Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Monday, August 30, 2010

NFOIC awards Knight FOI Fund litigation grant in New Mexico public records suit

from NFOIC.org:
A weekly newspaper in New Mexico has been awarded a litigation grant from the Knight FOI Fund to press a legal action against a state college for disregarding basic requirements of that state's "sunshine law."

The $11,000 grant to the Rio Grande Sun newspaper was announced by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), which administers the Fund that was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant was the first awarded for a New Mexico case since the Fund was established.

The award was made to defray the Rio Grande Sun's legal costs in a lawsuit brought against the Board of Regents and administration of Northern New Mexico College, a four-year, state-supported institution that has campuses in Española, NM, and El Rito, NM.

According to the complaint filed in Rio Arriba County District Court, the college has for more than six months ignored and rebuffed reporter Louis Mattei's requests for records, disregarding the New Mexico Inspection of Public Record Act's disclosure requirement and even its statutory response deadlines.

"The allegations in the complaint are outrageous. This kind of blatant disregard for public disclosure laws cannot be tolerated," said Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the NFOIC. "The Knight FOI Fund is there to make certain that, even in tough economic times, challenges of this sort get made, and that public officials who don't understand their obligation to be forthcoming about the public's business do not get to make up their rules."
Read more here.

South Texas sheriff takes on state agency official in felony open records fight

A Nueces County skirmish over open records could land an Austin state agency official in prison for up to 10 years.

Or it could leave several Nueces County officials looking foolish.


Adan Muñoz Jr., executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, has been charged with two felony counts of misuse of official information — a crime that typically pertains to public servants who use insider government information to benefit themselves, friends or supporters.

Muñoz's alleged crime? In February, after Nueces County Jail inmate Samuel Salazar killed himself, Muñoz released the prisoner's jail screening form, which is designed to identify potentially suicidal prisoners. ...

The release angered Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin, who said the information should have been kept secret while his office and the Texas Rangers investigated the death.

Kaelin complained to Muñoz's bosses — the nine governor-appointed commissioners on the jail standards panel — but after they cleared Muñoz of wrongdoing, the sheriff pursued criminal charges.
Read more here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

National Press Club Board selects press-freedom honorees

from the National Press Club:
The National Press Club Board of Governors voted on Aug. 23 to honor a University of Missouri journalism professor and an Iranian blogger with its 2010 John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award.

The award, given each year to one domestic and one international recipient, honors people who have contributed to the cause of press freedom and open government.

This year’s U.S. winner is Charles N. Davis, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism who has done more than most to force light onto parts of national, state and local governments that many in power would like to keep hidden from the press and the public.

From 2005 until this year, Davis led the National Freedom of Information Coalition, an organization headquartered at the Missouri journalism school that funds open-government groups around the country. A former reporter, Davis has also helped the cause through scholarly research and writing on governmental information and media law. He has won the Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Journalism Teacher of the Year from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The board selected as the foreign winner of the award Kouhyar Goudarzi, an Iranian blogger.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Washington State Sunshine Committee needs Governor's attention

from the Washington Policy Blog:
The state's Sunshine Committee (Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee) has survived legislative efforts the past few years to eliminate its existence. Now it appears the Committee is facing a new threat, gubernatorial neglect.

Under the law, the Governor appoints six of the Committee's thirteen members including the Chair. To have a quorum at least seven of the members must be present at a meeting. As of [August 17] four of the Governor's six appointee slots are either vacant or expired, including former Chair Tom Carr. Carr left the state earlier this year to serve as city attorney for Boulder, CO.

Since the Governor has not appointed a new Chair, the Committee voted ... to confirm two vice chairs. Retiring Rep. Lynn Kessler was confirmed as First Vice Chair with Tim Ford of the Attorney General's Office as Second Vice Chair.
Read more here.

Supreme Court cases involve funeral protests, video games, FOIA

from the First Amendment Center:
WASHINGTON — Last term, the First Amendment was front and center on the Supreme Court’s docket, producing a major decision on campaign-finance regulation and an array of other rulings on topics ranging from a Christian cross in the Mojave Desert to animal-cruelty videos.

It’s still early, but the next Supreme Court term is shaping up similarly, with First Amendment disputes comprising some of the most important and provocative cases that are already docketed. The Court has also agreed to consider a Freedom of Information Act case and a privacy case, both of which may affect information-gathering by the government.
Read more here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New book details history of Freedom of Information laws

from The Bristol Press:
If you want a unique view of how democracy should work, pick up Mitchell W. Pearlman’s new book "Piercing the Veil of Secrecy, Lessons in the Fight for Freedom of Information."

Pearlman, the retired general counsel and executive director of Connecticut’s singular Freedom of Information Commission, is a national treasure — no, international treasure. He is recognized from Hartford to Beijing to Johannesburg to Mexico City as a leading expert on the fault lines of government secrecy and ways to pry it open.


His book delves into Connecticut’s secrecy and it also takes the reader from Ancient Egypt to the American Constitutional Convention in 1787 to the Nixon White House and to a flight of some fancy into secrecy v. transparency as we explore outer space.
Read more here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Opinion: U.S. government wrong to keep secret names of marshals in fatal Springfield shooting

from the News-Leader.com (Springfield, MO) --

The United States Marshals Service and the U.S. Department of Justice say they do not have to name deputy marshals who shot and killed Lance Anderson.

Which probably means I will never know. Which probably means I will not be able to tell you.

The two deputy marshals, as you might recall, used deadly force against Anderson, 23, in Springfield, during a traffic stop. The marshals, one of whom is also a Greene County deputy sheriff, fired at Anderson after he exited a pickup truck and shot himself twice. Wanted on a probation violation, he was suspected in other crimes and had allegedly shot at a Bolivar officer the night before.

Our paper's attempts to learn and report the names through calls, letters invoking the federal Freedom of Information Act and an appeal of a FOIA request that was denied have now all failed....

Why have these names been kept secret? Why is this so different from what happens when other officers use deadly force?
Read the rest here

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Consumer Watchdog asks FBI, DEA to explain use of Google Earth

from Consumer Watchdog:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The FBI and DEA are now making extensive use of Google Earth, according to federal spending records. Consumer Watchdog is filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the agencies today to determine how the Internet giant’s digital mapping technology is being used for domestic surveillance, including whether it is used for racial profiling or other abuses of civil liberties.

“The public needs to know how law enforcement is using Google’s technologies,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group. “We call on the FBI and the DEA to expeditiously respond to our requests for information.”

Congress should also investigate how the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities are using technologies that Google provides, Simpson added.
Read the rest here.

IPads saving cities paper costs

from USA Today:
Soon after Hampton, Va., Mayor Molly Ward bought an iPad for her personal use last spring, she started thinking of an application of her own — one that might save her town both paper and money.

Ward decided it would make both environmental and fiscal sense for the Hampton City Council to switch from paper to iPads for conducting official business.


Hampton joins a growing number of municipalities — from Williamsburg, Va., to Albertville, Ala., to Redwood City, Calif. — that are turning to iPads to conduct government business.


"In most states, some if not all electronic records are public," [Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition] says. "Around the country, there has been lots of litigation in the states about the nature of electronic records and whether or not they differ from paper records."
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

N.C. ethics reform law signed, opening state workers' records

from newsobserver.com:
With two suspensions for inappropriate contact with a student, Jessica Wishnask quietly left the New Hanover school district two years ago to go work for another. She did not have to disclose her misconduct, and her prior employer did not report the suspensions.

Her new employer, Pitt County schools, did not find out about them until months later, when Wishnask got caught having sex with the same student and was sent to prison.

North Carolina's personnel law has helped hide suspensions such as those served by Wishnask for more than three decades. But that will change Oct. 1, thanks to a series of reforms Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law Monday that make public the suspensions and demotions of state and local employees.
Read more here.