The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. 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.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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May 25, 2016 7:16 AM

 

NEWS RELEASE

May 24, 2016

Knight FOI Fund contributes to U.S. Circuit Court ruling granting “Educational Requester” status to students 

Knight Foundation NFOIC FOI Fund helps finance plaintiff’s appeal in far-reaching FOIA case

A United States Circuit Court in the District of Columbia ruled last week that “Educational Requester” status in federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) petitions applies to all students seeking government information for educational purposes. The decision came on an appeal by plaintiff Kathryn Sack, a University of Virginia graduate student after losing in District Court. People who petition under an educational requester category are not subject to the same fees and restrictions applied to other FOIA requesters.

In 2011, Ms. Sack was working on her dissertation on polygraph bias.  She filed multiple FOIA requests among Department of Defense.  Ms. Sack was denied information from the National Security Agency (NSA) and she sued the agency and the DoD.

Public records petitioners fall into a special fee category to determine how much time and which services will be provided by the agency before fees are applied to their request. Ms. Sack stated she was conducting the request for educational purposes, which is required to be considered a representative of an educational organization. She also presented a document from her academic advisor confirming the work was for her dissertation and she was representing the university. NSA determined her request fell into the “All Others” category and that it did not need to do any work, even to provide two free hours of search and 100 free copied pages, because she refused to pay. On December 9, 2013, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins upheld the NSA denial.

Ms. Sack’s attorney appealed the district court’s decision. On Friday, May 20th, Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s ruling for a unanimous three-judge panel found Ms. Sack qualified for Educational Requester status. The court also ruled that any student making a federal FOIA request qualifies as “Educational Requester” if their petition is for educational purposes.

“This is a huge decision,” said Ms. Sack’s attorney, Kel McClanahan. “It’s the first circuit ruling anywhere on whether students are educational requesters, and now they will be treated the same as professors according to the D.C. Circuit which effectively negates the OMB FOIA Guidelines interpretation.” 

“There are so many cases where public records petitioners halted their efforts to pursue their request due to the prohibitive costs they knew they would incur --and would not be able to afford,” said Mal Leary, President of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) whose organization provided funds to support the appeal. “It’s also a tactic used by public institutions to quash freedom of information petitions and appeals,” he added.

Through support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to NFOIC, the Knight FOI Fund exists to offer financial support in open government lawsuits and assist the pursuit of important FOI cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions.  Since it began in January 2010, the Knight FOI Fund has assisted NFOIC member organizations, their allies and other litigants with 38 grant awards in FOI or access cases.

As for Ms. Sack’s information request, the Circuit Court has instructed the NSA to begin a new search, without limits on time, to determine if it does maintain records covered under her FOIA petition.

For the opinion:

Sack v. DoD, No. 14-5039 (D.C. Cir. May 20, 2016)
https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10744428196466649678

Background:

Sack v. DoJ, 65 F. Supp. 3d 29 (D. D.C. 2014)
https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=717798698012637770

Sack v. CIA, 53 F. Supp. 3d 154 (D. D.C. 2014)
https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8289823784051548499

Sack v CIA, 49 F. Supp. 3d 15 (D. D.C. 2014)
https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10813302280634266016

Sack v DoD, 6 F. Supp. 3d 78 (D. D.C. 2013)
https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=11687379180991786553

Nat'l Sec. Counselers v CIA, 931 F. Supp. 2d 77 (D. D.C. 2013)
https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14678955939802098690

 

May 24, 2016 2:31 PM

Nominations sought for the State Open Government Hall of Fame

May 24, 2016

Known as the “Heroes of the Fifty States,” the Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint initiative of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Inductees are recognized for their "long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy."  Formal induction takes place on October 8th, during the 2016 NFOIC Freedom of Information Summit in Washington, DC.

The State Open Government Hall of Fame is open to anyone who has made a substantial, sustained and lasting contribution to open government or freedom of information within one particular state. Even if the nominee has been active in national efforts or national organizations, the judges will only consider accomplishments at the state level.

Nominees may come from government, the media, the non-profit sector, the legal profession, or any other area of endeavor that involves citizen access to government records, meetings and procedures. Nominees may be living or deceased; active or retired. Last year’s recipient was former Miami Herald managing editor, Pete Weitzel who became the Hall of Fame’s 15th inductee.  

The deadline for nominations is July 15, 2016
All nominations should include the following:
Cover letter identifying the nominee and the person or group making the nomination.
Adequate support material to demonstrate the worthiness of the nominee.
Please mail or email all nominations and material to:
 
"Heroes of the 50 States"
c/o NFOIC
Missouri School of Journalism
101E Reynolds Journalism Institute
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone (573) 882-4856
May 24, 2016 11:17 AM

To help encourage private-sector innovation and growth, the city of Johns Creek has created an OpenData portal to provide the public with free access to data it uses for maps.

The initiative makes Johns Creek one of the first city governments in Georgia to open its map-based data without restrictions, the city said Monday.  Continue...

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May 24, 2016 11:13 AM

A bill aimed at overhauling the state’s public records law has cleared a key hurdle, bringing it one step closer to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

The bill would require public records requests to be completed in 10 days. If the agency or municipality can’t comply, the person in charge of producing the records must explain the reasons for the delay. A one-time extension could be granted.  Continue...

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May 24, 2016 11:08 AM

In elementary school, Franklin Weekley was diagnosed as “mentally retarded.” He was slow to learn, but quick to act out on impulse. Teachers at his rural school were unequipped to get a handle on him. Weekley ended up spending much of his time at home. Unsupervised, he often would get in trouble.

Weekley fought with his siblings and raged at his neighbors. He was fascinated with fire and explosives, and was quick to run away in frustration. His parents — who also were developmentally disabled — hoped Weekley would grow out of it.  Continue...

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May 24, 2016 10:38 AM

The Mississippi Justice Institute is now representing the Commercial Dispatch, a Columbus newspaper, in an appeal involving Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act. The Mississippi Ethics Commission ruled the mayor and city council of Columbus violated the Open Meetings Act in a complaint filed by a now-former Commercial Dispatch reporter. The mayor and city council appealed the decision to the Lowndes County Chancery Court.

In 2014, the Columbus mayor scheduled multiple meetings with council members, which were not announced or open to the public, to discuss policy issues and determine matters involving economic development projects and renovation of city property.  Continue...

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May 24, 2016 10:08 AM

South Carolina’s Freedom of Information law contains two significant and frequently used exemptions. The first is for lawmakers. Having written the FOIA law, they have exempted themselves, as have lawmakers in many other states.

The other exemption is the attorney-client privilege. This has frequently been used to deny FOIA requests simply because an attorney was part of the process of public decision-making. And of course, since attorneys are part of most public decisions, that exemption can cover almost anything.  Continue...

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May 20, 2016 2:23 PM

By now, we all know that canceling health insurance subsidies to MU graduate student employees in August was a mistake of momentous proportions.

As Julia Roberts said in “Pretty Woman:”

“Big mistake. Big.

“Huge!”   Continue...

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May 20, 2016 11:48 AM

Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea launched an online tool Thursday designed to help Rhode Islanders access open government information filed with the Department of State. The Open Government Interactive is Rhode Island’s first interactive data visualization and focuses on data filed in the Department of State’s Lobby Tracker Database and Public Meetings Portal.

“So much information is filed with the Department of State, information that can empower Rhode Islanders to move our great state forward. I am releasing the Open Government Interactive to connect Rhode Islanders with their government and offer insight on the public data and information they have access to,” Secretary Gorbea said.  Continue...

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May 20, 2016 11:43 AM

Citizen advocacy groups want the Indiana Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling in a case involving the House Republican caucus and the state’s public records law.

The groups filed a lawsuit last years to gain access to emails between a House Republican lawmaker and utility companies.  Continue...

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May 20, 2016 11:31 AM

Getting your hands on government information in the state of Minnesota is not always as easy as it may sound. In fact in some cases it may be impossible.

A KARE 11 investigation found the state categorizes information as private that can be easily accessed in other states. From online court records to complaints against teachers or doctors.  Continue...

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May 20, 2016 11:27 AM

A package of bills to make the governor and Legislature subject to Michigan public record laws was reported out of a House committee in a unanimous vote Thursday, and the committee chairman said he is hopeful it will pass the full Legislature before legislators takes their summer break.

Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said the package of bills "potentially puts Michigan at the forefront for government transparency." Continue...

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