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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bill to increase likelihood of attorney fees reimbursement advances

The North Carolina House committee approved legislation that would reimburse legal fees for people or organizations that were "substantially" right in claiming a government agency wrongly kept data from the public, the AP reported. Currently, judges have discretion to award attorneys fees to people who win public records cases but often don't.
A state House committee cleared legislation Thursday that would improve the odds that people illegally denied requests for public documents could get their legal fees paid by the offending government agency.

A House judiciary committee unanimously approved the proposal that would curb the discretion of judges whether to award the legal fees in most cases. Although state law allows a judge to award attorney fees to people who successfully fight public records cases, they often choose not to reimburse the winner, leaving them with legal costs that could be thousands of dollars despite proving government officials were wrong.

The measure is seen as a compromise from a similar plan that passed the state Senate last summer but died in the House, said bill sponsor Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake.

More here.

Drug-addict study released via FOIA request raises ethical questions

A 1994-95 research study, released in response to an FOIA request, indicates that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gave heroin addicts regular doses of morphine and then cut the doses off to measure the effects, the Washington Examiner reported. The patients suffered 787 "adverse events"; however, no follow-up information is available on the study's subjects.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spent at least $7.8 million in a secretive experiment to determine whether drug addicts become hyperactive when they suddenly lose access to morphine, documents obtained by The Examiner show.

The VA recruited 69 heroin addicts and began giving them regular doses of morphine. The scientists then cut off the morphine doses at intervals to see what would happen, internal reports show.

The decade-old study, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, offers the fullest picture yet of widespread government trials that gave hard-core drugs to addicts.

More here.

The story behind the 2009 Pultizer Prize for Investigative Reporting

In the recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, David McCraw recounts the lawsuit behind The New York Times's story on retired military officers working as TV war analysts. McCraw and reporter David Barstow filed suit to get the Department of Defense to respond to an FOIA request for data from the Pentagon on the "dozens of retired military officers who had been deployed by Defense to sell the war in Iraq." He also describes how he used reporting to shape the litigation strategy.

Six years and a day after 9/11, I filed a complaint in federal court asking a federal judge to do what New York Times reporter David Barstow and I had failed to do in countless phone calls and letters for nearly a year and a half: get the Department of Defense to respond fully to David’s freedom-of-information request. The request was gargantuan—basically, David wanted every piece of paper the Pentagon had about dozens of retired military officers who had been deployed by Defense to sell the war in Iraq—and our hopes were modest. Freedom of Information Act cases often move slowly, and Defense had little interest in shining any light on how the retired officers—now rechristened “analysts” on TV—had been given special access to Pentagon briefings even as some of them pitched business for military contractors. There was also this: Our judge was a former government prosecutor, freshly appointed to the bench by President Bush.

Nothing quite prepared us for what followed. Over the next six months, Judge Richard J. Sullivan’s orders drove the release of thousands of pages of documents, and when the Pentagon stalled, he took no prisoners. The last time we appeared in his courtroom, he made himself clear: “The Executive Branch doesn’t get to just thumb its nose at a separate branch of government.”

More here.

Jindal approves failure of La. public records bill

A Louisiana House bill that would have removed an exemption that allows executive staff of the governor's office to keep records private failed 12-5, the Times-Picayune reported. Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration says it's not the concepts but the details that he disagrees with. His administration says it will back a similar Senate bill which provides more shielding on certain records.

With the backing of Gov. Bobby Jindal, a House committee killed a bill that would have opened nearly all records of the governor's executive office to public inspection, a move that the legislative sponsor said would bring real transparency to a state that touts the concept.

A similar bill passed overwhelmingly out of the same panel last year with little fanfare, far from the 12-5 defeat that Rep. Wayne Waddell, R-Shreveport, suffered today. Last year, his bill languished much later in the session after the Jindal administration got more active, saying it supports increased access to records but not in the manner Waddell wants.

The vote came a few hours after the Jindal administration effectively delayed action on another bill that would have expanded disclosure about the correlation between the governor's campaign contributors and his appointees to public posts. As with the records bill, the administration says the disagreement is not in the concept but in the details.

More here.

Asbestos report released one week after lawsuit

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the Environmental Protection Agency for not releasing a report on the asbestos cleanup in Libby, Montana, the AP reported. The EPA has since released the document.

The government has released a report identifying communication gaps and other problems in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's asbestos cleanup in Libby.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General released the document Tuesday, about a week after the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued, charging the government withheld the report improperly.

The suit sought a court order requiring the document be made public because attempts to obtain it under the federal Freedom of Information Act were fruitless.

More here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kansas City School District won't release mold details

Kansas City School officials have said that mold was found at Knotts Elementary School but won't release the results of an air-quality study done at the school, the Kansas City Star reported. The teachers union has sued the district for the records. The district provided The Kansas City Star with some records but none that revealed the results of air-quality studies. The Sunshine Law request for air-quality reports on Knotts was denied, according to the district’s legal office, because “they constitute legal work product and are subject to the attorney-client privilege.”
The Kansas City School District has problems with mold and air contaminants, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year testing and cleaning some of its buildings.

But that’s not what frustrates teachers the most.

It’s how sparingly the district shares what it knows.

Teachers at Trailwoods Elementary School waited months before learning why their school was cleaned over the summer. And teachers at Knotts Elementary still don’t know the degree of air contamination that had them scrambling out of their school a week before classes started.

More here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's a bird. It's a plane. It should be public.

The National Transportation Safety Board took a stance against the Federal Aviation Administration's plans to close data on bird and airplane collisions, the AP reported. In a letter to the FAA, the board wrote, "This lack of information could hamper efforts to understand the nature and potential effects of wildlife threats to aviation and hinder the development of mitigations for those threats."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he intends to overrule the Federal Aviation Administration on its plan to keep secret data on where and when collisions between birds and airplanes occur.

LaHood told The Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday on its Web site that the public deserves to have access to the information and that the Transportation Department will be making an announcement soon.

Earlier Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released a letter strongly disagreeing with the FAA's plan.

More here.

Arizona bill address technological formats

An Arizona bill would provide the opportunity for those who file records requests to receive the data on CD-ROM, in PDF, in spreadsheets or in other formats, so long as the public body keeps its records electronically, The Arizona Republic reported.

The question, "Paper or plastic?" is usually reserved for supermarket checkout lines, but a Senate bill could have public-records clerks using a similar refrain.

Authored by Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, Senate Bill 1305 would require public bodies that keep public records electronically to provide them upon request on CD-ROM or in another format.

The change would allow more efficient public access to records, said David Bodney, a media attorney with the Steptoe and Johnson LLP.
More here.

CAR Boot Camp helps reporter tell stories with raw data

In this column, Gregg Hennigan of The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette details how he used Computer-Assisted Reporting to turn raw data on public money distributed to Iowa communities into a story. He learned that 79 percent of the $395 million in statewide disaster funds went to Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa.
I was warned prior to IRE and NICAR’s CAR Boot Camp that many attendees leave feeling overwhelmed.

And at the end of the five-day class in Minneapolis in early October, I felt … overwhelmed.

But with my employer, The Gazette newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, having spent a decent amount of money sending me to the camp, I was not in a position to return home and not produce.

More here.

Conn. housing authority appeals decision on release of job candidate info

The Ridgefield Housing Authority in Connecticut is appealing the Freedom of Information Commission's ruling that it must release job candidate records, The Ridgefield Press reported. The Commission said the Housing Authority didn't justify that the release of resumes from those who interviewed for the executive director position in 2007 who invade personal privacy.

Ridgefield’s Housing Authority is appealing a Freedom of Information Commission decision ordering it to release the résumés of people it interviewed for a job in 2005.

“They all have personal information in them and we don’t feel that’s something that should be given to the public,” said Housing Authority Chairman Phil Bergquist.

The legal battle pitting open government statutes against privacy rights appears to have roots in a dispute between a resident of the Housing Authority’s apartments and the staff managing the apartment complex.

More here.

Wyo. judge rules child endangerment cases can't be closed

Wyoming courts will no longer be able to automatically close child endangerment case files, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported. This ruling will not apply to information that could identify the victim but will "give the public more information about criminal charges in such cases."
A Wyoming court's policy of banning public access to child endangerment cases files violates the state public records law, a judge ruled Thursday, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

District Judge Scott Skavdahl's ruling came in response to a December lawsuit filed by the Casper newspaper against Circuit Judge Michael Huber, after the newspaper reports it sought "the release of records in child endangerment cases that don't involve sex crimes." In Wyoming, the district court is higher than the circuit level.

According to the Star-Tribune, Skavdahl said "it was beyond his discretion to tell the circuit court exactly what policy it should have in regard to such records." But the newspaper's attorney, Bruce Moats, said the ruling will still give the public more information about criminal charges in such cases.
More here.

Records show 14 child deaths occurred despite LA County watch

FOI at Work!
Previously confidential medical records outlining terrifying data were released in response to a public records request filed by the Los Angeles Times, the AP reported. The records show that Los Angeles County Children and Family Services were monitoring the families of 14 children who died in 2008 from abuse and neglect. Ten of those cases are under investigation.
Nearly half of the Los Angeles County children who died last year from abuse and neglect were from families under the watch of child welfare officials, records show.

The heavily redacted records, released Monday after a California Public Records Act request by the Los Angeles Times, include previously confidential medical records, family services documents and police reports.

They show that the families of 14 of the 32 children who died in the county in 2008 from abuse and neglect, including physical assault and malnourishment, were under the scrutiny of Children and Family Services and should have been known to social workers.

More here.

Attorney-client privilege wins records case

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which argued that investigative reports prepared for public agencies by private lawyers are not public record, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
In a setback for advocates of public records, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that reports by private attorneys for government agencies are not public records.

The court's unanimous ruling came in a sordid case out of Toledo. That city's newspaper, The Blade, filed a public-records request for an investigative report by a private attorney for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority that looked into an extramarital relationship between the president of the port authority and a lobbyist who did business with the authority.

The authority's private lawyer prepared a report investigating the matter and turned it over to the authority's board, which fired the wayward official.

More here.

Fla. mayor tries to block data on e-mail sent from private account

Michael Butler, a Hallandale Beach resident and blogger, filed a public records request to find out who was on the distribution list of an e-mail Mayor Joy Cooper sent out from a personal e-mail account, South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Although Cooper signed the e-mail "Mayor Joy Cooper" and listed her City Hall contact information, the city attorney is arguing that the e-mail was a private matter.
City officials are trying to block an Internet blogger's request for information about an e-mail Mayor Joy Cooper sent from her personal e-mail account that discusses city issues.

A private attorney hired by the city filed a civil lawsuit in Broward Circuit Court Friday against Michael Butler, a Hallandale Beach resident who runs the ChangeHallandale.com blog. Butler wants to know who received Cooper's e-mail.

In the suit, the city asks a judge to decide if the e-mail's distribution list is a public document. No hearing date has been scheduled.
More here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama follows Bush in keeping details of FBI database secret

President Barack Obama refused to reverse a Bush policy that protected information about the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse. "As a result, there is no public list of all the databases the FBI sucks into this computer warehouse; no information on how individuals can correct errors about them in this FBI database; and no public access to assessments the bureau did of the warehouse's impact on Americans' privacy," the AP reported. The warehouse is five years old and contains more than 50 databases.
Despite a pledge to open government, the Obama administration has endorsed a Bush-era decision to keep secret key details of an FBI computer database that allows agents and analysts to search a billion documents with a wealth of personal information about Americans and foreigners.

President Barack Obama's Justice Department quietly told a federal court in Washington last week that it would not second-guess the previous administration's decisions to withhold some information about the bureau's Investigative Data Warehouse.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group, had sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get records showing how the FBI protects the privacy of Americans whose personal information winds up in the vast database.

More here.

W. Va. Supreme Court to hear appeals in e-mail case involving a former chief justice

The West Virginia Supreme Court will consider the AP's appeal of a Kanawha County Circuit Court ruling that decided only five of 13 requested e-mails from former Chief Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard would be released, the AP reported. Circuit Judge Duke Bloom had ruled that the e-mails were not released because they were not related to public business. A Supreme Court administrator is appealing this ruling and arguing that e-mail involving justices is exempt from FOIA.
The West Virginia Supreme Court unanimously agreed Thursday to consider The Associated Press' appeal of a ruling on whether the justices' e-mails are subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The AP is appealing a Kanawha County Circuit Court ruling that released just five of 13 e-mails between former Chief Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard and Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship.

The AP sought the e-mails after it came to light that Maynard and Blankenship vacationed together in Monaco when cases involving Massey Energy were heading to or pending with the court. Maynard lost his re-election bid last year.
More here.

D.C. program to examine impact of Reporters Committee case

The Collaboration on Government Secrecy will hold "Privacy Protection After Twenty Years Under Reporters Committee" from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 28, 2009, at American University Washington College of Law.
In 1989, in what arguably is the most significant Freedom of Information Act decision ever issued, the Supreme Court in Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press both broadened the concept of personal privacy and narrowed the definition of the “public interest” in disclosure.

This decision brought about nothing less than a sea change in privacy protection by radically altering the balancing process by which federal agencies decide whether to invoke the FOIA’s privacy exemptions -- leading to the withholding of greater amounts of information from the public.

Marking the 20th anniversary of this landmark FOIA decision, this program examines Reporters Committee’s full impact on government openness versus the protection of personal privacy and explores its continued viability with the passage of time.

Highlights of the agenda include:
  • A keynote address by Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law Director at the University of Minnesota
  • Panel discussing the origin of the case, the formulation of the government's position and the unexpected breadth of the Supreme Court's decision
  • Panel analyzing the Supreme Court's novel "practical obscurity" concept for protecting personal privacy interests.
  • Luncheon address by Mary Ellen Callahan, Chief Privacy Officer and Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer for the Department of Homeland Security
  • Panel considering the Reporters Committee "core purpose" standard for determining a limited "public interest" that can be balanced in favor of disclosure
  • Panel reviewing the Reporters Committee's impact on FOIA administration, FOIA litigation and implementation of the Privacy Act of 1974
Register here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Open-government bill watered down to win approval

The Iowa House passed a bill that revises the state's open records laws, The Des Moines Register reported. The original bill contained plans to keep citizens informed of major government decisions, such as the search for a new university president, and to establish a board that would review public records complaints and acts as an enforcement agency. Both sections were watered down to meet approval.
A watered-down version of a plan to update Iowa’s open records laws was passed by the House today with promises from lawmakers that much more will be done in the future.

“This bill is not going to make everyone happy and it shouldn’t,” said Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, who led debate on the bill. “This is going to be a fluid, continuing process.”

Citizens who are refused public documents often either give up or are left spending thousands of dollars in attorney fees, supporters of the legislation have said.
More here.

Reworked gun permit bill wins House approval

The Oregon House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a gun license bill, The Register-Guard reported. The bill was revised so that instead of classifying concealed handgun licenses as a flat exemption, it allows sheriffs to release the records if there is "clear and convincing evidence that the public interest requires disclosure."
Records on Oregonians who hold concealed handgun licenses would be kept confidential unless a county sheriff decides to make them available, under a bill passed by a House panel Wednesday.

For most of the 20 years since the 1989 law allowing Oregonians to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun was enacted, the question of whether records on those license holders should be made public was not a matter of debate.

That all changed last April, when the Jackson County Circuit Court ruled that the names of individuals who request a concealed handgun license are public records unless the individuals specify that they don’t want any personal information released.

More here.

Obama releases memos describing torture techniques

The Huffington Post posted the four torture memos released by President Obama on Thursday. The memos, which were issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, detail interrogation techniques -- "exactly what the Bush administration authorized for 'high value detainees' in U.S. custody."

As part of an ongoing court case, the Department of Justice released on Thursday memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005, detailing techniques used for interrogation of terrorism suspects. In doing so, President Obama declared:

"While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release."

Certain aspects of the documents are redacted -- including the names of CIA officials -- but the evidence is of enough weight that Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy already felt compelled to offer the following statement.

More here.

For the press release from the Department of Justice, click here.

Law center questions Homeland Security's classifications of 'extremists'

The Thomas More Law Center is asking the Department of Homeland Security to explain why it classifies "Americans who oppose abortion, support 2nd Amendment gun rights and dislike lax immigration law enforcement" extremists, WorldNetDaily reported. The question stems from a right wing extremism report that alerted police to these American "extremists."
The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., says it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Homeland Security demanding why it calls Americans who oppose abortion, support 2nd Amendment gun rights and dislike lax immigration law enforcement "extremists."

"This is not an intelligence report but a diatribe against those who oppose the policies of the Obama administration," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the organization.

"It is a declaration of war against the American people and our constitution. It is a prelude to extreme gun control legislation and hate speech laws targeting Christian churches and others who oppose abortion and same sex marriage," he continued. "The federal government should be focusing its attention on the 35 radical Muslim compounds in the U.S. training its followers on how to kidnap and kill Americans."

More here.

Looming test for Obama

The Obama administration has not yet revealed whether it supports a Congressional bill that would limit its ability to stop a lawsuit through state secrets claims, NPR reported. Vice President Joe Bident co-sponsored a similar bill last year in the Senate.
President Obama came to the White House promising a new era of openness in government. On his first full day in office he said, "The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable, and the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent." Now, some activists say, he has not done enough to keep that promise on the national security front.

A major test of the Obama administration's openness on national security issues is coming on Thursday. The Justice Department faces a court-imposed deadline to say whether it will release some controversial classified memos from the Bush administration.

In an interview last week on CBS, Attorney General Eric Holder told Katie Couric, "This is a very transparent administration. This is going to be a very transparent Justice Department, but I'm not going to sacrifice the safety of the American people or our ability to protect the American homeland, and that is first and foremost."

More here.

Electronic requests now accepted in N.M.

The New Mexico governor signed a bill that requires the acceptance of electronic public records requests, the Student Press Law Center reported. The bill was filed after New Mexico State University refused to acknowledge an e-mailed request.
Government agencies in New Mexico will have to accept electronic requests for public records after the governor signed a bill April 3 inspired by a state university's rejection of an e-mail request.

House Bill 598, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, states that communication by e-mail or fax qualifies as a "written" request required under state law.

"Government actors should not be able to rely on artificial barriers to avoid making public records available to the public," Cervantes said following a 64-0 House of Representatives vote on March 4, according to the New Mexico Independent. "With this legislation, no government actor can hide behind an argument that a records request must be printed and mailed or hand-delivered to constitute a valid request."
More here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Doe v. Doe

The Atlantic tells the ultimate anecdote concerning government secrecy:
Sometimes, plaintiffs's names are protected from disclosure. Sometimes, evidence is placed under seal. Sometimes, entire cases are sealed. Sometimes, the agencies being sued by unnamed deferents are themselves classified. Such is the case with Jane Doe. v. Doe Agency. (Given the involvement of lawyer Mark Zaid, the case appears to have something to do with the Able Danger collection program, a Department of Defense special access program.)
More here.

Alabama House passes gun permit legislation

Legislation that would exempt gun permit records from public records laws pops up in yet another state: Alabama. Proponents of the bill say releasing such records could subject permit holders to harassment by special interest groups and could lead thieves to target them, WTVY News 4 reported.
The identities of people with permits to carry concealed handguns may soon be a secret in Alabama.

A bill supported by the National Rifle Association has passed the House and may soon pass the Senate.

When a gun owner applies for a permit there are all kinds of information they fill out on the document including social security number, height, weight, race and more.
More here.

Bloomberg argues that taxpayers are 'involuntary investors' who need bailout info

Yesterday, Bloomberg News filed its Memo of Law for Summary Judgment, which argues that as "involuntary investors," taxpayers should have access to information on which U.S. banks were provided emergency funding. Banks have opposed the release of this data because of its potential to "fuel market speculation and rumors." Bloomberg replied that “these speculative injuries relate only to the reactions of customers, shareholders and other members of the public, not to competitors’ use of the borrowers’ proprietary information to their advantage,” the exception to disclosure under the FOIA law. Bloomberg data indicates that more than $12.8 trillion in government loans, spending or guarantees have been used to rescue the financial system since August 2007.
The Federal Reserve should identify U.S. banks funded by its emergency lending because taxpayers are “involuntary investors” who need to know the risks, Bloomberg LP said today in a court filing.

The Fed refuses to name the borrowers, the amounts of loans or assets banks put up as collateral under 11 programs, arguing that doing so might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders. Bloomberg, the closely held New York-based company majority-owned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued Nov. 7 under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of its Bloomberg News unit.

“The Board’s arguments are based on wispy speculation, lack evidentiary support and are contradicted by economic theory,” said Thomas Golden and Jared Cohen, lawyers with New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, in a motion asking the judge to require disclosure. “These government actions, which have been shrouded in secrecy, are at the heart of Bloomberg’s FOIA requests.”

More here.

School travel expenses raise questions in Mich.

FOI at Work!
A Flint Journal review of Genesee County school system's receipts and expense records reveal that administrators and educators are staying at three- and four-star hotels while attending conferences in America's vacation meccas. An average of $16,000 was spent by the school districts in the past two and a half years to send school board members and superintendents on trips. Expenses charged to the district include $420 per night hotel accommodations and a $61 steak dinner (for one).
When local school leaders hit up resort hotels and dine in pricey restaurants, the tab adds up quickly -- and all at the taxpayers' expense.

A Flint Journal review of more than a thousand pages of receipts, check orders and expense forms revealed that the top brass in Genesee County's 22 public school districts have spent at least $365,000 on travel since July 2006.

For some districts, that figure includes airfare to vacation hot spots, fancy meals, car rentals and at least one alcoholic drink. It also includes board mileage reimbursement and fees for board certification classes at in-state conferences.
More here.

UWM journalists ask if open record and meeting laws apply to student governments

UW-Milwaukee student journalists met with assistant attorneys general on Wednesday to discuss two incidents in which student government refused to release information and kicked a student news crew out of an event, The Daily Cardinal reported. The 147- page letter presented to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen "argues that under Wisconsin Statute 36.09(5) university student governments have significant governmental authority and therefore should be subject to public records and open meetings laws."

UW-Milwaukee student journalists traveled to the state Capitol Wednesday requesting clarification regarding how Wisconsin’s open record and open meeting laws apply to UW System student governments.

They submitted a 147-page legal interpretation request to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen following several incidents last spring in which the UWM student government allegedly declined to provide records to student media, said Jonathan Anderson, editor-in-chief of the UWM Post.

Anderson recounted two specific incidents, one in which the student government would not release information about a New York trip they took and another in which the student news crew PantherVision was kicked out of an event by an official because he “didn’t like how the news crew was covering the event.”

More here.

Why access to e-mail matters

E-mails obtained by a Massachusetts House reporter indicated that members of the governor's administration had orchestrated the hiring of state Sen. Marian Walsh "as payback for being an early supporter," inflated the salary of the state job in question and modified the job description to compensate for her lack of technical expertise, Bruce Mohl wrote in a column for The MetroWest Daily News. However, the records weren't provided by the governor, who insists that he is not covered by the Public Records Law. The records, which forced Walsh to drop out of the running, were provided by the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority.

The emails that derailed state Sen. Marian Walsh's bid for a high-paying state authority job saw the light of day only because of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. It was one of those rare instances where transparency trumped politics as usual, where a law designed to reveal the inner workings of government actually worked.

The state's Public Records Law is generally weak and ineffective. Vast swaths of state government are exempt from the law and many documents are shielded from its reach by a growing list of legislatively approved exceptions. Many government officials ignore the law and others subvert it by improperly withholding documents or charging excessive fees to produce information. Which is why the Walsh case is so refreshing.

A State House reporter filed a public records request on March 20 for emails and other documents related to the senator's controversial appointment. Seven days later he received information contradicting the public statements of Walsh, the Patrick administration, and the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority, where Walsh was slated to become assistant executive director.

More here.

ProPublica calls out county for not responding to request

What did ProPublica do when one district attorneys' office didn't respond to its public records requests? It wrote a story detailing the possible law violation committed by Middlesex County, Mass., and District Attorney Gerry Leone.
In the course of our investigation into district attorneys’ offices [1] that earn kickbacks from a company that collects bounced checks, we used public records laws to obtains thousands of pages of contracts and budget documents. Only one DA’s office refused to provide records.

That would be Middlesex County, Mass., and District Attorney Gerry Leone.

We filed our first request on Oct. 20, 2008. Leone’s office didn’t respond within the 10-day period required by law, so we turned to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, which monitors compliance with the Massachusetts Public Records Act. For several weeks, we worked with the secretary’s office because no one at Leone’s office would return calls or e-mails.

More here.

Texas bill could affect Dallas Morning News case

The former Texas comptroller refused to include birth dates in the employee payroll records she turned over to the Dallas Morning News per an FOIA request, the Associated Press reported. The current comptroller has taken a similar policy and argued that releasing birth dates creates identity theft problems. Lower courts have ruled that the birth dates are public records. However, a bill that proposes to exempt dates of birth from open records requests could supersede the now-pending Texas Supreme Court case. Reporters routinely use birth dates to "identify state employees during investigative reporting."
Texas lawmakers worried about identity theft are trying to remove state employees' birth dates from public records — a move journalists and open records advocates say is unnecessary and will hamper government oversight.

A proposal by Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, that would make the information private is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday. A Senate version of the bill had a hearing earlier this month.

Those and at least two other bills filed in the Legislature this session could supersede a pending Texas Supreme Court case between The Dallas Morning News and the state comptroller's office.

More here.

NFOIC announces 2009 summit

The National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information bring you the 2009 FOI Summit from Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 5 - 6.

Access to information is protected and expanded by a vibrant FOI community at all levels.

The FOI Summit helps promote that, and your participation is vital.

Join us for lunch at noon on Friday, June 5, at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center as we launch the conference with opening remarks from Richard J. H. Varn, director of the Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access and the chief information officer for the City of San Antonio. Following that is the return of the ever-popular FOI Salon, which includes a moderated discussion of what's going on in all of the states.

Saturday, we'll have panels on FOI & Infrastructure, Financial Transparency, and FOI as Civics Education.

For our keynote address Saturday, we're proud to present Paul Anger, vice president and editor of the Detroit Free Press. Mr. Anger has nearly 40 years’ experience as a reporter and editor.

The Free Press, you'll remember, played a key part in the controversy surrounding the former Mayor of Detroit, his firing of whistleblowers, and the text messages that exposed his lies under oath. The existence and implementation of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act was a key factor in the media’s ability to help the public learn the truth.

Scheduled panelists include:

Paul Anger, Vice President/Editor, Detroit Free Press
Richard J. H. Varn, Director, Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access
Rebecca Otto, Auditor, State of Minnesota
James R. Nobles, Legislative Auditor, State of Minnesota
Jane E. Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication
Patrice McDermott, Director, OpenTheGovernment.org
Joel Kramer, CEO and Editor, MinnPost
James Schiffer, Reporter and Editor, StarTribune

Scheduled panels include:

Coalition Sustainability — How do you keep that fledgling FOI group going, or take the next step?

FOI and Infrastructure — The Minneapolis I-35W Bridge collapse placed laser-like focus on infrastructure issues, not only in Minnesota, but all over the country. A panel of experts will gather to discuss the use of FOI to inform the public about infrastructure issues.

FOI as Civics Education — Freedom of information is a core democratic value, and one that should be celebrated in classrooms coast to coast. The NFOIC welcomes a panel of education and civics experts to discuss the national renaissance in civics and how FOI can play a leading role.

Financial Transparency — At the same time that some in our government are making efforts to increase transparency with online tracking, others are refusing to divulge the specifics of who’s getting what. Meanwhile, folks in the FOI community are doing our best—with reporting, blogging, and special projects—to follow the money. Join us for the lowdown on government spending and fiscal accountability.

Contact: Charles Davis, Executive Director, National Freedom of Information Coalition
Phone (573) 882-5736
E-mail daviscn@missouri.edu

More here on how to register early and save on rates for the conference and lodging.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Citizens make greater use of FOIA but face obstacles

Kim Petitt considers herself a watchdog and is a member of the Concerned Citizens of Coconut Creek, the Sun Sentinel reported. She was appalled, however, when her request for the city manager's e-mail records and the city's credit card spending records cost her $170. The Commission of Open Government Reform is recommending the removal of the provision for "special service charges" related to requests that require "extensive use" of resources or personnel.
Kim Petitt, a Coconut Creek resident since 1997, recently had a civic awakening.

Dismayed by a proposed big-box retail development that she thought would hurt her neighborhood and disenchanted with the city's leadership, she decided to start fighting City Hall.

"The City Commission seems more in lock step with what the city manager and developers want, not what the citizens want," said Petitt, 47. "I said, 'Wait a minute, this is my city. I'm going to take it back.'"
More here.

Maine's budget Web site may exclude employees' names

Maine legislators are considering a bill that would block salary information on individual state, county, municipal, school and university employees from MainOpenGov.org, the AP reported.
A bill before Maine lawmakers would block the names of people listed on a Web site that enables the public to search the state budget by category or employee.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Lisa Marrache, a Waterville Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would limit information on the Maine Heritage Policy Center's Web site, MaineOpenGov.org. The Web site won praise by the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, which promotes open government.

Marrache's bill says salary information relating to an individual state, county, municipal, school, University of Maine System, Maine Community College System or Maine Maritime Academy employee would be confidential. Marrache told the Kennebec Journal she's gotten complaints from several state employees about the Web site.

More here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wash. closed-door budget meetings may be illegal

Seattle's city attorney, Tom Carr, is concerned that private budget briefings may have violated Washington's open-meeting law, The Seattle Times reported. The law requires meetings of a quorum to be open, but these conversations included no more than four members. Tim Ford, open-government ombudsman at the state Attorney General's Office, told the newspaper that the closed meetings "may comply with the letter of the law, but it sure doesn't meet the spirit of the act."

Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said the private, closed-door budget briefings between some city council members and the mayor's staff may violate the state's open-meeting law.

Carr joined the Washington Attorney General's Office and the public-policy group Evergreen Freedom Foundation on Thursday in questioning the sessions, which are ongoing as the city prepares to close a $43 million gap in this year's budget.

"I have my concerns about the spirit of the law as well, and I wish that the council would contact me before doing things like this, but they don't always," Carr said.

More here.

Number of 'unfounded' rape cases surprises Mo. police

The Southeast Missourian spent 10 months investigating rape cases that police determined had never happened or were "unfounded." The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that 3 to 8 percent of rape reports turn out to be unfounded. Missouri is on the high end at 8 percent. "Police departments in larger Missouri cities like Springfield and St. Louis reflected much lower numbers of unfounded rape cases than Cape Girardeau," the Southeast Missourian found. In Cape Girardeau, 51 percent of the 53 reported rape cases from 2006-2008 were unfounded.
Fifty-three women have reported rapes in the last three years to Cape Girardeau police.

Police investigators determined that just over half of those rapes were "unfounded" or that they never occurred. That number is six times higher than what is reported across the state, according to the highway patrol.

Rape is one of the most difficult crimes to investigate. The evidence often boils down to one person's word against another's, making rapes difficult to prove in court.

More here.

Ill. agency issued pay raises despite budget woes

FOI at Work!

The Illinois FOIA wasn't enforced much under former Gov. Blagojevich, so the Northwest Herald's requests for payroll information weren't filled until recently. The records show that despite budget shortages, the Illinois Department of Transportation awarded raises averaging $6,000, which was on top of cost-of-living increases that were awarded to all IDOT employees on Jan. 1.

Should anyone need proof why the Illinois Freedom of Information Act is important, we offer Exhibit A: the exposure of excessive pay raises granted to high-ranking officials in the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Should anyone need proof why strengthening the Illinois Freedom of Information Act is even more important, we offer the identical reason.

IDOT awarded raises that averaged $6,000 to top employees in mid-January – during a worsening recession and unprecedented state budget crisis, no less. The pay hikes were in addition to cost-of-living increases that all IDOT workers received Jan. 1.

More here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tenn. bill allows chat room meetings

New legislation allows Knox County officials to hold meetings via chat rooms so long as the public has access and messages are stored for one year, knoxnews.com reported.

County commissioners, city councilmen and school board members across the state are authorized to hold conferences via computer, so long as the public can read what they say, under legislation that has now cleared both the House and Senate.

The bill (HB533) expands statewide a law that now only applies to Knox County. It is sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.

The House approved the measure 97-0 last week. Senate approved the measure 30-3 today, after adding a minor amendment. That means the measure will have to return to the House for concurrence on the amendment before the bill goes to the governor for his signature.
More here.

Troubled housing agencies receive stimulus money

USA Today and a representative from the Office of Management and Budget reviewed audits to identify 61 housing authorities who have been cited at least three times for mismanaging money. More than $300 million in stimulus dollars will go to these agencies despite their poor history.
The federal government will soon send more than $300 million in stimulus funds to 61 housing agencies that have been repeatedly faulted by auditors for mishandling government aid, a USA TODAY review has found.

The money is part of a $4 billion effort to create jobs by fixing public housing projects that have fallen into disrepair. Recipients include housing authorities in 26 states that auditors have cited for problems ranging from poor bookkeeping to money that was spent improperly, according to the review of summaries the agencies must file with the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The government has promised to closely monitor how the agencies spend the money. Still, some watchdog groups are concerned. "I think taxpayers are going to have to steel themselves to hear that a lot of this money has gone down the tubes," says Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste.

More here.

Anticipated bill would open La. governor's records

When WWL-TV requested Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's 2008 calendar, his office said the state Constitution protects that data as well as his letters, e-mails and writings. An anticipated bill would change that. Jindal opposed a similiar bill last year, but public pressure may prevent that from occuring this year.

A bill that would make more of Governor Bobby Jindal’s records available to the public is expected to be introduced at this year’s legislative session in Baton Rouge.

It’s similar to a measure that Jindal opposed last year, but one that some lawmakers say would put him on a level playing field with other elected officials who are required to respond to public records requests.

In January, Eyewitness News made a request for Jindal’s 2008 calendar, but his office rejected the request, saying that the Louisiana Constitution protects that information.

More here.

Missouri bill would strengthen Sunshine Law

A Sunshine Law bill was approved by the Missouri House Rules Committee, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. It would increase public notice from 24 hours to five days in advance of certain fee or tax issues being considered or voted on. General information about the content closed meetings would have to be released, and governmental bodies would have to "reveal a settlement agreement at the next open meeting after it is approved."

The Sunshine law in Missouri would be strengthened under House Bill 316, which was approved by the House Rules Committee yesterday, 11-0.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka), would:

–Require governmental bodies to include information about the general discussions that occur during closed meetings.

More here.

ProPublica creates list of Obama administration's disclosure data

ProPublica organized a handy list of financial disclosure records and ethical agreements from President Barack Obama's administration.

President Obama's administration came to Washington pledging transparency and accountability in government. The White House has demanded strict new ethics requirements and signed pledges from appointees to abide by the rules. The records don't seem to be available from single office, and moreover the government insists on giving them out by request only.

We're cutting out the middleman, and posting them, in a single location, for the first time.

More here.

Newton resident concerned about honor system

A Newton, Mass., resident fears that an honor system is simply not enough to prevent misuse of the 62 take-home cars for city employees, the Newton TAB reported. The only things tracked are gasoline usage and miles per gallon; trip logs are not required.

Last year, Newton spent nearly $120,000 on 62 cars that some city employees can take home. And while taxpayers foot the bill for gas and maintenance for the cars, employees are not asked to submit trip logs or otherwise explain how they use the vehicles.

“To some extent, we’re on the honor system,” said mayoral spokesman Jeremy Solomon. “Overall, we don’t consider abuse of vehicles in the city to be a problem.”

But the city’s policy didn’t sit well with one Newton resident. In February, Ted Kaplan requested information about the take-home cars under the Freedom of Information Act. What he found out just led to more questions.

More here.

N.C. bill would make recovery of attorney's fees easier

A bill filed in the North Carolina House would provide for automatic recovery of attorneys' fees for people who "substantially prevail" in public record suits, the Charlotte Observer reported. The bill also would create an "Open Government Unit" under the Department of Justice that would mediate public records and open meeting disputes.
A person who has to sue to obtain public records would have an easier time recovering attorney's fees under a bill filed in the state House.

The bill, which was filed Monday, would provide for the automatic recovery of legal fees in cases that are won convincingly.

The bill also establishes a unit in the state Department of Justice to keep public records disputes out of court in the first place.

More here.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

International FOI round-up

Peru: The National Security Archives released 21 declassified U.S. records to a tribunal in Peru, which recently found the country's former president, Alberto Fujimori, guilty of human rights atrocities. Six of those key records are posted online.

More here.

Brazil: Top-level Lula government officials are finally showing support for a right-to-information law, which was called for in the country's 1988 Constitution. It is expected that the proposed bill will be introduced in Congress by the end of April. Journalists have criticized a draft of the bill for not establishing an independent agency to implement the law.

More here.

Chile: Chile will join the increasing number of Latin American countries with FOI laws on April 20. The law, signed in August, will establish a "four-member watchdog council that will oversee implementation of the law, and rule on appeals," according to freedominfo.org.

More here.

Egypt: Representatives from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Palestine, Mauritania and Yemen attended a January conference that led to the creation of the Cairo Declaration, which "embodies a fundamental consensus on the state of access to information in Arab countries and also makes recommendations on how Arab countries can adopt and pass FOI legislation while encouraging public participation," according to freedominfo.org.

More here.

World Bank: The World Bank has scheduled its first nine of 30 consultation sessions to discuss its proposed new disclosure policy.

More here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Aircraft collisons involving birds increase 62 percent

An average of 524 aircraft collisions per year are caused by geese and other large birds, UPI reported. U.S. Federal Aviation Administration data indicate that these collisions have risen sharply. The FAA had proposed to bar the release of this data, so as not to discourage airports from reporting incidents. However, a spokesperson said FOIA requests are not being denied.
Serious collisions between large birds and airliners have risen sharply this decade, a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration report shows.

Richard Dolbeer, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist who created the FAA database on bird-plane collisions in 1990, says growing populations of large birds are a factor, USA Today reported Tuesday.

"In most cases it's going to be these large birds that are going to cause a catastrophe or a significant strike event," Dolbeer said.

More here.

Revised gun bill passes Ark. Senate

The Arkansas Senate passed a bill that was revised to keep the names and zip codes of concealed handgun permit-holders public while exempting all other permit information from FOIA, the Arkansas News reported. The original bill sought to exempt all permit information, but the sponsor of the bill agreed to a compromise with the Arkansas Press Association.
Legislation that would keep the names and zip codes of the holders of concealed handgun permits public but exempt other information from the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act received Senate approval Monday.

“This bill does very little,” Sen. Jerry Taylor, D-Pine Bluff, said while presenting House Bill 1623 in the Senate. The measure, which passed 34-0, now goes to the House for concurrence on an amendment.

The House, meanwhile, approved a bill that would give certain inmates serving life sentences more opportunities to apply for a pardon or commutation.

More here.

Mo. official reassigned after 'Militia' report

The director of the Missouri Information Analysis Center, which "collects intelligence from state and federal agencies to combat terrorism and criminal activity," was reassigned after a report, "The Modern Militia," mentioned third-party candidates and abortion opponents, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Through a Sunshine Law request, the Post-Dispatch obtained 11 of the 16 reports that the center has published since its inception. Reports reveal that some unofficial sources such as Wikipedia and religionfacts.com have been relied on to target Islamic groups, anarchists, the National Socialist movement and black separatist movements.
The Missouri Highway Patrol has reassigned the director of a center that produced a report linking third-party candidates and some abortion opponents to militias.

The report, "The Modern Militia," caused a national furor last month after it was released to conservative radio commentator Alex Jones. Conservative groups and some Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, expressed outrage at the report, which they said targeted conservatives.

Documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch show that extremist groups of all kinds have been the subject of reports from the Missouri Information Analysis Center since 2006. Targets of the reports include black separatist movements, Islamic groups, anarchists, the National Socialist movement and "green anarchism."
More here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

N.M. opens final bill negotiations process

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill into law that requires the recognition of e-mailed or faxed records requests and opens the final bill negotiations process, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported. However, a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate can still close these sessions.
Public records requests in New Mexico can now be made over e-mail or by fax, and state lawmakers will open their final bill negotiations process, in two pro-transparency changes Gov. Bill Richardson signed into law last week.

According to the Associated Press and the First Amendment Center, the public records bill follows a 2007 state attorney general's advisory opinion saying records requests need not be made on paper. The New Mexico State University had reportedly refused to accept an e-mailed request.

Regarding the legislative negotiations, according to the news report, lawmakers decided to open the conference committees that hash out the final drafts of bills when the House and Senate versions do not exactly match. A two-thirds majority vote in both chambers can still close the meetings.
More here.

County faces $100 daily fine for withholding documents

For the first time ever, Washington's maximum fine of $100 per day for withholding documents was imposed on Mason County, The Olympian (Wash.) reported. The county was sued by a resident who sent five e-mail requests for documents about a highway project and sewer systems. The county replied to none of the requests and has argued that it didn't do so because the e-mails ended up in the public-records officer's junk e-mail file.

A judge has penalized Mason County $145,000 in fines and legal costs for its failure to comply with a resident’s records requests.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor ruled in October after a bench trial that the county violated state law when it didn’t produce public documents requested by Tahuya resident Harold Carey.

The fines imposed by Tabor last week included an unprecedented daily penalty of $100 for withholding some of the undisclosed documents. That’s the maximum fine allowed under state law, said attorney Greg Overstreet, whose law firm, Allied Law Group, represented Carey.

More here.

Monday, April 06, 2009

N.M. to recognize FOI requests via e-mail, fax

Beginning June 19, New Mexico institutions and agencies will be required to treat e-mailed or faxed requests just as if they were submitted in writing, KOB (New Mexico) reported.
A new state law will require governmental institutions and agencies to accept e-mailed and faxed requests for public records.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation Friday that makes clear that an e-mail or fax must be treated the same as written requests under the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

Attorney General Gary King advocated the change in law, which will take effect June 19. In 2007, King's office issued an advisory opinion saying governmental bodies can accept e-mail requests for records although the law didn't explicitly require it.

More here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

E-mails reveal divide over same-sex marriage bill

The AP used an FOI request to obtain e-mails addressed to Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who pledged to veto a bill that would make Vermont the third state to allow same-sex marriages. The messages clearly indicate what an "emotional, divisive issue" this has become.
Some called him a homophobe. Some accused him of spreading hatred. Some thanked him, or applauded him for showing "backbone" in the face of pressure from gay rights advocates.

In the first two days after he pledged to veto a same-sex marriage bill, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas' mailbag and e-mail inbox runneth over, with about 1,500 letters and messages pouring in.

More here.

How do you define transparency?

The following essay from GovernmentExecutive.com provides an interesting look at what federal agencies really think about transparency. The story refers to a survey in which 90 percent of 452 federal managers "viewed transparency as providing facts and figures on project results and findings," not necessarily providing the supporting data and documents behind results. Only 26 percent considered providing meeting minutes in their definition of transparency.

When President Obama issued his Day One memos instructing members of his administration to operate under principles of openness to spur citizen engagement, government watchdogs cheered. They hailed the call - a nod to his campaign promise to make government more transparent - as unprecedented and said it was a welcome change from the past eight years.

But in the weeks since Obama's pledge that transparency would be a touchstone of his presidency, policy watchers have turned their attention to the details. What exactly is government transparency? How is it interpreted by those inside government who need to execute it? How will it be measured? What will it look like to the public?

Those questions are hard to answer, and the responses depend largely on who you are. Academics and good government advocates believe agencies should provide their raw data and internal evaluations of policies so the public can dig into the information to find answers to their own questions. Others believe agencies must impose order to the data so the public can easily draw conclusions. Still others believe the Obama administration should choose to show the results of programs and initiatives, and not provide the supporting data, documents or internal discussions on the thinking behind their decisions or what led to a particular outcome.

More here.

Iowa bill to rewrite Sunshine Law debated

Iowa's ombudsman said the changes made to a state bill concerning open meetings and open records move the state backward rather than forward in its level of transparency, The Des Moines Register reported. Among the controversies are amendments that would make job applications at all government agencies and all "draft" materials exemption from public records laws.
Greater secrecy in government records would result from some of the changes lawmakers have made to a bill dealing with open meetings and open records, according to the state ombudsman.

"Some of the amendments adopted last week pose a retreat from the amount of transparency and openness that currently exists in Iowa. It is just bad public policy," Ombudsman Bill Angrick wrote in a letter to key lawmakers.

If the bill is adopted, many hiring decisions would be more secret, critical information used in forming public policy would be shielded from public light, and there could be problems with the fees an agency charges for reviewing records before their release, Angrick said.
More here.

Money for e-mail archive system dries up in Mo.

Missouri legislators cut the funding projected for an e-mail retention system, which was ordered after former Gov. Matt Blunt's e-mail controversy in 2007, the AP reported.
State lawmakers have eliminated funding for a computer system that archives e-mails sent and received by about 34,000 executive branch employees.

Gov. Matt Blunt ordered the e-mail retention system after public scrutiny in 2007 about whether his office was deleting some e-mails that should have been saved as public records.

Gov. Jay Nixon recommended $731,780 in next year's budget to continue the system and expand it to cover the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Department of Natural Resources.

More here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

La. judge rules that two state offices violated public records law

A state district judge ruled that the Division of Administration and the Economic Development Department supplied insufficient records, the Shreveport (La.) Times reported. An attorney for the proposed Red Stick Studios requested records concerning how the movie credit law was changed in 2007 but only received a small portion of the available data. An appeal is expected.
Two top segments of Louisiana government violated the state's open records law by supplying insufficient records and not complying in a timely manner, a state district judge says.

The Division of Administration's and the Economic Development Department's "deliberate indifference and ineptitude rise to level of arbitrary and capricious," District Judge Janice Clark ruled late Monday night. That's the standard necessary for imposing sanctions on the agencies' heads — Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis and Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret.

State attorney Pam Perkins responded to Clark's decision by saying "the Division of Administration respectfully disagrees with the judge's decision. We look forward to applying to the 1st Circuit" Court of Appeal as soon as a transcript of the 10-hour hearing is available.
More here.

Neb. Supreme Court to decide if investigative report is public

The report in question stems from an investigation Mayor Greg Robinson initiated in order to determine if law enforcement was targeting Hispanic people for arrest. He hired an attorney who then hired two investigators. A report was prepared for the attorney but not for Robinson, The Beatrice (Neb.) Daily Sun reported. Kimball, Neb., officials are arguing that the report shouldn't be public because it is not in their possession.
Kimball officials say the findings of private investigators hired to probe allegations that a police officer was engaging in racial profiling were never meant for public release.

They want the Nebraska Supreme Court to overturn the ruling that made those documents public, including documents they argue were never in the city's possession.

The court will hear arguments in the case Friday.
More here.