FOI Advocate News Blog

Syndicate content

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/.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

March 24, 2015 9:10 AM
Five years ago, the Northwest Herald began an ongoing series called “No More Excuses” to badger and shame local governments into compliance with new and much stronger open-government laws.
 
Timed to coincide with the national observance of Sunshine Week in mid-March, the series also coincided with new laws that not only strengthened the state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts, but also gave the Attorney General Public Access Counselor the power to enforce them upon recalcitrant local governments. The newspaper decided that the time for excuses for not being transparent in an information age was over and that Illinois governments needed to be brought, kicking and screaming if necessary, into modern times.
 
Sunshine laws do not limit what governments can release to or discuss in front of the public – they limit what the government can conceal from them. Continue>>>
======
March 23, 2015 12:04 PM

On his first day in office in 2009, President Obama promised that transparency would be one of the "touchstones of this presidency."

Advocates for open government were ecstatic at the promise of less secrecy and the president's directive to all government agencies that "in the face of doubt, openness prevails."

THE WHITE HOUSE: We're committed to openness. Continue>>>
======

March 23, 2015 12:01 PM

A House-passed bill allowing South Carolina public agencies to take legal action against citizens who file “unduly burdensome” or “overly broad” open-records requests could be the first law of its kind in the country if enacted, several legal observers say.

“It’s a terrible, terrible idea,” said Adam Marshall, the Jack Nelson-Dow Jones Foundation Legal Fellow at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., when contacted last week by The Nerve. “It gives too much discretion to the agency to employ these measures.”

Under a bill (H. 3191) sponsored by state Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort and an attorney, a public body could seek a hearing before a newly created “Office of Freedom of Information Act Review,” which would be a division of the S.C. Administrative Law Court, to “seek relief from unduly burdensome, overly broad, or otherwise improper requests.” Continue>>>
======

March 23, 2015 11:47 AM

After the scandal that sent former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison, lawmakers adopted a raft of reforms that included creating a referee to intervene when bureaucrats reject citizens’ requests for government records.

Five years later, the “public access counselor” in the attorney general’s office has yet to respond to more than 2,800 appeals of Freedom of Information Act requests for information that a government agency deemed secret, according to an analysis of records obtained by The Associated Press.

That’s about one in five of all FOIA appeals submitted to the office since the law took effect in 2010. Continue>>>
======

March 23, 2015 11:08 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 23, 2015

Contacts:
David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chair, 520-248-6242 (PDT), spjdave@yahoo.com
Barbara Petersen, President, NFOIC, 573-882-4856, nfoic@nfoic.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS/Jefferson City – The Society of Professional Journalists and the National Freedom of Information Coalition are joining forces – and legal war chests –  to help citizens and journalists fight for public records.

The two groups will band together to help litigants who sue for access to government information. The NFOIC can provide court fees and SPJ help for attorney fees. Both organizations also will use their combined national networks of journalists and citizens to apply public pressure to government agencies that flaunt the law.

“This is such an exciting collaborative project, one that will lend significant weight to our collective efforts in preserving our right of government oversight and accountability,” said Barbara Petersen, NFOIC president.  “I’m honored to be part of it.”

As part of the partnership approved during national Sunshine Week, SPJ and NFOIC will:

  • Have staff and volunteers from both organizations solicit applications and monitor public record battles at the state and federal levels for worthy cases.
  • Give priority to cases that a) have a strong legal basis, b) have the ability to establish good case law, and c) will help citizens and journalists, regardless of the profession or standing of the plaintiff.
  • Write or join amicus curiae briefs and/or intervene in cases where appropriate.
  • Coordinate publicity and advocacy.
  • Solicit other partners, when merited, such as state coalitions and other national access organizations.

“More than ever, it’s essential for groups to unite in helping citizens fight for government information,” said David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chair. “Together we are much more powerful against a system that is not weighted in the public’s favor.”

The SPJ Legal Defense Fund was created in 1972 to fight for the First Amendment, primarily for public records and open meetings. Litigants apply for funds and the applications are considered by a six-member committee, aided by SPJ’s attorney. The committee can provide grants of up to $5,000, and larger amounts are considered by the SPJ Board of Directors. The fund has about $75,000 available, and is replenished by donations, interest and an annual auction. In 2014 the SPJ Board approved the creation of an endowed advocacy fund that can also be used for litigation. The endowment currently generates about $4,000 annually.

The Knight FOI Fund was created by NFOIC in 2010 through a grant from the Knight Foundation to help litigants fight for open government. The fund pays for court costs, filing fees, depositions and related expenses, typically $2,000-$3,000 per case. The fund, currently at $444,000, does not pay for attorney fees, nor dictate what attorney is used in the case. The fund stipulates that if the grantee wins and receives an award then they must repay NFOIC. A Litigation Committee decides the merits of applications.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit  spj.org.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition is a national organization that supports our right to open government. Forty-four state and regional coalitions are currently connected through the NFOIC,  representing a nonpartisan alliance promoting collaboration, education and advocacy for open government, transparency and freedom of information. Visit nfoic.org

-END-

March 23, 2015 10:53 AM

On March 2, 2015, a D.C. district court denied a plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its conduct in connection with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Despite the result, the court expressed its displeasure with the agency.

From the very start of its opinion, the court expressed its dissatisfaction with EPA’s behavior in connection with Landmark Legal Foundation’s FOIA request. The court speculated that EPA’s conduct in response to the request was for one of two reasons. “Either EPA intentionally sought to evade Landmark’s lawful FOIA request so the agency could destroy responsive documents, or EPA demonstrated apathy and carelessness toward Landmark’s request.” The court believed that “[e]ither scenario reflects poorly upon EPA and surely serves to diminish the public’s trust in the agency.”

Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm, filed the FOIA request with EPA and later brought suit in order to obtain information as to whether the agency intentionally delayed proposing or finalizing any agency rules until after the 2012 presidential election. The court observed that EPA allegedly engaged in a variety of delay and spoliation tactics to destroy relevant information, including failing to produce emails from former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s personal email account that Landmark proved that she had used for official business. Continue>>>
======

March 23, 2015 10:50 AM

The formation of hundreds of nonprofit groups that run or support police, ambulance or fire services across Iowa has invoked deep questions about lack of oversight that some say could leave the state vulnerable to corruption.

The concern hinges on accountability: Their nonprofit status could shelter such groups from state audits, allow for secret meetings and prohibit the public's ability to inspect detailed spending information, according to a review by The Des Moines Register of such groups' status.

"This may be legal, but it certainly doesn't pass the sniff test," said Bill Monroe, Gov. Terry Branstad's government transparency adviser and a member of the Iowa Public Information Board. Continue>>>
======

March 23, 2015 10:47 AM

Some recent examples of New York journalists facing challenges to efforts to shine light on the working of local government:

ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE

The newspaper is involved in two lawsuits challenging authorities' denial of requests for information under the state Freedom of Information Law. Continue>>>
=======

March 20, 2015 9:35 AM

Gawker Media continues to prod the U.S. Department of State to hand over email communications between Philippe Reines, a former press aide in the department, and reporters from 34 media outlets. On Friday, the news site filed a lawsuit in D.C. federal court under the Freedom of Information Act in the latest sign that the imbroglio over revelations that Hillary Clinton used a personal email address instead of a government one is not going away anytime soon.

Gawker first made a FOIA request on Reines' communications in 2011 but got nowhere.

Two years later, Gawker published a story on its website about a hacker claiming to have compromised the email account of Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton aide. The article raised the issue that Clinton was receiving emails from Blumenthal at a private account and mused, "While it's not strictly a violation of the [Presidential Records Act] and FOIA for Clinton to conduct official business on a non-government account, the law requires that those emails be archived along with her @state.gov communications." Continue>>>
======

March 20, 2015 9:32 AM

A Senate committee on Thursday discussed but took no action on a bill that would largely exempt former state employees’ records from the state Freedom of Information Act.

Senate Bill 892 by Rep. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, would make all information about a state employee exempt from the FOI law 60 days after the person leaves office, except for the employee’s name; agency or department of employment; position or rank; dates of service; awards, decorations or commendations; and the city or town of his or her last known address.

Cooper said the bill would protect former state employees’ privacy. Some committee members expressed reservations about the measure. Continue>>>
======

March 19, 2015 11:21 PM

Simpsonville City Council received an opinion from the state Attorney General's office that a quorum was present when council members and other city officials toured the historic Simpsonville Grammar School last fall, therefore it may have violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Assistant Attorney General Anne Marie Crosswell's letter stated, "While our office is not a fact-finding entity, based on the information you have provided, we believe a court would likely find that the walk-through would classify as a meeting subject to the requirements of the FOIA."

The request for an opinion was proposed at the October meeting of City Council by councilman Matthew Gooch and seconded by George Curtis, both of whom said they were unaware of a meeting beforehand. The motion carried unanimously. Continue>>>
======

March 19, 2015 11:14 PM

The public's right to see government records is coming at an ever-increasing price as authorities set fees and hourly charges that often prevent information from flowing.

Though some states have taken steps to limit the fees, many have not:

• In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback's office told The Wichita Eagle that it would have to pay $1,235 to obtain records of e-mail and phone conversations between his office and a former chief of staff who is now a prominent statehouse lobbyist.Mississippi law allows the state to charge hourly for research, redaction and labor, including $15 an hour simply to have a state employee watch a reporter or private citizen review documents. Continue>>>

Syndicate content