FOI Advocate News Blog

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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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October 9, 2013 1:30 PM

From delmarvanow.com: DEWEY BEACH — Citizens express concern about Town Manager Marc Applebaum’s meetings with members of the local business community, saying he should be subjected to open meeting laws, noticed and conducted in public, citing officials promise of more transparency last year after their published agendas violated the Freedom of Information Act rules.

Residents have not filed a formal FOIA complaint against the town or Applebaum, but town attorney, Fred Townsend, examined the issue and discussed it at the Sept. 6 meeting. Applebaum met with various local businesses following the defeat of the gross receipts tax, in an effort to find an alternative way of paying a fair share in the town.

Visit delmarvanow.com for more.

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October 9, 2013 1:27 PM

From Property Casualty 360: The attorney work-product privilege is one of the three primary privileges incorporated into Exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5). It protects materials prepared by an attorney or others in anticipation of litigation, ostensibly shielding materials that would disclose the attorney’s theory of the case or trial strategy. President Lyndon B. Johnson originally signed FOIA into law by on July 4, 1966 and it went into effect the following year.

[...]

In a recent $70 million lawsuit involving turbine damage, a New York court held that an insurer cannot withhold pre-denial documents and communications simply because an attorney conducted the coverage investigation. In essence, the court asserted that neither the attorney-client privilege nor the work-product doctrine applied to reports prepared by outside counsel because the reports were created before the insurers made a "firm decision" to either approve or deny the claim, which involved $5 million in property damage and another $65 million in business interruption (BI) losses.

Visit Property Casualty 360 for more.

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October 9, 2013 1:17 PM

From Fort Mill Times: WASHINGTON -- Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), issued the following statement today applauding the Wisconsin Senate for passing legislation promoting transparency and limiting contingency fees when the state attorney general, an executive branch agency, or elected officials hire outside private plaintiff attorneys to represent the state. The legislation, the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting Act (AB 27), now heads to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.

“By advancing AG ‘sunshine’ legislation, Wisconsin’s Senate took a significant step today to rein in the troublesome practice of awarding contingency fee contracts to outside plaintiffs’ lawyers. Such schemes enrich lawyers at the expense of taxpayers and raise significant concerns about ‘pay-to-play,’ conflicts of interest, the use of a public entity for personal gain, and fairness in prosecutions. We urge Governor Walker to swiftly sign this bill into law.

Visit Fort Mill Times for more.

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October 9, 2013 1:07 PM

From Daily Pilot: Costa Mesa officials have denied a public records request for a 20-year-old archaeological study about the Fairview Indian Site.

The Daily Pilot, which filed the request Sept. 23, had sought a copy of the 1993 report, conducted by the Keith Cos.

Visit Daily Pilot for more.

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October 9, 2013 1:04 PM

From Honolulu Civil Beat: News organizations throughout the state are asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to make it clear that a judge can't close a criminal trial or hear arguments in secret unless the press and public are first given a chance to object.

Hawaii is the only state that has not expressly asserted the First Amendment right to attend criminal judicial proceedings, according to a "friend of the court" brief expected to be filed Monday in a case that seeks the release of transcripts from closed sessions of the recent murder trial of U.S. State Department special agent Christopher Deedy.

[...]

On Monday, 11 other news organizations and journalism groups filed an additional brief supporting the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now. But they also want the state's highest court to reverse a 35-year-old ruling that the press did not have a First Amendment right to attend court hearings. The amicus brief was filed by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest on behalf of Civil Beat, KITV/Hearst Television, KHON, Hawaii Public Radio, Hawaii Reporter, Hawaii Tribune-Herald, West Hawaii Today, Maui Time Weekly, the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Media Council Hawaii and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Visit Honolulu Civil Beat for more.

The Media Council Hawaii is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 9, 2013 12:55 PM

From First Amendment Coalition: Long gone are the days when major newspapers and network news operations had the power, through their selection of stories, to set the political agenda. That's a change for the better, to be sure. But the best of the ancient media regime are still peerless in their ability to compel change in the actions of the people and institutions they report on.

Take for example an article in the business section of Sunday's New York Times about commercial websites that publish police mugshots -- millions of mugshots obtained as public records from police departments across the country. These websites are in the humiliation business, posting mugshots indiscriminately, with no consideration for whether the pictured individuals have ever been convicted of a crime.

Worse, most of these websites are also in the extortion business: They offer to remove a mugshot for a fee.

The Times' very thorough story (by reporter David Segal) is hardly the first about this particular nether niche of the internet. Earlier news coverage appeared in Wired, Gizmodo, Niemanlab, Yahoo, and Searchengineland, among other outlets. But here's the difference: while the other stories about these websites could be ignored by powerful interests that have enabled and profited from them, the same firms sprung into action when they learned the Times was planning a story.

Visit the First Amendment Coalition for more.

Peter Scheer is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. The First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 9, 2013 12:45 PM

From StatesmanJournal.com: We’re all facing a tough decision by Congress later this year -- and it’s not about the federal budget or national health care policy.

A question that ultimately will affect us all involves a bill with the innocuous name “Free Flow of Information Act.” In other words, it’s a proposal to create -- for the first time legislatively -- a national “shield law” aimed at protecting news sources and the confidential information they have provided from having to be disclosed by journalists facing a subpoena or federal grand jury.

Note that that description, unlike most, starts out by referring to the protection that sources get under the proposal, not the benefit that derives to journalists.

From a First Amendment view, that’s about the only way one feel comfortable with such a law. The major hurdle that remains is that the measure must include a definition of a “journalist,” which by-definition must exclude some of our fellow citizens or it would read “everyone.” But the 45 words of the First Amendment have no modifier in front of “press” in forbidding government from restraining or censoring what it publishes.

Visit StatesmanJournal.com for more.

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journalism, Shield Law
October 8, 2013 8:52 AM

From Voice of OC: Voice of OC and open-government advocate Californians Aware have petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn an Orange County gag order, arguing the county is trying “an end run” to hide what executives may have known about alleged sexual abuse of female workers.

Earlier this year, county officials, including the Board of Supervisors, took the unusual step of seeking the order in criminal court so they wouldn’t have to make information public in the case of former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante.

[...]

“As long as this gag order persists, we can’t even get into court” to fight for access to public records, said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware. The underlying issue, he said, is to obtain information for the public about “the inner workings of a county government allowing, allegedly, a continuing number of county workers to be sexually assaulted on the job by a supervisor.”

[...]

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said Orange County used “the criminal court as a way to bypass and abort the ongoing public records lawsuit. That was improper. It’s unfortunate the criminal court allowed itself to be used in that way.”

Visit Voice of OC for more.

The Californians Aware and the First Amendment Coalition are members of NFOIC. --eds

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October 8, 2013 8:45 AM

From Daily Trojan: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission top administrator John Sandbrook was found guilty of testifying falsely during USC’s lease negotiations with the Coliseum on Oct. 4, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin ruled that Sandbrook falsely stated under oath his reasons for why the lease negotiations between the commission and the university could be kept secret, which both contradicted Sandbrook’s prepared agenda and violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law guaranteeing that actions and deliberations of public commissions, boards and councils be conducted openly.

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The ruling was made in light of a lawsuit against the commission by the Times and Californians Aware, a nonprofit 1st Amendment organization. The suit alleged that the agency repeatedly violated the Brown Act while conducting meetings behind closed doors to grant USC control of the Coliseum.

Visit Daily Trojan for more.

The Californians Aware is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 8, 2013 8:33 AM

From San Francisco Chronicle: BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A state panel reviewing ways to balance victims' privacy with Connecticut's open records law is holding its second public hearing.

The Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public's Right to Know is scheduled to hear from members of the public Wednesday at Bridgeport City Hall. The hearing begins at 6 p.m.

Visit San Francisco Chronicle for more.

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October 8, 2013 8:29 AM

From The New York Times: IN March last year, a college freshman named Maxwell Birnbaum was riding in a van filled with friends from Austin, Tex., to a spring-break rental house in Gulf Shores, Ala. As they neared their destination, the police pulled the van over, citing a faulty taillight. When an officer asked if he could search the vehicle, the driver — a fraternity brother of Mr. Birnbaum’s who quickly regretted his decision — said yes.

Six Ecstasy pills were found in Mr. Birnbaum’s knapsack, and he was handcuffed and placed under arrest. Mr. Birnbaum later agreed to enter a multiyear, pretrial diversion program that has involved counseling and drug tests, as well as visits to Alabama every six months to update a judge on his progress.

But once he is done, Mr. Birnbaum’s record will be clean. Which means that by the time he graduates from the University of Texas at Austin, he can start his working life without taint.

At least in the eyes of the law. In the eyes of anyone who searches for Mr. Birnbaum online, the taint could last a very long time. That’s because the mug shot from his arrest is posted on a handful of for-profit Web sites, with names like Mugshots, BustedMugshots and JustMugshots. These companies routinely show up high in Google searches; a week ago, the top four results for “Maxwell Birnbaum” were mug-shot sites.

Visit The New York Times for more.

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October 8, 2013 8:22 AM

From Union Leader: MANCHESTER — The Telegraph of Nashua will be honored next month with the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award for its continuing series of stories focusing on just how accessible Nashua area government is to the public.

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The newspaper will be recognized Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the 11th annual Nackey S. Loeb School of Communication’s First Amendment Awards at the Executive Court Conference Center in Manchester. Featured speaker for the luncheon event will be George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.

Visit Union Leader for more.

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