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 14, 2013 9:08 AM

From Journal Sentinel: The secret investigation into the Milwaukee County executive's office is over — over for more than seven months now. But thousands of Milwaukee County documents and emails that were part of the inquiry remain secret.

That simply should not be.

The Journal Sentinel is seeking these documents on behalf of the public. The county records belong to the citizens of Milwaukee County, and the citizens of Milwaukee County have a legal right to know what's in them.

Visit Journal Sentinel for more.

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October 14, 2013 9:04 AM

From Student Press Law Center: FLORIDA — A Florida representative has reintroduced a bill that, if enacted, would exempt public colleges from having to disclose the names of executive candidates.

Meetings where officials discuss identifying information of presidential, provost or dean candidates would also be exempt from the state’s open meetings act. Public colleges would be required to release the names of finalists at least 21 days before officials meet publicly to make a final selection. If passed, it would take effect Oct. 1, 2014.

[...]

Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, said she has “no idea” why Kerner reintroduced the bill and said she hasn’t seen any evidence that the state’s public records and open meetings laws have made it difficult to find strong executives.

“To say we don’t get good candidates for these top positions because of our open government laws is pure hogwash,” she said. “Look at the presidents of our state universities, who were all hired under the sunshine, by the way. Can anyone say we could have done better? Who makes the final list is as important as who does not.”

Visit Student Press Law Center for more.

The Florida's First Amendment Foundation is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 14, 2013 8:59 AM

From Des Moines Register: State officials say key performance and disciplinary records from the Department of Public Safety’s 2008 training academy have gone missing from a locked storage unit — a development that has undermined the investigation of a hazing incident that year.

Academy instructors said the records, including detailed notes on the 32 graduates’ progress during the 20-week program, were boxed and stored at DPS headquarters in Des Moines alongside similar records from prior academies.

Visit Des Moines Register for more.

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October 14, 2013 8:56 AM

From Appealing Brief: Only days before the end of the 2013 legislative session last June, someone (apparently a Fox News reporter) started a false rumor that documentary filmmaker Michael Moore was going to make a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request for graphic crime scene photographs of the Sandy Hook massacre and then splash those photographs all over the Internet or movie screens. Michael Moore never made any such request and he never had any intention of making such a request. Nevertheless, the Fox News rumor triggered a misguided frenzy in the legislature to amend the FOIA to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs of any homicide victims. It also led to the creation of the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know, which is charged with examining the balance between victims’ rights and the FOIA and making recommendations to the legislature regarding further amending the FOIA in the interest of victim privacy. The Task Force is currently in the process of holding public hearings on the issue.

Having followed these developments closely (I am the President of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government), I am convinced that the General Assembly created the Task Force to seek a solution to a non-existent problem. Moreover, the creation of the Task Force has, ironically, caused the Sandy Hook families to suffer the very pain they sought to avoid by the disclosure of photographs. It has distracted them from the process of healing and forced them instead to endure more public hearings and discuss the horrific events of December 14, 2012.

Why do I describe the Task Force as seeking a solution to a non-existent problem? Because although graphic crime scene photographs of victims, including homicide victims, have long been subject to disclosure under the FOIA, I can’t find a single instance in our state of such a photograph being disclosed to the public pursuant to an FOIA request and then being published in a newspaper or on the Internet.

Consider the following: Before Sandy Hook, there was the July 23, 2007 murder of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, CT. The Petit home was set afire and Dr. Petit’s wife and two daughters were murdered in the home. Dr. Petit was very seriously injured, but managed to escape. The police took many photographs of the crime scene, including photographs of the victims. All of those photographs were public records and thus subject to disclosure under the FOIA upon request. Do a Google search and you will find some crime scene photographs from the Cheshire murder scene on the Internet. But you will not find any pictures of the homicide victims. Furthermore, the pictures on the Internet are ones that were introduced in evidence at the trials of Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. The appearance of those pictures on the Internet has nothing to do with the FOIA and everything to do with the fact that the public has a First Amendment right of access to court proceedings and documents, including trial exhibits. If you don’t want trial exhibits to appear in newspapers or on the Internet, the “problem” is not the FOIA; it is the First Amendment.

Visit Appealing Brief for more.

Daniel Klau is the president of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government. The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 14, 2013 8:46 AM

From San Jose Mercury News: WALNUT CREEK -- The Bay Area News Group is asking a judge to force the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to release internal records about a former Concord elementary teacher charged with sexually molesting 13 young male students.

Citing personnel and investigatory exemptions in the state's public records law, the district has refused to produce documents pertaining to former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, 45, who pleaded not guilty in July to 125 felony molestation counts.

Visit San Jose Mercury News for more.

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October 14, 2013 8:42 AM

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 36 other news media organizations, filed public comments calling on the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to more carefully balance the secrecy sometimes required in national security investigations with the public’s right to know what its government is doing.

In response to a call from the Review Group to comment on how government can utilize technology to protect national security while protecting privacy and civil liberties, the Reporters Committee-led media coalition made several suggestions, including increased transparency in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the FISA court) and the creation of a media advocate to oversee public interests in the secret court.

“We urge this Review Group to embrace a more transparent FISA process and help ensure that the FISA court does not interfere with protected newsgathering to the point that innocent and necessary communications with reporters are stifled,” the Reporters Committee letter stated. “The government needs to more vigorously protect the free flow of information and openness in the judicial process to ensure that its efforts to combat terrorism do not end up swallowing the nation’s commitment to First Amendment values.”

[...]

Joining the Reporters Committee on the Review Group letter were: ABC, Inc.; Advance Publications, Inc.; Allbritton Communications Company; ALM Media, LLC; American Society of News Editors; The Associated Press; Atlantic Media, Inc.; Bloomberg L.P.; Cable News Network, Inc.; California Newspaper Publishers Association; Courthouse News Service; Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; The E.W. Scripps Company; First Amendment Coalition; Fox News Network LLC; Gannett Co., Inc.; Hearst Corporation; Investigative Reporters and Editors; Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; Journal Communications, Inc.; The McClatchy Company; Media Consortium; National Press Photographers Association; National Public Radio, Inc.; The New York Times Company; The New Yorker; Newspaper Association of America; North Jersey Media Group Inc.; POLITICO LLC; Radio Television Digital News Association; Reporters Without Borders; Reuters America LLC; The Seattle Times Company; Society of Professional Journalists; Tribune Company; and The Washington Post.

Visit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for more. Please also see an article from Poynter here.

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October 14, 2013 8:33 AM

From Detroit Free Press: LANSING — Two bills that would make it more difficult or impossible for the public to access the criminal records of juveniles and accident records from police passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature on Wednesday.

The first bill, passed unanimously in the Senate, would shut out the public from access to the criminal records of juveniles available on a Michigan State Police-run online data base. The records could be released to other law enforcement agencies and employers who do criminal background checks on potential employees

Visit Detroit Free Press for more.

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October 11, 2013 7:26 AM

From NFOIC:  A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

Michigan lawmakers approve new limits on public records, remove controversial 'journalist' definition

image of Access keyLANSING, MI -- The Michigan House on Wednesday approved a bill seeking to slow "ambulance chasing" attorneys from using public traffic accident records to find new clients. In doing so, lawmakers removed controversial language that would have defined who is or is not a journalist. The Michigan Press Association and other First Amendment advocates had raised red flags over House Bill 4770, which as introduced would have prevented immediate access to accident reports for most individuals but included exceptions for certain groups, including newspaper, radio or television employees.

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Idaho judge rules against media groups in hospital case

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge presiding over an antitrust lawsuit between two major Idaho health care providers has declared that trial testimony and documents can remain hidden from public view, providing attorneys make a compelling case for secrecy. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Tuesday after a coalition of Idaho news organizations challenged a broad protective order approved by the judge for documents and testimony leading up to the trial.

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Lawsuit over mug-shot web sites captures a public records dilemma, Ohio

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Debra Lashaway is realizing that the Internet never forgets. Years after she was exonerated of a theft charge, she remains online through a lasting image of her arrest: a mug shot.

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Times-News co-sponsors Idaho open government workshop

Public documents are the backbone to government transparency, but sometimes wading through what is or isn’t open can be confusing. To help the public navigate Idaho’s public records law, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government are holding a workshop for those who want to learn more about access to public records and meetings.

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Texas appeals court hears Bexar open records case

AUSTIN — An appellate court heard clashing arguments Wednesday over Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson's long-running refusal to disclose official communications in his private email accounts. The Precinct 4 commissioner, who in 2012 was ordered by a trial court in Austin to release transportation policy-related emails sought by the San Antonio Express-News, insisted anew that the communications were not subject to the Texas Public Information Act. State and newspaper lawyers countered that the messages must be shared because they were official business.

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Editorial: N.M. Governor must be more open about travel

It's a problem that dates back to at least the Richardson administration, and remains unresolved to this day: the governor being less than transparent with their daily schedule and travel plans. The Associated Press reported last week that in response to its request for travel records, information provided by the Susana Martinez administration for political trips not related to state business was incomplete and inconsistent with previous statements.

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Sarasota development review panel to meet in sunshine

SARASOTA - A committee charged with helping to shape Sarasota developments will no longer hold private meetings before signing off on projects in public, City Attorney Bob Fournier said this week. Fournier has advised members of the Development Review Committee to end that practice, he said, and make all meetings public, after open government advocates complained last month that the DRC appeared to be violating Florida's Sunshine Law.

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Wis. Senate sends AG ‘sunshine’ legislation to governor

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) — The Wisconsin Senate has passed legislation aimed at bringing transparency to the state’s hiring of private sector attorneys on a contingency fee basis. On Tuesday, senators concurred 23-10 and sent the legislation, the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting Act, or Assembly Bill 27, to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

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Vermont announces 'open data' pilot project

As Vermont’s state government takes its first baby step into the giant world of open data, the state’s civic hackers are lining up to help. Harry Bell of Vermont’s Department of Information and Innovation announced Tuesday that the state would be stepping out of its website shell and into the “open data” movement — a growing international trend toward making government data more available to the public.

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Hendersonville (Tennessee) public records ordinance clears hurdle

Citizens may soon be able to make their own copies of public records at Hendersonville City Hall, but would still have to pay a labor charge for retrieving and redacting those records if the process takes more than an hour. Hendersonville leaders passed an ordinance late Tuesday outlining how public records will be handled. The measure passed 9 to 3, but will require another vote before it takes effect.

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Asheville, Buncombe (NC) crime databases offer access to public records

Two relatively new online databases, from the Asheville Police Department and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, offer extensive access to crime reports. Both use a program called Police to Citizen (or P2C) that allows users to look up information on crimes in their neighborhoods and search for alleged and convicted offenders by name. Buncombe’s P2C has been online for a little more than a year and was recently enhanced to include more thorough information, according to Kim Pruett, Buncombe County’s director of information technology. Asheville’s P2C, implemented in collaboration between Asheville and Buncombe IT staff, was launched in August.

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Who’s got that public record you want? Louisiana government begins to comply with new law

State Rep. Chris Broadwater typed away on a Dell laptop last week at his legislative office in downtown Hammond. Broadwater was checking to see which government agencies had complied with a measure, House Concurrent Resolution 129, that the state Legislature approved unanimously in June. Sponsored by Broadwater, it requires government agencies to make it easy for citizens to find out online how they can file public records requests, by identifying who on the website is the custodian of those records.

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Spokane (Washington) Public Schools to pay $130,000 in public records dispute

Spokane Public Schools will pay a Spokane woman with a history of needling officials $130,000 after failing to comply with a 2009 public records request. Laurie Rogers is a private tutor, frequent critic and describes herself as an advocate for transparent government. She had filed a request for all “promotional materials on the 2006 and 2009 bonds and levies.”

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Mich. bills to limit access to juvenile records, accident reports move forward

LANSING — Two bills that would make it more difficult or impossible for the public to access the criminal records of juveniles and accident records from police passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature on Wednesday. The first bill, passed unanimously in the Senate, would shut out the public from access to the criminal records of juveniles available on a Michigan State Police-run online data base. The records could be released to other law enforcement agencies and employers who do criminal background checks on potential employees.

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Vermont gun group responds to Burlington rejection with second FOIA

Undeterred by the City of Burlington’s refusal to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs has filed a second FOIA request, the group reported yesterday on its website. The original request was for documents and correspondence related to the city’s undermining of state preemption laws for firearms. That effort was reported in this column on September 21, and produced a response from the city three days later.

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Former Polk County deputy suing sheriff over public records

LAKELAND | A former Polk County sheriff's deputy who was fired earlier this year is suing Polk Sheriff Grady Judd for not providing public records, according to court filings. Shawnee McCawley requested copies of emails and text messages from eight Sheriff's Office employees in an Aug. 9 letter sent by certified mail, according to the lawsuit.

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October 10, 2013 3:29 PM

From RT: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has turned over new documents detailing how the FBI collects cell phone location information about criminal suspects, but most of the secretive program will remain under wraps for now.

The latest trove of documents was published this week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a DC-based public interest research group that specializes in issues involving surveillance and security.

Visit RT for more.

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October 10, 2013 3:26 PM

From McClatchyDC: A FOIA bid by the folks at the Electronic Privacy Information Center for documents held by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has fallen short.

In a 14-page decision, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg upheld the ODNI's withholding of 21 documents. EPIC had requested "guidelines describing how the National Counterterrorism Center retrieves and safeguards information from other federal agencies."

Visit McClatchyDC for more.

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October 9, 2013 2:30 PM

From The Chippewa Herald: A group of media outlets and organizations advocating for freedom of information filed a motion Tuesday in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals aimed at ensuring that records involving a former aide to Scott Walker are not kept secret.

The motion was filed in the criminal appeal of Kelly Rindfleisch, a former aide to Walker when he was the county executive of Milwaukee County. Rindfleisch, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty in November to one count of felony misconduct in public office and was sentenced to serve six months in jail for doing campaign work on county time.

[...]

Filing the motion to intervene Tuesday were publishers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated Press, Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Visit The Chippewa Herald for more.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 9, 2013 2:21 PM

From The Washington Post: The fight by a conservative legal group and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) to obtain the e-mails written by leading climate change scientist Michael E. Mann while he was at the University of Virginia was shot down by a judge in Prince William County last year. But Marshall and the legal group appealed, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to take the case and rule on whether the state’s Freedom of Information Act exempts unpublished academic research from being disclosed to the public, even after it’s been concluded or has been released elsewhere.

Mann has been gone from U.Va. since 2005 and is now at Penn State, where he published his book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars,” a reference to a hockey stick-shaped graph depicting the rise in global temperatures and the controversy surrounding it. While Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli tried and failed to obtain Mann’s work material by investigative subpoena, Marshall and the American Tradition Institute filed a detailed, 11-page FOIA request in 2011. That request wound up in Prince William County Circuit Court after U.Va. determined that there were more than 13,000 potentially responsive documents and about 12,000 were exempt under a FOIA clause which excludes “Data, records or information of a proprietary nature produced or collected by or for faculty or staff of public institutions of higher learning…in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical or scholarly issues…where such data, records or information has not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented.”

Visit The Washington Post for more.

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