduct in the suppressed cases The Post reviewed is broad: misappropriating client cash; lying to the court; overcharging and over-billing clients; hiding assets; careless advice that impacted a lawsuit’s outcome.
In all, The Post found at least 38 suppressed lawsuits that were filed against attorneys in the past five years that, according to interviews and court records, alleged some type of misconduct and were ultimately settled. It’s unclear how many more exist because the state’s court system doesn’t uniformly categorize malpractice cases.
Read more: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/09/21/shrouded-justice-suppressed-malpractice-claims-colorado/
Kavanaugh accuser asks Senate to limit press access for hearing
Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers have asked senators to limit the press who will be allowed in the room to cover Thursday's hearing with her and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and sought to dictate at least some of the outlets.
Coverage is one of a number of issues Ms. Blasey Ford's lawyers are negotiating with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Michael Bromwich said in emails sent Tuesday afternoon that he was requesting access for three "robocams," three specific wire services, photographers from the Associated Press, Reuters and one unspecified service, and a pool reporter for newspapers and magazines. In a follow-up email he specified that the robocams should be operated by "the CSPAN TV pool," and said he also wanted space for a radio reporter.
Read more: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/sep/25/accuser-senate-limit-press-kavanaugh-hearing/
High school journalists stand up to censorship and win
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Armed with a new Vermont law that protects student journalists, four high school editors have stood up to censorship and won, prompting their school to revamp its media policy.
The Burlington High School students had posted a story on the school newspaper website that they collectively wrote on a school employee facing unprofessional conduct charges from the state. They had gotten a tip about the investigation and filed a public records request, posting the story the night of Sept. 10.
The next morning, the principal asked the students' adviser to take it down. The students quickly consulted with legal experts about what do to and wrote on the website that their article had been censored.
Read more: https://apnews.com/6f6d0f48815e426eb6005f9a650c0d98
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 20, 2018
School to adopt new policy after accused of censorship
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont school district says it will adopt a new policy in line with a state law aimed at protecting student journalists after students accused the Burlington High School of censoring a recent school newspaper article.
Last week the principal asked the students to take down a story they broke on the student newspaper website about a school employee facing unprofessional conduct charges.
They took the story down on Tuesday and later vowed to fight the school's action based on the new law. The principal said Thursday that the students could repost the story since the story had appeared in other media.
The school district announced Saturday that it will adopt a new policy consistent with the provisions of the law.
Kentucky state police rank atop records scofflaw list
Louisville TV station WDRB recently published an article on its website about the worst violators of Kentucky's Open Records Act over the past five years. The Kentucky State Police tops the list.
The station notes the irony of this -- that an agency charged with enforcement of the law would so routinely ignore one that applies to itself. Specifically the station found that the Kentucky Attorney General's office, which is the primary arbiter of open records disputes, has found KSP in violation 33 times since 2013. The scandal-plagued University of Louisville came in second with 30 violations over the term.
WDRB cites by way of example its own recent experience. The station requested a copy of a court settlement between KSP and a Harlan County man who was beaten by troopers while handcuffed. KSP's internal counsel sent a generic denial to the request, saying no settlement existed, and if it did, "any documents related to a possible settlement are protected by attorney-client privilege."
But there was a settlement, for $130,000, and the terms of such settlements are by both statute and a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling public record.
The station quotes Jon Fleischaker, the state's leading First Amendment attorney who wrote much of Kentucky's open records statute, as saying such antics by KSP are not new. He said the state police "do not like the proposition that the public has a right to know how they are handling matters, and they have always been recalcitrant in terms of complying with the clear mandate of the open records law."
Read more: https://www.bgdailynews.com/opinion/commentary/state-police-rank-atop-records-scofflaw-list/article_70ffad10-a64a-5acb-b74c-ea9d77479e38.html
Court allows reporters to inspect slain family's autopsies
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Reporters on Wednesday viewed preliminary autopsy reports in the still-unsolved slayings of eight Ohio family members in one of the state's most notorious crimes, following a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court. The reports provided few new details.
The court ruled unanimously in favor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, saying Ohio law allows reporters to view preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, and photographs.
The law governing the viewing of the information is clear, the court said in overturning a lower-court decision.
If "a journalist submits a proper request to review preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, suicide notes, or photographs of the decedent made by the coroner, the coroner 'shall' grant the request," the court said.
The still-unsolved case involves seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes in Piketon in southern Ohio in April 2016.
The Attorney General's Office, which is investigating the killings, made single-page reports for each victim available for inspection Wednesday morning. Under Ohio law, reporters can only view the information and are prohibited even from taking notes. No photos were released.
Read more: https://apnews.com/e191eec46db140438fa9d01bf87fb53e
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 13, 2018
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Hundreds at risk of water shutoffs in Camden’s semi-privatized water system
Jasmine Walker's brick-face home in Camden's Waterfront South section appeared ordinary at first: A purple cutout of the alphabet was pasted to the wall, and a television set rested in the living room, which was cluttered with her kids' toys. But in the next room, dirty laundry lay in piles, the defunct sink overflowed with dishes, water containers of every size littered the tables and floor, and a putrid smell permeated the air.
"I just feel hopeless," Walker said as she sat in her home, anxiously bouncing her 7-month-old daughter, Elaya, on her knee. "I can't seem to win."
In July, American Water, the for-profit company that leases Camden's water system, stopped service to her home due to failure to pay, leaving Walker, 25, and her two daughters, newborn Elaya and 6-year-old Naja, without running water for months. That finally changed on Wednesday, Walker said, after she submitted a form detailing the symptoms of her severe epilepsy and American Water reestablished her water service.
Throughout the city, there are more than 400 homes at risk of having their water shut off like Walker's under Camden's privatized water contract, according to a report acquired by the Inquirer and Daily News through the state's Open Public Records Act.
Read more: http://www2.philly.com/philly/news/new_jersey/american-water-company-shutoffs-camden-water-privatization-20180907.html
Newspaper seeks to unseal senator's arrest records
LANCASTER, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire newspaper has filed a motion to unseal court documents related to domestic violence allegations against Democratic State Sen. Jeff Woodburn.
The Caledonian Record reports a hearing on the motion filed by the Berlin Sun was closed to the public and the press Monday.
Managing editor of the newspaper Barbara Tetreault argues court records are presumed public as defined by the Constitution and state Supreme Court precedent.
The Attorney General's office says the records should remain sealed to protect the integrity of the case.
Woodburn is accused of striking and biting a woman, and kicking in the door of her home. He has pleaded not guilty to assault and domestic violence charges.
Woodburn says he will make a statement after the primary election Tuesday.
Detroit has yet to release dashcam video from 2017 officer-involved shooting
Detroit police, after some prodding, released hundreds of records related to the officer-involved fatal shooting of a 19-year-old man in the backyard of an abandoned home, but have ignored multiple requests for release of the associated dashcam video.
Raynard Burton, according to police reports reviewed by MLive, on Feb. 13, 2017 sped away from police, crashed into another car, smashed the side of a building and then ran away on foot with officers in pursuit.
Eventually cornered in the littered, overgrown backyard of a vacant home with a collapsed garage, police reports say former Detroit Police Officer Jerold Blanding fired a fatal shot into Burton's chest when Burton, who was unarmed, attempted to grab the officer's gun.
While the actual shooting wasn't captured on video, Detroit Police Chief James Craig shortly after Burton's death confirmed there was footage from the chase, which should also include audio and provide a better understanding of the led to the fatal shooting.
Dashcam video was also mentioned in Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's report clearing Blanding, who was initially suspended and later fired for an unrelated matter, and in multiple investigation documents obtained by MLive through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Read more: https://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2018/09/detroit_police_refuse_to_relea.html
University of Missouri System lawsuit over open records will move forward
In a battle over the Sunshine Law, a lawsuit facing the University of Missouri System will move forward, a judge ruled Friday.
In May 2016, Animal Rescue, Media & Education, also known as the Beagle Freedom Project, sued the UM System and its records custodian, Paula Barrett. The suit claimed they violated state open records laws by inflating the costs to produce public records the group had requested.
The defendants made a motion for summary judgment, which would have kept the case from going to trial, but Judge Jeff Harris denied that motion Friday. The court found six issues that need to be resolved in the case:
Whether the UM System is keeping the costs to produce records as low as possible.What kind of employees the UM System uses to produce records.The scope of Animal Rescue, Media & Education’s records request.How the UM System calculated the time it would take to respond to records.The UM System’s record-keeping practices and its impact on the cost of responding to the requests.The $82,222.33 price tag the UM System put on Animal Rescue, Media & Education’s records request.
The defendants argued to stop the lawsuit, saying Animal Rescue, Media & Education couldn’t sue on behalf of others because it doesn’t have official members. The defendants also said they complied with the Sunshine Law by preparing the cost estimate, according to court documents filed by the defendants.
Read more: https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/higher_education/university-of-missouri-system-lawsuit-over-open-records-will-move/article_9727a71e-b540-11e8-9b11-93bc08b21afe.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 6, 2018
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: School districts pay thousands of dollars to settle complaints of wrongdoing
In 2015, the Mt. Lebanon School District hired a volleyball coach despite getting warnings that he had allegedly behaved inappropriately toward players two decades earlier. Later that year, Brian Begor was suspended and resigned after players accused him of “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature,” according to a federal lawsuit.
Mr. Begor was never charged with a crime, although four high school girls and their parents accused him of sexual misconduct in a 2016 federal lawsuit.
In February, Mt. Lebanon agreed to settle that suit for $40,000.
Each year, local school districts agree to settle allegations of negligence, discrimination and other wrongdoing by the district and its employees.
The agreements allow districts to resolve potentially costly and lengthy court battles without admitting fault. In many cases, the settlements are confidential and limit what the parties can say about them publicly.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette submitted Right-To-Know requests to more than 40 Allegheny County districts seeking settlements over the last five years. Some districts denied the request, claiming it was not sufficiently specific. But responses from more than two dozen area districts demonstrate the types of lawsuits and complaints boards have agreed to settle in recent years.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2018/09/02/Local-school-districts-sometimes-pay-tens-of-thousands-of-dollars-to-settle-allegations-of-wrongdoing/stories/201808300137
Stamford Advocate: Scrutiny of correction officers rattles Connecticut’s prisons
Correction officers’ use of force against inmates increased over the last 10 years even as Connecticut’s prison population declined, state statistics show.
But the two sides that run the state’s prisons — corrections officers and officials at the Department of Correction — disagree over the scope of the problem, whether use of force is rising or falling and what, if anything, should be done.
Corrections officers say the need to use force has risen because of prison reforms initiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, such as an often celebrated early release program and less use of isolation cells to punish misbehavior.
“We are dealing with maximum security prisons and a lot of the crimes are violent,” said Rudy Demiraj, president of ASFCME Local 387, which represents prison guards. “The idea of turning prison into some kind of summer camp is not proving to be positive.”
Read more: https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Attacks-on-correction-officers-rattle-13197595.php
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism: Secret political cash quietly reshaping Wisconsin laws
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — At age 2, Yasmine Clark was lead-poisoned so severely that she had to be hospitalized for emergency chelation treatment to cleanse her blood of life-threatening levels of the heavy metal.
At age 5, Yasmine was again diagnosed with lead poisoning. She suffered significant brain damage. Her IQ declined. She developed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
So, in 2006, at age 5, Yasmine became a plaintiff in a Milwaukee County lawsuit filed against multiple paint companies, including National Lead, now called NL Industries, which had made lead paint like that found in the rental homes where she was raised in Milwaukee.
She was among about 170 Wisconsin children named as plaintiffs in lawsuits against the paint companies. The suits sought compensation for medical expenses and other damages for what their attorneys said were severe and permanent injuries from ingesting lead-tainted paint chips.
While these children had compelling personal stories, NL Industries had something even more powerful on its side: Republican politicians facing recall elections in 2011 and 2012 who secretly benefited from $750,000 contributed by NL's owner, Harold Simmons, to an "independent" political group.
Read more: http://www.startribune.com/secret-political-cash-quietly-reshaping-wisconsin-laws/492252581/
Oregon town's leaders may skirt law at DC tree-lighting
SWEET HOME, Ore. (AP) — The City Council of a small Oregon town could break a state open meetings law when they attend the tree-lighting ceremony this Christmas in Washington, D.C.
The Democrat Herald reports that this year's Capitol Christmas Tree was selected from the Sweet Home Ranger District and a City Council delegation will attend the ceremony.
But the town's city manager and city attorney warn that plans by a fourth council member to attend the event on her own could violate the state's open meetings law.
With four members in attendance, a majority of the seven-member council would be present and could feasibly conduct official business.
Council member Lisa Gourley says the law provides for public officials to attend social events together.
Other council members agree, but say the plans could look bad.
Read more: https://democratherald.com/news/council-makes-d-c-christmas-tree-plans/article_13702114-d671-5f3f-9ac0-05fd952b3efd.html
‘My life is threatened.’ Listen to Sen. Daphne Campbell call 911 on a Herald reporter
When a Miami Herald reporter questioned state lawmaker Daphne Campbell after a candidates event, she called 911 to ask for police protection.
“Can you please send a police for me, please, right now,” Campbell told the Miami-Dade police dispatcher. “My life is threatened.”
Miami-Dade police this week released audio of the call made by Campbell, the Democratic state senator who lost reelection Tuesday. In the call, Campbell never specified that the woman “in the colorful dress” was Miami Herald reporter Sarah Blaskey — or the exact nature of her supposed threats.
Read more: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article217463265.html
Washington task force on public records set to convene
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A public records task force created after Washington lawmakers attempted to exempt themselves from the state's Public Records Act is set to convene its first of four meetings.
Wednesday's inaugural meeting will address the topic that caused tension between the Legislature and a coalition of media groups that sued last year: the issue of legislative records and lawmakers' assertion that they are not subject to the same disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials.
The creation of the task force came after a contentious battle over a bill earlier this year — contested by the media and open government advocates — in which lawmakers had sought to change the law to retroactively specify that the state's voter-approved Public Records Act did not apply to the legislative branch. Lawmakers introduced and passed the bill — which allowed for a more limited legislative disclosure obligation for things like daily calendars and correspondence with lobbyists — in two days, overriding all normal legislative procedures to quickly advance it with minimal public input. After thousands of people called or emailed the governor's office in opposition, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the measure.
That bill was in response to a lawsuit filed by a media coalition, led by The Associated Press, who asserted lawmakers were violating the law by not releasing emails, schedules and reports of sexual harassment. In January, a Thurston County superior court judge ruled that while the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not subject to the Public Records Act, the statute was clear that the offices of individual lawmakers were covered by the law. That ruling has been appealed, and is currently awaiting arguments before the state Supreme Court.
Read more: https://apnews.com/24537682deee41b4af34d22f9bcdc371
Virginia to keep medical cannabis licensing process secret
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The state panel that will award Virginia's first five medical marijuana licenses will keep the application review process confidential.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Virginia Board of Pharmacy Chair Rafael Saenz announced Tuesday that the 51 applications would be considered in closed session. The decision came after regulators conferred about Virginia's public-meeting law for 30 minutes. The pharmacy board's executive director, Caroline Juran, says the attorney general's office provided advice.
Medical cannabis applications are being treated as medical license applications, and are therefore exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act — unlike other business proposals.
The presiding committee did release initial application scores, but the companies weren't identified by name.
This first wave of dispensaries will produce only CBD or THC-A oils, which don't provide a high.
Read more: https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/state-panel-handing-out-virginia-s-first-medical-marijuana-licenses/article_cabe12af-60e5-5f15-9d85-03c7e9531314.html
Pittsburg Post-Gazette: School districts pay thousands of dollars to settle complaints of wrongdoing
In 2015, the Mt. Lebanon School District hired a volleyball coach despite getting warnings that he had allegedly behaved inappropriately toward players two decades earlier. Later that year, Brian Begor was suspended and resigned after players accused him of “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature,” according to a federal lawsuit.
Mr. Begor was never charged with a crime, although four high school girls and their parents accused him of sexual misconduct in a 2016 federal lawsuit.
In February, Mt. Lebanon agreed to settle that suit for $40,000.
Each year, local school districts agree to settle allegations of negligence, discrimination and other wrongdoing by the district and its employees.
The agreements allow districts to resolve potentially costly and lengthy court battles without admitting fault. In many cases, the settlements are confidential and limit what the parties can say about them publicly.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/local/south/2016/04/25/In-lawsuit-girls-accuse-Mount-Lebanon-volleyball-coach-of-sexual-misconduct/stories/201604250115
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 30, 2018
Mississippi mayor to city employees: Don't talk to media
MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi mayor is telling city employees and other elected officials not to talk to the media, saying all information about local government has to come from him.
McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley, a Democrat, has been in office about two months. He told the Enterprise-Journal on Monday that he is the only city spokesman.
"If you all want to know something, you see me," Lockley told the newspaper. "No city employee is supposed to talk to you."
City Administrator Kelvin Butler sent an email Aug. 15 telling city employees, including police and fire chiefs, not to talk to the press. The email was also addressed to the selectmen on the city's elected governing board.
One selectman, Republican Ted Tullos, told the newspaper he can speak about city issues.
"Some people are control freaks," Tullos said. "I can give my opinion. ... I can speak for being an elected official."
The email was sent at about the time the city board was in the midst of several turbulent meetings about department directors' job security and about a selectman's proposal to decriminalize the use of small amounts of marijuana. It was sent the same day the newspaper began inquiring about traffic tickets issued to another selectman. The mayor, however, said the email wasn't a response to any specific Enterprise-Journal article.
"Understand right now in order to control what comes out of City Hall, to control what's misconstrued by the newspaper or the radio, I want to make sure if it's going to be misconstrued, it's coming out of my mouth," Lockley said. "Right now, until I get things the way I want it, all of it's going to come through the mayor's office."
Read more: http://www.enterprise-journal.com/news/article_69719e3e-aa4f-11e8-959e-1ba8a6bda3de.html
Billings Gazette, KTVQ want city to pay legal fees in police sexual misconduct case
The Billings Gazette and KTVQ want the city to pay their legal fees after intervening in a court case meant to keep secret the names of police officers disciplined for sexual misconduct.
The two media outlets have asked District Court Judge Donald Harris to order the city to pay legal fees for the newspaper and television station, saying they wrongly had to go to court to enforce the public’s right to know. That right is laid out in the state and U.S. constitutions.
The legal wrangling stems from public information requests The Gazette made regarding the discipline for sexual encounters between three Billings Police Department officers and one city employee, which took place either on city property or while the individuals were on duty.
The trysts were discovered during an unrelated investigation into the city employee’s drug thefts at the BPD evidence locker.
The media outlets argue the fees are warranted because the city breached the public’s right to know. They say it exceeded and later violated court orders, and that it failed to act as a neutral party.
The city opposes the request, saying it worked diligently to redact the requested 1,000-plus pages of information while ensuring privacy protections for third parties. It also noted that some redactions the court ordered were more extensive than those the city had proposed.
Read more: https://billingsgazette.com/news/crime/billings-police-officers-disciplined-for-having-sex-in-city-hall/article_14af5787-bf37-5577-ab72-137731266381.html
North Carolina newspaper asks court to unseal lawsuit
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina newspaper has asked a state appeals court to order the public release of a lawsuit involving a car dealership owner charged in South Carolina with molesting a 15-year-old boy during a NASCAR weekend at Darlington Raceway.
The Fayetteville Observer reports that its attorney argued Wednesday that a Superior Court judge's decision last year to keep the case sealed was overly broad and should be reversed by the state's Court of Appeals.
An appeals court panel didn't immediately rule on the newspaper's request, which was opposed by a lawyer for parties in the sealed case. That attorney, James A. "Trey" McLean III, argued that the documents should remain sealed to protect children involved in the case.
Other news organizations, including The Associated Press, have supported the Observer's appeal.
Voting rights group behind secretive FOIA requests to Michigan clerks
LANSING, MI – A voting rights organization is behind Freedom of Information Act requests to Michigan clerks for ballots from the 2016 election.
The national Priorities USA Foundation is behind the requests for information, a spokesperson confirmed. In a statement, the group said it was undertaking a research effort.
"In light of numerous threats to voting rights in recent years, the Priorities USA Foundation is committed to identifying and eliminating barriers to voting and ensuring that future elections are fair and accessible for every eligible voter," the group said in a statement.
"To this end, the Priorities USA Foundation recently began an in-depth research effort to determine whether any discrepancies exist in the ballot process across various states and precincts that might disproportionately affect certain communities, particularly communities of color and young people."
The group contracted with an outside company to make the FOIA requests.
In Michigan that resulted in a series of Freedom of Information Act requests that alarmed local clerks. A person identifying themselves only as "Emily" requested information from the 2016 election like poll books, voted ballots and absentee voting envelopes, including peoples' signatures, from clerks across the state.
In cases where she sent payment, "Emily" blacked out the address on her checks.
The Priorities USA Foundation is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting voting rights through advocacy, litigation and research. It's affiliated with Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC.
Ashland rejects proposal to videotape more meetings
The city of Ashland Board of Commissioners rejected a request to videotape more municipal meetings Thursday because of concerns it could dissuade volunteers and citizens from participating in local government.
The decision to reject the video proposal, however, was not without conflict. City Commissioner Matt Perkins later said the city's Director of Economic Development, Chris Pullem, misrepresented the cost of videotaping meetings in an email sent to volunteer board members. Pullem said the cost estimate was just a guess and he was trying to provide the information to board members he had available at the time.
"I'm troubled by the discrepancy," Perkins said.
And, it appears the city also violated the State Open Meetings Act by conducting an email poll of volunteer board members about the issue instead of gathering the information through an open, public meeting.
Read more: http://www.dailyindependent.com/news/ashland-rejects-proposal-to-videotape-more-meetings/article_3a31fe34-a739-11e8-a4e7-b36bc87c4891.html
Police video shows detention of Denver journalist
DENVER (AP) — Body camera video of police detaining a Denver journalist photographing officers shows one officer taking her phone and another handcuffing her right after saying she would be arrested for interfering if she didn't stop.
Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, was put in a patrol car in July after trying to document police tending to a handcuffed naked man on a sidewalk.
An officer used his body and hands to block her. When she stopped to talk, he said medical privacy law trumped her First Amendment rights to record the scene.
She was handcuffed after she then tried to photograph his badge. Officers told her to stand up and "act like a lady" and to stop resisting and relax when she said they were hurting her. She was released after about 10 minutes.
Read more: https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2018/08/28/denver-police-editor-handcuff-first-amendment/
Judge hears closing arguments in Galloway Sunshine suit
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge is weighing arguments in a lawsuit alleging that Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway allowed text messages to be deleted in the face of an open records request.
The Jefferson City News-Tribune reports that attorneys for the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, a conservative nonprofit, and Galloway made closing arguments Tuesday. A Cole County judge isn't expected to rule until late September or early October.
The nonprofit's attorney, Ed Greim, says Galloway's office violated its own policies about preserving records. Part of the issue for the auditor's office is their use of iPhones with settings that automatically erased messages after 30 days, unless the settings were changed.
Galloway's chief litigation counsel says the group was given screen-shots of some text messages, as well as 45,000 pages of emails and other communications.
Read more: http://www.newstribune.com/news/local/story/2018/aug/29/judge-hears-closing-arguments-in-galloway-sunshine-suit/741008/
Local officials respond to FOIA from ‘Emily’
City and township officials in Mason County and across the state were rocked last week by a mysterious Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all copies of all Election Day ballots and personal absentee voter information from the 2016 presidential election.
The request came from an organization called United Impact Group with a listed address in Astoria, New York, which is in Queens. It did not contain an explanation or reason for the request.
The letter was signed, simply, “Emily.”
The City of Ludington on Monday shared its copy of the letter, which included a contact phone number and email address, with the Daily News, and LDN staff subsequently reached out to the group seeking a comment about the motives behind the statewide FOIA request, but has not heard back at this time.
Representatives from local municipalities said the requests started to filter into the county around Monday, Aug. 20 and have now made their way to every township and city in the county.
United Impact Group has asked every municipality for Election Day ballots and related materials including copies of all ballots cast and counted, ballots cast and not counted, the reason any ballots were not counted and all rejected or spoiled ballots.
Also requested are copies of all absentee ballots and provisional ballots and the reasons why any were deemed ineligible or not counted. United Impact Group has also asked for “any and all records” containing the names and information about absentee voters.
Read the full story in Tuesday's Ludington Daily News print and e-Editions
Read more: http://www.shorelinemedia.net/ludington_daily_news/local-officials-respond-to-foia-from-emily/article_29852650-aad7-11e8-ad60-df20744bb0fe.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 23, 2018
America, help! The freedom of the nation depends on you, hundreds of news outlets write
Here are excerpts from a nationwide drive of newspaper editorials to promote a free press and reject President Donald Trump's drive to scapegoat journalists as "enemies of the people." (Thanks to the many editors who e-mailed their editorials our way).
The Boston Globe: "Replacing a free media with a state-run media has always been a first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country."
Greensboro (North Carolina) News & Record: President Trump "believes there should be restrictions on how your government and elected officials should be covered, that there should be prohibitions on that flow of information. This in direct contradiction to the principle that the framers of our Constitution gave first priority ...
"That's the irrefutable reason that the authors of the Constitution specified a free press in its very first amendment. They were thinking about you."
Read more: https://www.poynter.org/news/america-help-freedom-nation-depends-you-hundreds-news-outlets-write
Kansas newspaper goes from endorsing Trump to denouncing his attacks on the press
It hasn't even been two years since the editorial board of the Topeka Capital-Journal handed Donald Trump one of his few newspaper endorsements in the run-up to the 2016 election, calling him "the wisest choice to lead our nation going forward."
But on Thursday, the paper will publish a very different editorial, as it joins nearly 350 other publications across the country in standing up to Trump's anti-press rhetoric.
"It's an acknowledgment that we're part of this community," Capital-Journal publisher Stephen Wade told CNN. "The people who work for me here, my teammates, they live here, they play here. We're just normal people, too. To make us out to be enemies is just not right."
Trump has routinely used the phrase "enemies of the people" to rail against the media, calling unfavorable coverage of his administration "fake news." The paper's editorial will zero in on these attacks.
"We're sitting here in Topeka, the capital city of Kansas, and we're in the middle of a heated election year," Wade said. "It's one of those deals where if someone doesn't like what's being asked, if they think we're not being favorable to their candidate of choice, then it gets to be very contentious. The cry of of 'fake news' starts to get yelled across the room. It's a difficult environment."
Read more: https://money.cnn.com/2018/08/15/media/topeka-capital-journal-trump/index.html
Editorial | How we restore faith in journalism
The president of the United States enjoys hurling insults, like a howitzer firing shells, at American institutions. The court system. The FBI. The “Justice” Department. The media. The U.S. Congress. As is true for all 487 people, places and things that The New York Times says Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter since declaring his presidential candidacy, none of these institutions is perfect. They make mistakes. Like the presidency, they also make a difference in people’s daily lives.
Consider the potential of tens of thousands of news media members. Consider the potential of The San Diego Union-Tribune’s staff.
These journalists seek the truth and report it while minimizing harm every day. They don’t promote any single person, ideology or political agenda. Their only agenda is the truth.
Just one example? Without the hard work of journalists at several local news outlets, the region’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak may have been much worse. When The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board named the 20 unidentified people who died during the crisis as its 2017 people of the year, we wrote, “These 20 hepatitis A deaths represent the real cost of a series of public policy errors, missteps and inaction.” If not for journalists, these government lapses would have been more egregious.
Read more: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/editorials/sd-why-journalism-matters-newspaper-editorials-20180815-story.html
Judge blasts Sun Sentinel for publishing confidential information in Parkland school shooting case
A furious judge scolded the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Wednesday for publishing confidential but legally obtained information about Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the newspaper flouted her order that portions of a school district report about Cruz should remain shielded from the public. In the future, she declared, she will consider listing exactly what the newspaper can and cannot print.
Scherer did not rule on a school district request that the newspaper and two reporters be held in contempt for publishing the information.
At issue is a report released Aug. 3 based on Cruz's educational record, revealing what officials knew about him in the years leading up to his Feb. 14 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he killed 17 people and wounded 17 more.
Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-florida-school-shooting-contempt-hearing-20180814-story.html
Government transparency bill would mandate regular updates
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey lawmaker is pushing for legislation to require greater transparency in state government.
Republican state Sen. Joe Pennacchio said Tuesday he's pushing for legislation in response to an Associated Press report that showed state agency performance reports previously promised to be updated monthly would be updated quarterly.
Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie had promised the monthly updates, though some agencies failed to meet the deadline. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is keeping the reports, but his administration says they'll be updated periodically. Three of 22 agencies have not posted any updates since Christie left office.
Pennacchio's legislation would mandate updates and set up a transparency committee to advise and coordinate greater openness.
Pennacchio says he's pushing the measure originally proposed in 2012 in light of the AP's report.
UNC-Chapel Hill spends $21 million on academic scandal
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — UNC-Chapel Hill has spent $21 million on investigations, public relations and legal bills connected to the six-year academic scandal at the school.
The university's total bill came from a Freedom of Information Act request from The News & Observer of Raleigh.
The school spent $3.5 million on a number of lawyers to defend it against the NCAA's investigation into irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department.
The school got the result it wanted as an infractions committee panel ruled there were no violations because the school argued the courses were legitimate and available to non-athletes, too.
University officials say the $21 million did not come from tuition or taxpayer money appropriated by lawmakers.
Gov. Inslee condemns state lawmaker’s remarks calling journalists ‘dirty, godless, hateful people’
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that state Rep. Matt Shea’s remarks calling journalists “those dirty, godless, hateful people” should disqualify him from the public-records task force.
Shea, a Republican from Spokane Valley and member of GOP House leadership, made the remarks over the weekend at a gun-rights rally in Spokane.
In a tweet Tuesday, Inslee said, “There is no excuse for condoning such ill-informed and radical rhetoric from the House GOP caucus chair” and the remarks should disqualify Shea.
Inslee Chief of Staff David Postman said the governor’s office reached out to the House Republican chief of staff with concerns Monday about Shea’s remarks, though it didn’t ask for Shea to step down from the task force.
Read more: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/gov-inslee-condemns-state-lawmakers-remarks-calling-journalists-dirty-godless-hateful-people/
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 16, 2018
The New York Times: Inside Twitter’s Struggle Over What Gets Banned
SAN FRANCISCO — With his arms folded, Jack Dorsey paced back and forth in a conference room at Twitter’s headquarters on Friday afternoon.
In a rare look inside one of the social media company’s policy meetings, the Twitter chief executive gathered with 18 colleagues, including the safety team, to debate ways to make the social media service safer for its users. The discussion quickly turned to how to rid the site of “dehumanizing” speech, even if it did not violate Twitter’s rules, which forbid direct threats of violence and some forms of hate speech but do not prohibit deception or misinformation.
Twitter asked that members of its safety team not be identified, for fear of them becoming targeted by internet trolls. “Please bear with me,” said one team member at the meeting. “This is incredibly complex.”
For about an hour, the group tried to get a handle on what constituted dehumanizing speech. At one point, Mr. Dorsey wondered if there was a technology solution. There was no agreement on an answer.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/technology/twitter-free-speech-infowars.html
Can Trump’s White House legally ban reporters?
As long as reporters have covered government officials, they’ve sought greater access than the government was willing to allow.
The White House excluded a CNN reporter from an international trade announcement with the president of the European Commission on July 25, in apparent retaliation after she shouted unwelcome questions at President Donald Trump during an Oval Office appearance. Many observers viewed this move as an escalation of the Trump administration’s hostility toward journalists.
The Washington Post called the decision to exclude CNN’s Kaitlan Collins “highly unusual and possibly unprecedented.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called it “an offense against the First Amendment interests of all of us.”
But did the White House actually violate the Constitution?
As a media law professor, I regularly remind students that the First Amendment right of access to government officials, records and events is surprisingly uncertain. The First Amendment guarantees all Americans freedom to speak and publish without government interference. It has been broadly interpreted by the Supreme Court to forbid the government from restraining or punishing a speaker based on the content of the speaker’s message.
While journalists have a clearly established First Amendment right to publish the news they’ve gathered – even in extreme cases, like the leak of stolen Pentagon documents – it’s much less clear that the First Amendment protects the right to gather the news in the first place.
Read more: https://theconversation.com/can-trumps-white-house-legally-ban-reporters-101062
Salt Lake Tribune: Snubbed for a tourism grant, this Utah man launched his own journalistic investigation that caught board members enriching themselves
After a career as an accountant, Lynn David bought a 9,000-square-foot house just outside of Midway that he turned into The Hiking Inn, a bed and breakfast aimed at drawing tourists with a taste for the outdoors to this mountain recreation wonderland.
In 2017, David applied for a small grant from the regional Tourism Advisory Board, created to disperse a percentage of the hotel tax collected in Wasatch County, but he was turned down.
This year, David was back with a beefed up proposal and a request for $3,600 — which he would match with his own money — to improve The Hiking Inn’s website and to do some additional advertising. He was offered $500, such a pittance, he said, that it was pointless.
Then David got curious: Where was the money going? Then he got busy digging, and what he found disturbed him.
Through a series of requests under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act and a dive into other publicly available records, David found that for 2018, the Tourism Advisory Board had $50,000 to allocate and got 29 applications totaling more than three times that amount of money.
Read more: https://www.sltrib.com/news/2018/08/06/gehrke-snubbed-tourism/
The Missoulian: Documents provide new information on dismissal of ex-prison warden
Newly released documents provide more insight into the stint of a Montana State Prison warden who was fired before the end of his probationary period.
But they don't include specific details about reasons for Michael Fletcher's termination. Fletcher's hiring was announced in March 2017 and he briefly overlapped with the outgoing warden. He was dismissed in January 2018.
Because Fletcher was let go during his probationary period, the department could terminate him for any reason or no reason at all.
The nearly 150 pages of records include anonymous complaints claiming bad behavior by Fletcher, though it’s unclear whether the accusations were investigated or confirmed by the state Department of Corrections.
Fletcher disputes nearly all the accusations, which include poor treatment of prisoners, sexual harassment, trouble with alcohol and retaliation against employees who brought forward concerns.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections would not confirm if Fletcher was ever formally investigated, answering a question about whether an investigation occurred by saying “The department has provided all available public records on this issue and has no further comment.”
Read more: https://missoulian.com/news/government-and-politics/documents-provide-new-information-on-dismissal-of-ex-prison-warden/article_72daa592-f802-5b91-b0a2-9be2ac1e3975.html
De Blasio lets security haul away Post reporter for asking question
Mayor Bill de Blasio is a such a big believer in the free press that he let two bodyguards physically remove a credentialed Post reporter who had the temerity to ask him a question in public on Sunday.
The unusual muzzling unfolded at the start of the annual Dominican Day Parade in Manhattan, where the reporter sought de Blasio’s reaction to The Post’s front page story about his administration’s many meetings with lobbyists.
It also came after Hizzoner appeared on national TV Sunday to proclaim, “I believe in a free, strong media with diverse views — I’ll defend it with all I’ve got.”
Just two hours later, after de Blasio cut a ribbon to kick off the parade and was posing for photos near West 37th Street and Sixth Avenue, the reporter asked him to comment on the Page One “CITY FOR SALE” story.
Instead of answering or even declining to answer the question, the mayor watched as two members of his NYPD security detail approached the reporter — who was wearing a police-issued press pass around his neck — with one grabbing his shoulder and leading him away from the mayor.
“Kevin, you have to leave. You can’t be here,” the plainclothes cop said.
Both bodyguards then escorted the reporter about a half-block away, where a member of the NYPD’s public information office, Officer Brian Magoolaghan, told him, “Come on, Kevin. No stunts today.”
Read more: https://nypost.com/2018/08/12/de-blasio-lets-security-haul-away-post-reporter-for-asking-question/
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 9, 2018
The Baltimore Sun: Howard County human rights investigator accuses some school board members of discrimination, homophobia
hen Renee Foose stepped down last year as superintendent of Howard County schools, someone tied a “get well” balloon to her mailbox.
But the message had been altered: “Don’t” get well soon, her anonymous correspondent wished.
It was a token of the hostility that seethed beneath the surface of one of the highest achieving and most lauded school districts in the nation.
After Foose resigned last May, the county Office of Human Rights found, her top deputies were refused appointments and barred from meetings. One was banished to a smaller office.
In reports obtained by The Baltimore Sun, human rights investigator Cheryl Brower wrote that she had found reasonable cause to believe some school board members discriminated against three of Foose’s chiefs: Tim Thornburg, director of staff relations; Grace Chesney, chief accountability officer; and John White, director of communications.
They were targeted for supporting her, Brower wrote, and in the cases of Chesney and Thornburg, for being gay. She noted evidence that two school board members had uttered homophobic remarks.
Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/k-12/bs-md-howard-school-board-discrimination-20180619-story.html
The Oregonian: Oregon allows educators to be punished in secret
Several years ago, when she was a high school teacher, a new assistant principal at Ockley Green Middle School broke a rule, partly because Portland Public Schools wasn't vigilant about communicating and enforcing the standard.
Twice, Regina Sackrider drank alcohol while on school field trips, first on an overnight stay and later when she ordered a drink with a meal. She didn't appear drunk and no one got hurt, state discipline records indicate. Both times she wasn't the only adult drinking. Portland Public Schools officials didn't feel the conduct merited action, but the state agency that licenses educators did after an investigator discovered the drinking while looking into an unrelated matter.
The ensuing investigation found her guilty of unprofessional conduct. State regulators put her on probation for two years, but also granted her a little-known mercy: Her misconduct would stay secret.
Since 2009, regulators have had the ability to punish educators in private as a way to give them a conditional second chance. This is done through an informal letter that goes only to the educator and the educator's employer.
This method keeps secret from the public not only the conduct of the educator, but the actions of the educator's bosses. For example, the secret Teacher Standards and Practices documents that The Oregonian/OregonLive obtained detail not only Sackrider's mistakes but also reference "a lack of training and policy conformation on the part of the school district.
Read more: https://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2018/08/oregon_allows_educators_to_be.html
School board asks judge to hold Sun Sentinel in contempt over school-shooter report
The Broward County School Board on Monday asked a judge to hold the South Florida Sun Sentinel and two of its reporters in contempt of court over the publication of a report about the Parkland shooter’s years within the school system.
The School Board alleges the newspaper intentionally published information it knew a judge had ordered to be redacted.
After a judge’s order, the school district publicly released the report Friday with nearly two-thirds of its content blacked out to protect 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz’s privacy rights. But the district used a method that failed: Anyone could copy and paste the blacked-out report into a Word document to make all the text visible.
Sun Sentinel reporters Brittany Wallman and Paula McMahon, acting on a Facebook tip from a reader at 7:30 p.m., discovered on deadline the concealed text could be viewed. The reporters quickly rewrote the story reflecting the entire report, providing the first detailed account about the school shooter’s years in the school system, what the district knew about him and what mistakes were made.
The court filing alleges the Sun Sentinel knew what information was supposed to remain confidential because it had attended court hearings about the release of the report and agreed that certain material could not legally be disclosed.
Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-sb-school-district-contempt-20180806-story.html
Virginia pharmacy board member ousted over protest access
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ousted a Virginia Board of Pharmacy member and civic activist accused of using her credentials to access a closed site near the Mountain Valley Pipeline route.
The Roanoke Times obtained April emails through a Freedom of Information Act in which Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson told Freeda Cathcart she was dismissed from the board for misconduct. But Cathcart said Tuesday that she told Forest Service officials she was a volunteer and only used her state ID to identify herself April 9.
She said state officials didn't hear her side of the story before removing her.
She was arrested the day of her visit for violating a closure order, and pleaded guilty to the petty offense July 23. She was fined $150.
Read more: https://www.roanoke.com/news/local/roanoke/roanoke-activist-removed-from-state-board-for-actions-at-april/article_1a7008a5-6131-5f6d-bd3b-c63cbc0d6583.html
Report: Mississippi city broke law in closed garbage talks
NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A hearing officer says a southwest Mississippi city government violated the state's open meetings law in reviewing potential garbage collection contracts behind closed doors.
The finding against the Natchez mayor and aldermen was released Friday.
The board could face a $500 fine for the violation, but lawyer Leonard Van Slyke tells The Natchez Democrat that such fines are rare on first offense. The decision is scheduled to be made Sept. 26 by the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
The closed meeting brought complaints from the newspaper, the Mississippi Justice Institute and local residents.
The contract increases garbage collection prices by 25 percent.
The report notes citizens should be able to attend meetings and observe everything.
Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell says he didn't intend to break the law and will comply going forward.
Read more: https://www.natchezdemocrat.com/2018/08/05/ethics-report-finds-natchez-violated-open-meetings-act/
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 2, 2018
White House bans network pool reporter from Rose Garden event
The White House took retaliatory action against Kaitlan Collins, a White House reporter for CNN, after Collins asked President Trump questions at an Oval Office photo op on Wednesday.
CNN, rival networks, and the White House Correspondents Association all spoke out against the administration's action.
On Wednesday afternoon Collins was representing all the television networks as the "pool reporter" in the room during a meeting between Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission.
As is customary, Collins lobbed a few questions at the president. She asked about Vladimir Putin and Michael Cohen. Trump did not answer the questions.
Later in the afternoon, the White House surprised the press corps by announcing a press availability with Trump and Juncker in the Rose Garden. It was said to be open to all press, not just the small pool.
A few minutes later, Collins was asked to come to Bill Shine's office. Shine, a former co-president of Fox News, is the new deputy chief of staff for communications. Shine and press secretary Sarah Sanders met Collins there.
"They said 'You are dis-invited from the press availability in the Rose Garden today,'" Collins said in an interview. "They said that the questions I asked were inappropriate for that venue. And they said I was shouting."
Read more: https://money.cnn.com/2018/07/25/media/white-house-kaitlan-collins-press-pool/index.html
White House defends decision to bar CNN reporter from event
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Thursday defended its decision to bar a CNN correspondent from attending an open press event but contended it had nothing to do with the questions she asked.
Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Kaitlan Collins was denied access to Trump's Rose Garden event with the European Commission president on Wednesday because of her refusal to leave the Oval Office during a previous availability with the president. She and her employer, CNN, said she was barred because White House officials found her questions "inappropriate," which Gidley disputed.
"It had nothing to do with the content of the question," Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Donald Trump headed back to Washington from Iowa and Illinois.
Collins had served as a representative of the television networks during an earlier "pool spray" availability in the Oval Office. She and a handful of other reporters peppered the president with questions, including many focused on his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. A day earlier, CNN had obtained and aired a secret audio recording that captured Trump and Cohen discussing a potential payment to a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump.
Gidley said Collins "was told repeatedly to leave the Oval Office." She refused and stayed "despite staff, Secret Service, everyone trying to usher everyone out of the room," Gidley said. "And that can't happen."
Other journalists who were in the room disputed the White House account.
Read more: https://apnews.com/da0fca6bfc46433283f8ac5bb1573b93
Montgomery Advertiser: Here's why Alabama's Open Meetings Law is important to you
Failure to post a public notice. Private executive sessions without proper justification. Closed-door meetings to garner support for the firing of an official. Flat-out denial of entrance to outside viewers and unapproved media entities.
Those are a few of the many instances of alleged violations in the past few years of the Alabama Open Meetings Law, a law created in 2005 and updated in 2015 to ensure that lawmakers, city council members, transit boards and other public bodies debate, deliberate and vote within the public's view. Several people versed in the law, however, said that there are ways for officials to skirt the law, and one lawmaker has expressed a desire to further strengthen it.
Last week, the Montgomery City Council may have violated the law, but the city's governing body is not the only group to come under scrutiny recently. Last month, the town of Paint Rock made national headlines when a journalist from the Jackson County Sentinel wrote a column about the town's rules, which barred non-citizens and unapproved news reporters from meetings.
“It was pretty egregious,” said Brandon Cox, publisher and editor at the paper as well as the author of the column that sparked the controversy.
Read more: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/politics/2018/07/26/alabama-open-meeting-act-punishment-enforcement-cam-ward-sunlight-foundation-city-council-montgomery/826232002/
'We are fighting for information about war': Pentagon curbs media access
At a mid-July news conference at the Pentagon, AP reporter Lolita Baldor asked Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, about an attack in Afghanistan that had led to the death of an American soldier. But before he could reply, a Defense Department press officer cut in to say that Milley and the three officials flanking him would be answering questions only about the intended topic for the news conference: the announcement of the location of a new command.
The next question went to Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. Over the previous two days, President Donald Trump had roiled the NATO summit in Brussels with verbal shots at the alliance's members, so Griffin, after opening with a question about the new command, added, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with Lita, we don't have an opportunity to see you enough. Gen. Milley, have you reached out to your counterparts in Europe after the NATO summit to reassure them that the U.S. forces are staying?"
Again, the press officer cut off the question before Milley could answer.
The incident, which left Pentagon reporters furious, was the latest flash point in what has become an increasingly adversarial relationship between Defense Secretary James Mattis' Cabinet department and the reporters who cover it. Chief among the complaints, according to defense reporters who spoke to POLITICO, are declining access to Mattis and other military officials, as well as a sense that reporters are not receiving the information they need to keep the public informed about America's military activities.
Read more: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/26/pentagon-media-access-restricted-743347
Newspaper: Indiana city paying $1M for Colts' hotel rental
WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Records show that officials in an Indianapolis suburb that's now home to the Colts' summer training camp agreed to pay about $1.1 million over three years toward the NFL team's hotel rental.
Contract documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star through a records request show officials in Westfield committed to paying half of the hotel rental bill last year while publicly saying that no city incentives would be used. The team is leasing a 152-room Cambria Suites for roughly 30 days each summer to accommodate players, coaches and staff.
Todd Burtron is chief of staff to Mayor Andy Cook. He says the contract isn't misleading and that technically city funds aren't being used. He says money from Hamilton County's tourism bureau will cover the cost.
Read more: https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/hamilton-county/2018/07/30/westfield-pay-hotel-1-1-million-host-colts-during-training-camp/842109002/
Another former OU attorney joins open records lawsuit against OU Foundation
The OU Foundation’s arena plans may be on hold, but an open records lawsuit against the foundation is pushing forward.
On Monday, Fred Gipson announced that fellow former general counsel for the University of Oklahoma Stanley Ward has joined him in the lawsuit. Like Gipson, he believes the OU Foundation should be treated as a public entity and its records should be subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
“I read the suit in the paper and I discussed it with Fred and I think he’s absolutely right that there is a greater need for more transparency,” Ward said. “We talk about openness in government and we all salute the Open Meetings Act, we all salute the Open Records Act. The problem is in the execution.”
Ward said all too often governmental bodies look to block access to records that should be readily available and transparent.
Read more: http://www.normantranscript.com/news/local_news/another-former-ou-attorney-joins-open-records-lawsuit-against-ou/article_b7bd56fe-6128-5f71-b951-325625c92b40.html
Duquesne City Schools agreed to $300,000 settlement in child sex abuse case
The financially troubled Duquesne City School District last year agreed to pay $300,000 as part of a confidential agreement to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed administrators failed to act on reports of inappropriate behavior by a teacher's aide who sexually abused a 9-year-old girl.
The agreement, which the Post-Gazette obtained last week through a Right-To-Know request, was reached in February 2017 to settle a federal lawsuit that was filed against the district in 2013 by the family of the victim.
The lawsuit claimed that officials failed to act on reports that a teacher’s aide, Thomas DiDomenico, was suspected of abusing the student during the 2010-2011 school year.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2018/08/01/Duquesne-CIty-Schools-paid-300-000-to-settle-sex-assault-case/stories/201807310114
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 26, 2018
Arizona Daily Star: Banner Health's Tucson computer conversion yielded reports of medical errors
There were “numerous” reports of medical errors after Banner Health’s conversion to a new computer system at its Tucson facilities late last year, state records show.
Records of an Arizona Department of Health Services investigation into complaints about Banner’s computer conversion released to the Star after a public-records request were heavily redacted.
But the records indicate Banner’s Oct. 1 switch adversely affected patients and caused a high level of frustration among some staff members.
One complaint, dated Oct. 19 says, “The biggest issue is patient safety and harm to patients,” and that “many of the staff are in tears and frustrated because of the lack of support and empathy to the consequences of patient care.”
Hospital leaders acknowledged delays in getting patients registered, delays in ordering and receiving lab results and delays in ordering and getting medications, records say, but said no patients were harmed.
“Hospital leadership denied there were any incidents that resulted in a negative outcome to patients, however, the hospital’s occurrence log for October 2017 showed numerous incidents of medical errors reported to be a result of the conversion,” state investigators wrote.
Read more: https://tucson.com/news/local/banner-health-s-tucson-computer-conversion-yielded-reports-of-medical/article_eb92e133-201d-59d9-99d2-c8ce38a038fe.html
The Missoulian: Montana citizens have a right to know; Krakauer case could determine if they can afford it
Earlier this year, Mary Lou Pilati wanted to see documents related to a real estate sale by the town of Fromberg, outside Billings.
Questioning the sale price of the property, Pilati requested from the town copies of any proposed purchase contracts, bid letters, closing statements and other pertinent records. She made the request through a local citizens group, the.fromberg.advocacy.com.
In Montana, state statute requires government agencies to respond to such records requests "in a timely manner."
Five months later, Pilati believes all materials have finally landed in her mailbox, but getting them took five letters from the advocacy group to the town and a demand letter from a lawyer.
"They basically stonewalled us. But I'm like a bulldog. I never let go," said Pilati, who has lived in Fromberg since 2003.
On its website, the advocacy group notes it wants to "spark honest, heartfelt discussions" and return Fromberg to "her former 'Glory Days.'" At one point, Pilati thought the group's only recourse would be to file a lawsuit, but going to court was a nonstarter.
"I don't have a stable of attorneys, and I don't have deep pockets," Pilati said.
Read more: https://missoulian.com/news/local/montana-citizens-have-a-right-to-know-krakauer-case-could/article_2038f2c4-9cae-5936-b6ae-683f017f11c9.html#tracking-source=home-top-story-1
Settlement Reached In Defamation Suit Against Newspaper
SCRANTON — Former Lackawanna County Commissioners Randy Castellani and Joseph Corcoran agreed Friday to settle a defamation case against the owners of The Times-Tribune, ending a 13-year legal dispute.
The settlement comes two days after a Lackawanna County jury ruled a Jan. 12, 2004, article by former reporter Jennifer Henn falsely reported the men were evasive and uncooperative when they testified before a 2003 statewide grand jury investigating the Lackawanna County Prison.
Details of the settlement are confidential, said the newspaper’s attorney, Timothy Hinton.
“The newspaper is pleased the parties reached a resolution of the case,” Hinton said. “On behalf of the newspaper, we wish Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Castellani well in all of their future endeavors.”
Read more: https://www.thetimes-tribune.com/news/settlement-reached-in-defamation-suit-against-newspaper-1.2364077
Thousands of Colorado court cases hidden from public view
DENVER, Colo. (AP) — Thousands of court cases across Colorado — hundreds of them involving violent felonies — are hidden from public view, concealed behind judges' orders that can remain in effect for years, The Denver Post has found.
More than 6,700 civil and criminal cases have been restricted from public access since 2013, usually by judges who agreed to a request from prosecutors or defense lawyers to shield them, The Post found. Of those, 3,076 are still under suppression orders that keep the details away from the public — 345 are felony criminal cases — as they work their way through the legal system, according to state computer records.
Until recently, no information about any of the suppressed cases was available publicly — not the names of the defendants, the charges they faced or even the identity of the judges who closed them — until The Post began questioning the practice.
The Post identified 66 felony cases that remained closed to the public — including homicides and sex crimes requiring registration as a sexual offender — even though the defendants had already been convicted and sentenced, some to lengthy prison terms.
In every suppressed case, The Post found, the judge's suppression order and the reasons supporting it are shielded from public scrutiny. Courthouse employees and many law enforcement officials, including prosecutors, will not even acknowledge the suppressed cases exist, The Post found.
That means someone could be arrested, charged, convicted and sent to prison in Colorado without anyone seeing why, how or where, and whether the process was fair.
Read more: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/07/12/suppressed-colorado-court-cases-hidden-public-view/
Private messaging apps stir secrecy worries
IOWA CITY, Iowa — One app promotes itself as a way to discuss sensitive negotiations and human resources problems without leaving a digital record.
Another boasts that disappearing messages “keep your message history tidy.” And a popular email service recently launched a “confidential mode” allowing the content of messages to disappear after a set time.
The proliferation of tools that make text and email messages vanish may be welcome to Americans seeking to guard their privacy. But open government advocates fear they are being misused by public officials to conduct business in secret.
Whether communications on those platforms should be part of the public record is a growing but unsettled debate in states across the country. Updates to transparency laws lag behind rapid technological advances, and the public and private personas of state officials overlap on private smartphones and social media accounts.
“Those kind of technologies literally undermine, through the technology itself, state open government laws and policies,” said Daniel Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. “And they come on top of the misuse of other technologies, like people using their own private email and cellphones to conduct business.”
Read more: http://www.leadertelegram.com/News/Daily-Updates/2018/07/23/div-class-libPageBodyLinebreak-Private-messaging-apps-stir-secrecy-worries-div.html
Florida publication seeks FBI 9/11 records on family's ties
MIAMI (AP) — A Florida online publication asked a federal appeals court to order a trial be held on its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking FBI documents that may reveal a U.S.-based support network for the 9/11 hijackers.
The case heard Thursday before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centers on reporting published by the Florida Bulldog about the FBI investigation into a Saudi Arabian family that abruptly left a Sarasota home two weeks before the 2001 terror attacks. One FBI document that was released said that agents had found "many connections" in 2002 between the family and some hijackers who took flying lessons at a nearby airport, including ringleader Mohamed Atta.
Florida Bulldog attorney Thomas Julin told a three-judge panel of the court that the FBI has been dragging its heels on releasing more FBI documents about the Sarasota case submitted to the 9/11 Review Commission, improperly redacted more material and claimed too much was exempt from FOIA release. Julin wants a lower court to hold a full FOIA trial on the dispute.
"Obviously, we don't know what is in those documents. We think there is severe over-classification," Julin said. "All of that is a huge deterrent to people using the Freedom of Information Act."
The judges did not immediately issue a ruling.
Media organizations including The Associated Press filed briefs in support of the Florida Bulldog, as did former Florida U.S. Sen. Bob Graham — a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Graham, who attended the hearing, said in an interview that the public needs the full picture of how the hijackers pulled off attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Read more: https://apnews.com/0373c34fbc5f49c89c53565145953313
Minnesota Supreme Court says Victoria council members can stay despite many Open Meeting Law violations
Victoria City Council members who violated the state Open Meeting Law dozens of times cant be removed from office, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Thats because the infractions occurred as part of a single trial, the high court said, and not as three separate, sequential violations as required under the law to unseat public officials.
The ruling upholds a previous decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, as well as the original district court ruling.
Three courts have concluded with finality that these council members should not be removed, said Janel Dressen, the defendants attorney.
Read more: http://www.startribune.com/supreme-court-says-victoria-council-members-can-stay/488563401/
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 19, 2018
Jury In Defamation Case Finds 2004 Newspaper Article False
A Lackawanna County jury today found a 2004 article that alleged former commissioners Randy Castellani and Joseph Corcoran were uncooperative when they testified before a 2003 grand jury investigating the county prison was false.
The verdict against the Scranton Times LP, owner of The Times-Tribune, is a key victory for the men, but it does not end the case.
Because they were public officials at the time, they must also prove the article damaged their reputations and that newspaper knew the story was false, but printed it anyway or that it acted with reckless disregard for the truth. That decision will be made in the second phase of the trial, which is scheduled to begin Friday.
The jury of six men and six women heard evidence over three days. They deliberated for just less than an hour before rendering their verdict.
Castellani and Corcoran filed suit in 2005 over a Jan. 12, 2004 story written by former reporter Jennifer Henn. The article, which had a headline “Dems Stonewall Grand Jury,” quoted an anonymous source who said the men were “less than candid” and that their conduct so irritated grand jurors that they wanted to “throw both of them out” of the room.
Read more: https://www.thetimes-tribune.com/news/jury-in-defamation-case-finds-2004-newspaper-article-false-1.2363333
165-year-old newspaper vows to publish despite office fire
WOODSTOCK, Vt. (AP) — A newspaper that has published every week since its founding in 1853 but recently lost its office in a fire has vowed it will publish this week's issue, too.
Vermont Standard president and owner Phil Camp Sr. said Wednesday that production was running one day behind normal schedule but he and his staff felt a duty to Woodstock, the community where they live and work.
"On my watch, we're always going to have a local newspaper," Camp said.
Early Monday morning, a fire tore through a building that housed the Standard's office, a restaurant and an apartment. Woodstock fire Chief David Green said the fire started in the restaurant and was being investigated as suspicious.
This isn't the first time the Standard, which usually publishes on Thursday, has been displaced. Its office was destroyed by flooding from tropical storm Irene in 2011, and it survived two fires and a flood earlier in its history.
Assistant editor Virginia Dean said since 1853 the newspaper has always published.
"We've been through 165 years," Dean said. "We've been through tropical storm Irene and other fires, and we've never not published. We have that history as a foundation, as a motivator."
The newspaper's staff is working out of Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, a town of roughly 3,000 residents. Firefighters salvaged the newspaper's computers, and the library's executive director, Amanda Merk, said its trustees are more than happy to provide the space.
Read more: https://www.centredaily.com/news/business/article215094845.html
Judge lifts order for Los Angeles Times to change story
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A U.S. judge lifted an order Tuesday that required the Los Angeles Times to remove information from an article about a court document that was meant to be kept from the public, reversing a decision that had raised concerns about freedom of the press.
Judge John Walter said he initially wasn't sure if the newspaper had legally gained access to a sealed plea agreement and feared for the defendant's safety, the Times reported . Walter said an investigation found that the newspaper accessed the document because it was inadvertently posted in an online database.
The plea agreement that the Times wrote about Saturday involved former city of Glendale police Detective John Balian, who pleaded guilty to bribery, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators about whether he has connections with the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime.
The judge said his initial decision was based on fears for Balian's safety. The newspaper complied with the order to change the story but filed an emergency motion Sunday for it to be lifted.
The court order "clearly violates the First Amendment," said Norman Pearlstine, executive editor of the newspaper.
"We believe that once material is in the public record, it is proper and appropriate to publish it if it is newsworthy," Pearlstine said in a statement.
Constitutional scholars who followed the case called it unusual for a judge to issue such an order.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-balian-order-lifted-20180717-story.html
EPA aide: Scrutiny of 'politically charged' records requests
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency assigns public-records requests from environmental groups or others that it sees as "politically charged" to special internal review, a top agency official told congressional staffers investigating the actions of Scott Pruitt, the scandal-plagued former administrator who resigned this month.
EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson told congressional investigators one such records request, from the Sierra Club, was a "fishing expedition." At the same time, he acknowledged directing the agency to respond to a public records request from a pork industry association that was seeking evidence in the pork group's own tussles over environmental matters.
The accounts are in a transcript released Friday of Jackson's session this summer with staffers in the House Oversight Committee's investigation of ethics allegations involving Pruitt.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, cited the EPA chief of staff's account Friday in a letter asking committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to subpoena the EPA over its response to requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Jackson said in a telephone interview that the EPA has worked its way through what he called a 10-year backlog of public records requests from the Obama administration. Under Pruitt, the agency was receiving up to 60 new FOIA requests weekly, he said.
"We can't keep up with that. Nobody can keep up with that. What we do here is try to process them as quickly as we possibly can," Jackson said. Senior officials and others targeted in records requests review the agency's responses, but "they don't hold it up."
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/7de11cb2263c4737addb6d60d281dca8/EPA-aide:-Scrutiny-of-%27politically-charged%27-records-requests
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 12, 2018
The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.: How many homes need closer fire hydrants? Beaufort County won't say
Two weeks after the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette revealed that an unknown number of Beaufort County homes lack access to fire hydrants, the utility that maintains the majority of the county's hydrants has clarified why it will not release comprehensive data on hydrant locations: the risk of bioterrorism.
Experts in public records say the utility's explanation — that terrorists might use the data to contaminate the water system — is far-fetched.
"This appears to me to be an obvious pretext for avoiding disclosure of information," said Wallace Lightsey, a Greenville attorney who has represented the Associated Press and the New York Times Company in public records disputes.
Meanwhile, elected officials on Beaufort County Council are split on whether to release hydrant locations.
Read more: https://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/article214421389.html
Newspapers argue for release of prescription data
A West Virginia newspaper chain and The Washington Post asked a federal judge Monday to authorize three counties to release records that would disclose drug companies' shipments of prescription opioids.
HD Media, parent company of newspapers including the Charleston Gazette-Mail and The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, and The Washington Post filed briefs Monday saying the release of opioid data wouldn't affect pharmaceutical companies' competitive edge, as the companies argued in briefs before the court.
The newspapers also said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the pharmaceutical companies failed to prove that releasing that data would allow criminals to target pharmacies to rob them.
The DEA, the U.S. Department of Justice and the drug companies in June urged U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster to block the public release of opioid shipping numbers that have been kept under seal in court records since March.
Earlier this year, the opioid data in question was released to law firms representing more than 500 cities and counties suing the drug companies.
The lawsuits allege that the oversupply of painkillers - triggered by doctors writing too many prescriptions - fueled the opioid crisis and a record-number of drug overdose deaths.
In June, HD Media filed a public records request for the opioid data with the Cabell County Commission. Two days later, The Washington Post put in similar requests with officials in two counties in Ohio.
The media outlets are seeking opioid tracking data from the DEA's Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, referred to as ARCOS in court documents.
Read more: http://www.herald-dispatch.com/news/newspapers-argue-for-release-of-prescription-data/article_faa4acbf-609e-5e9c-9f02-8ce8ffdb5714.html
Colorado journalist says she was detained for taking photos
DENVER (AP) — Denver's police department said Friday it has launched an internal investigation into the detention of a journalist who was photographing officers as they tended to a man sitting naked on a downtown sidewalk.
The probe follows a report by Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, in which she said she was handcuffed and put into a patrol car Thursday after refusing an officer's orders to stop shooting photos of officers standing around the man, who had been handcuffed.
Greene said a police officer ignored her assertions that she had a First Amendment right to take photos on a public sidewalk. Colorado law protects the public's right to record the actions of peace officers.
She said she was released after the officer consulted with someone on his cellphone.
A police statement issued Friday said officers had summoned an ambulance while tending to "a person in crisis" near the state capitol building when "a bystander began taking pictures of the incident."
Read more: https://www.coloradoindependent.com/171068/greene-denver-police-handcuff-reporter-james-brooks
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • July 5, 2018
Civil Beat Wins Right To Intervene In HPD Arbitration Case
Civil Beat has been allowed to intervene in an ongoing battle over records detailing an arbitrator’s reasoning on why a Honolulu police officer fired for domestic violence should get his job back.
State Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree’s ruling Thursday grants the news organization intervenor status in a lawsuit filed by Hawaii’s police union in May to keep secret the arbitrator’s decision to return Sgt. Darren Cachola to work.
Cachola was fired by the Honolulu Police Department after a September 2014 video surfaced showing him repeatedly beating his girlfriend inside a restaurant. Cachola appealed the decision to an arbitration judge who ruled the department was in error.
After the city announced it planned to make the arbitration decision public, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, also known as SHOPO, sued the City and County of Honolulu to keep the records secret.
Civil Beat, which had sought the decision under Hawaii’s public records law, requested to be an intervenor in May. Now that the request has been granted, the news organization will move to file a motion to dismiss the SHOPO lawsuit.
A call to SHOPO attorney Vladimir Devens was not immediately returned.
Read more: https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/06/civil-beat-wins-right-to-intervene-in-hpd-arbitration-case/
City offers to settle lawsuit over open-meeting law
SEATTLE (AP) — The Seattle city attorney has offered to pay about $4,000 in city funds to settle a lawsuit that alleged city officials broke the state's open-meetings law when they repealed a head tax on businesses before a public meeting and vote.
A copy of the settlement offer says the payment would cover any civil fines for breaking the law, but the city will not admit any wrongdoing.
A spokesman for the city attorney declined to comment on the offer Thursday.
The Seattle Times reports Lincoln Beauregard, the plaintiff's lawyer, sent a response letter to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes that said they wouldn't accept the offer.
The lawsuit's plaintiff and Seattle-based attorney James Egan says he is still weighing whether to accept the offer and is open to public feedback.
Read more: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-offers-to-settle-lawsuit-claiming-head-tax-vote-broke-open-meetings-law/
APNewsBreak: Disgraced ex-Madigan aide to collect $130K
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The former chief of staff to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations will collect $130,500 for unused vacation and sick time, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
A 40-year state employee, Timothy Mapes will be reimbursed for 91 vacation days and will get half-pay for 146 sick days for a payout of $130,516.28, according to records disclosed under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
That is in addition to an annual pension the 63-year-old Mapes can collect of about $134,000, according to calculations based on his years of service and recent years' annual salaries.
Forced to step down June 6 from his $208,000-a-year job, Mapes had been House clerk in recent years in addition to being the powerful Madigan's chief of staff since 1992.
Mapes was caught up in the sexual-harassment scandal that has dogged the Illinois Democratic Party, for which Madigan is chairman and Mapes had been executive director. Mapes' career ended abruptly after House Democratic staff member Sheri Garrett alleged that Mapes was dismissive of complaints of sexual harassment by lawmakers against her and other women and that he made sexually inappropriate remarks himself.
No one answered the door at Mapes' Springfield home last week when an AP reporter visited seeking comment. Mapes did not respond to written messages left at the home.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/e719de032d9e4a4eb868c33617d4e6a2
Alleged recording of lawyer in Mill case given to newspaper
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A lawyer representing the Philadelphia judge overseeing rapper Meek Mill's case has been recorded saying the judge was wrong not to grant a new trial.
Philly.com reports a documentary film crew recorded an off-the-record conversation with attorney Charles Peruto Jr., and a supporter shared it with a reporter.
Peruto says regardless of the alleged tape, he doesn't believe he said Judge Genece Brinkley made a mistake.
Mill's attorneys filed another motion last week to try to remove Brinkley from his case saying she showed bias in denying a new trial despite the Philadelphia district attorney's office agreeing a key witness was not trustworthy.
Brinkley had sentenced Mill to two to four years for a probation violation in a decade-old drug and gun conviction. He served nearly five months.
Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/meek-mill-genece-brinkley-charles-peruto-mistake-tape-recording-20180703.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 28, 2018
City of Ashland violates open meetings rule
The city of Ashland approved a $50 million municipal budget Wednesday during a special meeting, but the meeting was later invalidated due to inadequate public notice.
The Daily Independent notified the city of an apparent open meetings violation after the meeting was held.
City Attorney Richard "Sonny" Martin subsequently told the newspaper it was correct -- the special meeting was not held in compliance with the state open meeting law, which require 24 hour notice to the public.
As a result the meeting is now being rescheduled.
“You are correct the notice failed to comply,” Martin said, adding he was responsible for the error.
Governments in Kentucky are required to give 24 hour public notice of special meetings. The meeting Wednesday was a special meeting but not deemed an emergency.
The Daily independent did not receive notice of the meeting until 5:10 p.m. Tuesday night, which is less than 24 hours as required by the Open Meetings rules. It also appears details of the meeting were not posted on the city's website until after the fact. The meeting was also not live-streamed as is usually the practice by the city. The city posted an item on social media a few hours before the meeting started, announcing it, saying it was having a special meeting, but it does not appear an agenda of the meeting was attached to the Facebook post.
Read more: http://www.dailyindependent.com/news/city-of-ashland-violates-open-meetings-rule/article_f27b401a-74d8-11e8-bc48-3be3d18fe3fd.html
Appeals court affirms UW-Oshkosh professor records release
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state appeals court says the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh must release records related to misconduct investigation involving a business professor.
Alexander Nemec, a reporter with the student newspaper Advance-Titan, filed an open records request in March 2017 for a complaint against Willis Hagen and documents from an ensuing investigation. Hagen was a business professor who suddenly stopped teaching his classes earlier that year.
Hagen sued to block the release, saying personnel records are exempt from Wisconsin's open records law. A Winnebago County judge ordered the documents released.
The 2nd District Court of Appeals upheld that decision Wednesday, saying no exemptions exist for records of closed misconduct investigations.
Hagen's attorney, Peter Culp, didn't immediately reply to an email Wednesday.
Democratic lawmaker challenges Pruitt on EPA public records
WASHINGTON (AP) — Top political appointees of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt directed that they review in advance all of the public records released by the agency under the Freedom of Information Act, according to EPA emails disclosed Monday by a senior House Democrat.
Additionally, Pruitt himself told agency staff that the EPA should follow a "first-in, first-out" policy on dealing with requests for public records, responding to old requests pending from the Obama administration before moving on to requests for documents dating from his tenure, according to accounts from three former EPA staffers to congressional investigators.
The emails sent by EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson and an agency legal counsel, Jonathan Newton, last June and July laid out a system for Pruitt's political appointees to review any FOIA record releases. In the emails, Jackson calls it a "centralization pilot project" for records requests at the EPA.
The Obama administration at times also subjected records requests to scrutiny by senior political advisers. A 2010 report by The Associated Press, for example, found that the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama had instituted such reviews.
Journalists, interest groups and others routinely use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from the federal government. The act is designed to be insulated from political considerations, so that government information that does not jeopardize national security or personal privacy is accessible to the public at large.
The EPA recently notified some media organizations, including The Associated Press, that several public-records requests submitted in 2017 would not be processed before at least July 2019.
Read more: https://www.apnews.com/10f5d063c64544dfa4ade9377a3e5d05
Sobbing migrant girl on TIME cover actually wasn't separated from her family, her father says
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Honduran toddler pictured sobbing in a pink jacket before U.S. President Donald Trump on an upcoming cover of Time magazine was not separated from her mother at the U.S. border, according to a man who says he is the girl's father.
The powerful original photograph, taken at the scene of a border detention by Getty Images photographer John Moore, became one of the iconic images in the flurry of media coverage about the separation of families by the Trump administration.
Dozens of newspapers and magazines around the globe published the picture, swelling the tide of outrage that pushed Trump to back down Wednesday and say families would no longer be separated.
"My daughter has become a symbol of the ... separation of children at the U.S. border. She may have even touched President Trump's heart," Denis Valera told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/sobbing-migrant-girl-in-time-cover-wasnt-separated-from-mother-her-father-2018-6
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 21, 2018
Alabama town bans media, out-of-towners from meetings
PAINT ROCK, Ala. (AP) — A tiny Alabama town is trying to ban the media and out-of-towners from its council meetings.
The Jackson County Sentinel reported that the town of Paint Rock issued written rules earlier this year that prohibit media members and non-residents from attending Town Council meetings without prior approval of the members.
The rules also prohibit anyone from recording meetings and state that posting “any Town minutes, email to council members, financial statements, etc., to ANY unauthorized media source is strictly forbidden.”Mayor Brenda Fisk, quoted in an editorial in the newspaper, said: “What goes on in Paint Rock is the business of the people who live in Paint Rock.”
“I really don’t see the benefit for anyone outside of Paint Rock or who doesn’t own property here to come to these meetings. They’re open to anyone who lives here. Anyone else can stand outside the door, but I can close the door,” Fisk said.
That position appears to contradict the Alabama Open Meetings Act, which states that meetings of governmental bodies are generally open to the public and journalists. There’s an exception for special executive sessions.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether any media members or non-residents had been removed from meetings in Paint Rock, a town of about 200 people located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Huntsville. Its business rarely draws media attention.
After the newspaper reported last week on the ban, which was dated Jan. 8, Fisk said it was only a proposal that wasn’t enacted.
Read more: https://apnews.com/14f7ab5ae02b481b8ba27a21ad0442ce
Gov. Parson says he won't block people on social media
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will no longer block users on his social media accounts as he did when he served as lieutenant governor, according to the new governor's staff.
Parson and former Gov. Eric Greitens were the only Missouri statewide officials who regularly blocked critics and others on their social media accounts, drawing criticism from free speech advocates.
"Official social media pages, maintained by government employees, are a public forum," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. "Blocking or banning constituents because of their viewpoint would violate the First Amendment."
Since Parson became governor June 1, when Greitens resigned, his staff has created new official accounts, The Kansas City Star reported .
Parson's personal and campaign accounts on Twitter and Facebook will abide by whatever policy is eventually established and will unblock anyone who was previously blocked, his communications director, Steele Shippy, said.
"We are working to restore and build trust in the governor's office," he said in a statement to the Star. "We're opening the doors of the office and ensuring every Missourian has the opportunity to share their opinions freely."
While he was lieutenant governor, Parson's office often used taxpayer-funded staff to post information on his personal and campaign social media accounts to reach as many people as possible, said Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for Parson who worked in the lieutenant governor's office and now is his press secretary. Parson posted some items on both accounts.
After The Star filed an open records request in May, Jones said the lieutenant governor's office changed its policy to confine initial posts about official actions on official social media accounts. Staff and Parson's family can share updates after a post enters the public domain.
Parson's official staffers no longer have access to his personal or campaign accounts, and the governor's office will not block anyone from seeing or interacting with its posts on social media, his staff said.
Read more: https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article213001574.html
Vancouver port to pay $500K to settle open meetings lawsuit
VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — The Port of Vancouver has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit over open meetings laws that the port admitted to violating while commissioners debated a lease for an oil terminal.
The Columbian reported Thursday that the payment will cover court costs and fees incurred by Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Northwest Environmental Defense Center.
The groups sued the port district in 2013 after its governing board held closed-door meetings to discuss lease pricing for the then-proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal.
In March, the parties agreed the port would admit to violating the Washington Open Public Meetings Act during executive session meetings.
The resolution came after a 2017 state Supreme Court ruling that found the port went too far during executive sessions when discussing the minimum price for a real estate lease.
Read more: http://www.columbian.com/news/2018/jun/14/vancouver-port-to-pay-500k-to-settle-open-meetings-lawsuit/
Edwards asks judge to force Wayne State to release Flint Legionnaires' docs
FLINT, MI -- The professor who helped identify the city's water crisis is asking a state judge to force Wayne State University to release documents related to another Flint water researcher.
Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech University professor, and the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit with the Michigan Court of Claims Monday, June 11, claiming Wayne State failed violated the law by failing to produce public documents or to explain its reason for withholding records.
"Flint residents were receiving conflicting messages from the research at Wayne State," Edwards said in a statement released by the Mackinac Center. "After asking questions and failing to receive simple answers, they felt they had no alternative to get the information they wanted by filing a FOIA.
"I am hoping the public can learn the truth about the now public conflicts between Wayne State and the state of Michigan -- I am wondering if Wayne State is ignoring FOIA law because the documents reflect negatively on their employees," Edwards' statement says.
In his FOIA requests, Edwards requested information including emails to and from McElmurry and three other Wayne State employees working on the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership project.
MLive-The Flint Journal could not immediately reach a Wayne State spokesman for comment, but McElmurry, who led a team researching Legionnaires' disease outbreaks in Genesee County, has told MLive previously that Edwards' "personal attacks do not help advance our understanding or help the people of Flint."
Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2018/06/edwards_sues_wayne_state_for_r.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 14, 2018
Press Groups Criticize the Seizing of a Times Reporter’s Records
The revelation that federal prosecutors seized years’ worth of email and phone records from a New York Times reporter drew criticism on Friday from news organizations and press rights groups, which expressed outrage at the first known instance of the Trump administration’s pursuing the private communications of a journalist.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called the move “a fundamental threat to press freedom.” The Times, in its own statement, called the seizure “an outrageous overreach” and raised concerns about a chilling effect on journalists’ ability to report on the government.
The records were seized from Ali Watkins, a reporter for The Times in Washington, amid a Justice Department investigation into a former high-ranking aide at the Senate Intelligence Committee who was suspected of leaking classified information to reporters.
The aide, James A. Wolfe, 57, who retired last year, was arraigned in federal court on Friday on charges of lying to investigators about his contacts with several journalists. He has denied that he gave classified material to journalists, and prosecutors, for now, have charged him only with making false statements to the F.B.I.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/08/business/media/ali-watkins-records-seized.html?utm_source=CNN+Media%3A+Reliable+Sources&utm_campaign=e65feb89d0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_06_06_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e95cdc16a9-e65feb89d0-91452821
Mayor nixes move to ban media, non-residents from meetings
PAINT ROCK, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama mayor has backed down from an attempt to bar the media and out-of-towners from attending council meetings in her tiny, rural town.
Paint Rock Mayor Brenda Fisk told WAAY-TV she issued the ban earlier this year without knowing it would violate the law. Members never voted on the rules, written as a two-page memo on town letterhead, she said.
Fisk said she wanted to avoid Town Council meetings becoming a "circus" like they did a few years ago during a controversy over police in the town of 200, which is located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Huntsville.
"It's on me. I did it all. Nobody has approved anything. It is not policy. It will not be policy and we do not stand at the door and tell you you can, or cannot, enter. Everybody's welcome," Fisk said.
Fisk previously defended the ban to an area newspaper, the Jackson County Sentinel. "What goes on in Paint Rock is the business of the people who live in Paint Rock," she told the paper.
Fisk relented after the newspaper published an editorial about the rule, which was in apparent conflict with the Alabama Open Meetings Act. Fisk said she made her initial comments to the newspaper believing a phone call from a reporter was a scam.
Members of the media and others were allowed to attend a council meeting on Tuesday night. A video of the meeting posted on YouTube by an area resident showed Fisk responding to audience members' questions about her actions.
"Excuse me. I'm talking," Fisk said loudly at one point, holding up a hand and pointing a finger in an attempt to silence others. She later said she had "personal reasons" for wanting to restrict meeting attendance.
Johnathon Counts, a lifelong resident of Paint Rock who has known Fisk for years, said he doubted Fisk was trying to do anything shady by blocking the media and others from meetings.
"She has a very good head on her shoulders," said Counts.
Public weighs in on FHCHC meeting closure
Three weeks ago, a Gazette reporter was barred from attending a meeting of the Flint Hills Community Health Center Board of Directors.
Legal counsel for the health center, Attorney Monte Miller, said it was federally-funded and not an instrumentality of Lyon County, Kansas, meaning it was no longer subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Miller also asserted the center was not a division of the county, but rather contracted by them to provide the services of a health department.
In response, The Gazette filed an open meetings complaint with the Lyon County Attorney’s Office. An investigation into the claim is ongoing.
Currently, the health center receives taxpayer monies in the amount of $450,000 a year from Lyon County. This has prompted three news stories and an editorial which have allowed Emporians to provide their input.
“Thank you for bringing this to all of our attention,” Facebook user Melissa Wilson posted on an editorial by Gazette Publisher and Editor Chris Walker. “If they have something to hide then they don’t need our hard earned tax money.”
“Who cares if a contractual legal loophole that may or may not exist, allows closed meetings,” an emporiagazette.com commenter by the name of KS2NM added on the May 30 article. “For goodness sake, this institution treats serious medical conditions for the under-privileged. (Board of Directors) who cares if legally you are right, what happened to basic Kansas morality and transparency? Clearly, you are hiding something and instead of helping, this just hurts your case. Poor representatives of our community. Shame on you!”
“If funds are missing, I am not confident the public would be notified but I really don’t understand why (they) would want the meetings to be closed unless their (sic) is something (embarrassing)?” Greg Giger said in Facebook comment. “I just finished reading some reviews on their Facebook and was not very impressed.”
As of Monday afternoon, a total of 552 users had reacted to an unofficial poll on emporiagazette.com asking, “Should Flint Hills Community Health Center and other entities which receive public funds be subject to open meetings laws?” Close to 82 percent — 451 of those polled — answered “yes.”
Read more: http://www.emporiagazette.com/area_news/article_19541ebc-bb19-554d-a1c9-ac6e81dd243e.html
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • June 7, 2018
Puerto Rico agency sues government to obtain death data
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's Institute of Statistics announced Friday that it has sued the U.S. territory's health department and demographic registry seeking to obtain data on the number of deaths following Hurricane Maria as a growing number of critics accuse the government of lacking transparency.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday, the same day Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told CNN there would be "hell to pay" if officials don't release mortality data. Puerto Rico's Health Department released some information Friday, saying an additional 1,397 overall deaths were reported from September to December in 2017, compared with the same period the previous year. However, officials did not provide causes of death for any of the 11,459 total people deceased during the period.
The institute's director, Mario Marazzi-Santiago, told The Associated Press that he was pleased with the information released, but that the lawsuit will continue because officials have not released details of each individual death.
Many believe the official toll of 64 deaths is a severe undercount, and anger is building across the island as the families of victims seek answers.
Road widening challenged for city's lack of advance notice
THOMASVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Some south Georgia residents are challenging a road widening.
The Thomasville City Council voted 3-2 on May 14 for the widening, but the Thomasville Times-Enterprise reports that lawyers hired by opponents demand that the city reverse the action.
That's because the matter wasn't placed on the council's agenda beforehand, meaning residents didn't know officials would vote. Opponents say that violates state law and ask Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr to investigate.
City attorney Tim Sanders says he doesn't know if the city will rescind the vote.
Thomasville seeks to widen the road from two lanes to three. Mayor Greg Hobbs referred to a plan in the May 14 meeting, but opponents say no traffic or engineering study exists.
Opponents also want records of phone calls and emails among city officials.
CIA releases records after University of Washington lawsuit
SEATTLE (AP) — The CIA has turned over 139 documents to settle a lawsuit brought by the University of Washington's Center for Human Rights.
The Seattle Times reports that the university's researchers have been looking into alleged abuses by U.S.-backed troops during El Salvador's civil war, which lasted from 1980 until 1991. They sued when the agency failed to turn over documents they sought under the Freedom of Information Act.
The settlement, reached last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle, brought the release of documents related to former El Salvadoran Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez and his potential ties to the U.S. Some of the documents were formerly designated top secret, and some have never before been seen outside the agency.
The Center for Human Rights' director, Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, said she was pleased with the settlement.
Read more: https://jsis.washington.edu/humanrights/2018/05/30/uwchr-celebrates-success-of-foia-lawsuit-against-cia/
Kansas City Star: KC’s bus agency says it’s above the law, can keep secrets from taxpayers
When an internal investigation found that employees of Kansas City's RideKC bus system were stealing parts, tools and supplies, the transit authority's human resources director appealed to the system's CEO: Bring in the FBI, he said.
Instead, Jimmy Fight was disparaged and fired for raising the issue, he alleges in a little-known lawsuit filed in late 2016. Little known because the case was settled for an undisclosed cash payment three months after it was filed, which is particularly swift for almost any lawsuit.
In exchange, Fight promised to keep quiet about both the payout and the theft allegations that led to it.
Now, more than a year later, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority likewise refuses to reveal the amount of that settlement, the extent of the alleged thievery within the organization or why CEO Robbie Makinen rejected Fight's suggestion that outside law enforcement be brought in to investigate.
The authority denied The Star's request for documents that would show how much Fight was paid for his silence, citing a new policy that troubles advocates of government transparency.
That policy, adopted in January, states that the taxpayer-funded transit agency is not subject to the open records or open meetings laws of either Missouri and Kansas. The ATA operates regular bus and para-transit services under contract with local governments on both sides of the state line.
While the transportation authority will be "guided by" both state's open records and open meetings laws, the policy states that the KCATA may withhold records and close meetings at its discretion and face no penalty for doing so.
First Amendment lawyer Mark Johnson said he finds that policy "disingenuous" considering that the legal settlement amounts paid out by governmental agencies are matters of public record in both states.
"Not releasing the information is certainly inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of the open records laws in both Missouri and Kansas," said Johnson, who is with the Dentons law firm in Kansas City.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article212191979.html
5 years on, US government still counting Snowden leak costs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Whistleblower or traitor, leaker or public hero?
National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the lid off U.S. government surveillance methods five years ago, but intelligence chiefs complain that revelations from the trove of classified documents he disclosed are still trickling out.
That includes recent reporting on a mass surveillance program run by close U.S. ally Japan and on how the NSA targeted bitcoin users to gather intelligence to counterterrorism, narcotics and money laundering — both stories published by The Intercept, an investigative publication with access to Snowden documents.
The top U.S. counterintelligence official said journalists have publicly released only about 1 percent taken by the 34-year-old American, now living in exile in Russia, "so we don't see this issue ending anytime soon."
"This past year, we had more international, Snowden-related documents and breaches than ever," Bill Evanina, who directs the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at a recent conference. "Since 2013, when Snowden left, there have been thousands of articles around the world with really sensitive stuff that's been leaked."
On June 5, 2013, The Guardian in Britain published the first story based on Snowden's disclosures. It revealed that a secret court order was allowing the U.S. government to get Verizon to share the phone records of millions of Americans. Later stories, including those in The Washington Post, disclosed other snooping and how U.S. and British spy agencies had accessed information from cables carrying the world's telephone and internet traffic.
Snowden's defenders maintain that the U.S. government has for years exaggerated the damage his disclosures caused. Glenn Greenwald, a former journalist at The Guardian, said there are "thousands upon thousands of documents" that journalists have chosen not to publish because they would harm peoples' reputation or privacy rights or because it would expose "legitimate surveillance programs."
Read more: https://apnews.com/f8424471585f44da95918c0e784e83af
OU Foundation denies records request
NORMAN — When a group of 70 Norman residents filed various open records requests Tuesday related to the University North Park arena and entertainment district proposal, they didn’t suspect it would take long to get a response.
On Thursday, the OU Foundation proved that true, rejecting the group’s records inquiry outright.
In a letter addressed to attorney Fred Gipson, who filed the requests on behalf of the citizen group that includes former Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and former council member Greg Jungman, OU Foundation President Guy Patton expressed surprise at the request and denied it on the grounds that the foundation is not a public entity.
He said the foundation has been transparent through the process of promoting the arena proposal and hasn’t withheld any information.
“… The foundation has provided plans, reports and other relevant data concerning the feasibility and economic impact of the proposed arena and entertainment district in a transparent, collaborative fashion in a variety of public forums and through its own public website," he said. "The foundation has been working in close contact with the mayor, members of the [city] council, Norman city staff and consultants to the city for almost a year.
"We have approached this opportunity in the spirit of a partnership with both the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma and, as such, have consistently presented the community with the opportunity to discuss, debate and disagree about the merits of our efforts to further develop University North Park.”
Read more: http://www.normantranscript.com/news/local_news/ou-foundation-denies-records-request/article_6d9eca2c-e698-54d3-98b4-7309bf9228cf.html
AG’s office finds EKU council did not violate open meetings law
Weeks after the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office released an opinion finding that the Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents violated the Open Meetings Act when it discussed layoffs that were part of massive cuts to the university, it has stated that a committee making recommendations on program cuts was not in violation when it met to discuss and vote on its recommendations.
The EKU Board of Regents voted in April to suspend 17 programs, including associate nursing, theatre and economics. Most of the programs were recommended for suspension by the Council on Academic Affairs, which met in March to vote on the recommendations.
An appeal to the attorney general’s office was filed by Nancy McKenney, co-vice president of the EKU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, after her request for a record of the votes taken at the council’s March 29 meeting was denied.
The opinion, released May 30 by the attorney general’s office, states that the council is not subject to the state’s open meeting law. A previous opinion by the office stated that the law is intended to provide public access to meetings of decision-making bodies but it is not intended to provide access to their day-to-day administrative work.
The council does not have authority to take action and only advised the Board of Regents, which is the decision-making authority, the opinion states.
The EKU Board of Regents did violate the state’s open meetings laws around that same time — on March 19 —when it met in a meeting closed to the public to discuss potential layoffs, the attorney general’s office stated in an opinion released earlier this month.
Kentucky open meeting laws allow a public agency to close a meeting to the public when it involves discussion that might lead to the dismissal of an individual employee, but states the exception does not permit “discussion of general personnel matters in secret.” (KRS 61.810 (f))
The university’s student newspaper, the Eastern Progress, filed a complaint with the board, and then filed an appeal with the attorney general’s office.
Justices: Chambers that get tax money aren't public bodies
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An open government advocate says a South Carolina Supreme Court decision means the public won't have the right to know how $60 million in taxes are spent.
Justices ruled 4-1 on Wednesday the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce isn't a public body under the state Freedom of Information Act.
The chamber received nearly $2 million from accommodation taxes last year. Overall, the state collects about $60 million from the 2 percent tax on hotel rooms and gives some of that money to chambers to promote tourism.
The chambers say they already have strong oversight and a ruling against them would mean more red tape.
South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers says the ruling means the money is "going down a rat hole never to be seen again."
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • May 31, 2018
Records advocates sue over sealed documents in opioid suit
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Knoxville News Sentinel are asking a judge to give the public access to all records in the state's lawsuit against the makers of the world's top-selling painkiller.
Tennessee was one of six states last week that filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, a drug at the center of America's opioid crisis. Tennessee's complaint was filed under seal, and a judge gave Purdue Pharma 10 days to argue that it should be kept from the public.
TCOG and the newspaper asked to intervene, arguing that the state is in an addiction crisis and citizens have a compelling interest in the lawsuit.
Judge rules against city of Columbia in open records lawsuit
A Boone County judge has ruled that the city of Columbia violated the state's Sunshine law during a disagreement with the city's police union.
Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs ruled this week that City Manager Mike Matthes violated the law in September 2016 when he refused to release public documents sought by the Columbia Police Officers' Association.
The union represents most Columbia police officers. It sued the city in October 2016 after Matthes' denied the request for responses to surveys Matthes gave police officers concerning work-related issues.
The Columbia Daily Tribune reports Matthes contended the responses to the survey contained personnel information and could hurt morale.
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.