Follow the links below for press releases and more of the history behind the Knight FOI Fund.
CIA must re-examine nondisclosure claims for FOIA requests, judge rules — In a major ruling in a case supported by the Knight FOI Fund, a Washington DC-based federal district judge has ruled that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot use the CIA Act of 1949 as a catchall rationale for avoiding disclosures under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, which may or may not be appealed, is a victory for attorney Kel McClanahan and Virginia-based National Security Counselors, which had been awarded grants from NFOIC to support the legal action it began in 2011. But in forcing the federal spy agency to re-examine its broad interpretation of its nondisclosure prerogatives under FOIA, information-seeking efforts by scores of other historians, journalists and researchers may also be affected.
Seattle-area Housing Authority institutes transparency reforms — A public housing agency serving suburban Seattle, Wash., will institute a sweeping series of transparency measures as a result of a lawsuit made possible by the inspired persistence of an engaged public housing resident and a litigation grant made under the Knight FOI Fund. The settlement resolves all claims related to open meetings, but Ms. Ference still has claims under the Public Records Act that have not been settled.
NFOIC supports newspaper in legal action over board of commissioners’ email distribution lists — A small daily newspaper has been awarded a $12,500 litigation grant from the Knight FOI Fund after being rebuffed and stonewalled for months in its efforts to get email distribution lists from the board of commissioners in a rural Maryland county. The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), which administers the Knight FOI Fund, awarded the grant to The Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md., after the newspaper's public records requests for the lists were greeted by pleas to back off, intimidation, a legislative effort to change the law and ultimately a legal challenge initiated by county officials.
NFOIC supports lawsuit accusing government agency of repeatedly violating Washington state’s open government laws — With support from NFOIC and the Knight FOI Fund, a public housing resident in suburban Seattle filed a lawsuit today accusing a local housing authority of repeatedly violating Washington state’s public disclosure and open meeting laws. The lawsuit alleges that the scheme results in repeated violations of Washington state’s Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act, and seeks an injunction to stop the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from meeting privately in its dual capacity as a nonprofit organization’s board.
NFOIC joins nonprofits in amicus brief involving Virginia FOIA case — Open government advocacy groups, including NFOIC, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule unconstitutional those provisions of state public disclosure laws that allow only states’ own residents access rights to public records. The open government groups filed an amicus brief August 29, asking the Supreme Court to accept an appeal by Mark McBurney, a Rhode Island resident, and Roger Hurlbert, a Californian, who are challenging the citizens-only provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA).
NFOIC joins other nonprofits, newspapers in amicus brief — NFOIC has joined media associations and good government groups in asking the Washington state Supreme Court to limit Gov. Gregoire’s authority to withhold documents from public scrutiny. The case grew out of a lawsuit filed in April 2011 by the Olympia, Wash.-based Freedom Foundation, an NFOIC member organization in Washington state, over the governor’s claims of “executive privilege” as a basis for shielding records from disclosure. At issue in the case are Gov. Gregoire’s claims of executive privilege to conceal records regarding a controversial, $2 billion proposed tunnel along the Seattle downtown waterfront to replace the elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct, in addition to other documents.
Settlement in public records case requires greater access to emails — In an important case supported by the Knight FOI Fund, a grassroots public-interest organization has won a settlement agreement with the northern California city of Auburn over retention and disclosure policies regarding government emails. The settlement agreement with the First Amendment Coalition (FAC) of California requires that government officials save emails for at least two years, replacing a policy and practice of deleting most emails after 30 days. The agreement also assures public access to emails about government business even when they are sent or received on personal computers or through personal email accounts.
NFOIC supports lawsuit challenging new CIA charges to public records requesters — In a federal district court lawsuit supported by NFOIC and the Knight FOI Fund, a Virginia watchdog organization is challenging a new CIA regulation that obstructs citizen challenges to government overclassification by imposing excessive charges in the review process. National Security Counselors (NSC), an Arlington-based public interest group, has filed suit in federal district court challenging a new CIA regulation that could cost information seekers up to $72 an hour, even when a mandatory review fails to declassify or release any new information.
Federal court rules that petition signers’ names can be made public — The Washington Coalition for Open Government and freedom of information advocates everywhere are celebrating a major victory in a case supported by the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Knight FOI Fund. Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle granted the release of the names and addresses of Washington citizens who two years ago signed Referendum 71 petitions.
NFOIC supports appeal on behalf of Florida open government watchdog — The National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Knight FOI fund are helping defray court costs for a Sarasota, Florida, man who was sued by a government official after seeking information under the state’s Sunshine Law. Sarasota County Clerk of Courts Karen Rushing turned the tables on a litigious and aggressive open government advocate and watchdog, Michael Barfield, asking a judge to order Barfield to pay $870 in court costs.
Survey: People want more government transparency, traditional media less likely to sue to get it —COLUMBIA, Mo. (August 23, 2011) — While a lack of resources have made news organizations increasingly less inclined to file freedom of information lawsuits, citizens have a growing interest in government transparency and are becoming more active in asserting their right to government information. The rise of citizen interest and the decline of newsroom aggressiveness are among the findings of an informal open government status study by the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).
WI newspaper receives records in lawsuit settlement with village board —Journal Times of Racine, WI, had received a grant from Knight FOI Fund to pursue meetings records and correspondence after Mount Pleasant abruptly dismissed village administrator last spring. The firing raised many questions in the community over the reasons for the village board's actions and whether the board had been diligent in its oversight of the operations of village hall.
NFOIC provides funding for Wisconsin lawsuit —A Wisconsin village’s abrupt dismissal of its administrator, still unexplained to the public two months since the action was taken in a closed-door meeting of the Village Board and a month since the administrator died of a heart attack, is the focus of a Knight FOI Fund grant announced Wednesday by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).
NFOIC provides funding for open meetings lawsuit in Florida —The Knight FOI Fund, a legal war chest administered by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), has awarded a $5,000 grant to support a Florida lawsuit that could invalidate a March 2011 ballot referendum in St. Pete Beach on the grounds that the city commission made improper, closed-door decisions authorizing the citywide vote. Attorney Kenneth Weiss of Treasure Island, FL said the city has begun a practice of using so-called “shade meetings” to decide all kinds of controversial issues.
NFOIC supports airing CIA's process of handling FOIA requests —A Virginia organization has won support from the Knight FOI Fund for lawsuits it has filed to challenge the manner in which the CIA handles information requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). National Security Counselors, an Arlington-based public interest group, seeks government documents in the public's interest in order to publish them and has filed three lawsuits against the CIA for access to data about how the agency handles FOIA requests.
Knight Fund case compels public records release in upstate NY —A New York judge, ruling in a case supported by a Knight FOI Fund grant, has ordered disclosure of records sought by a Web publisher and a community activist regarding a volunteer fire company. But in the same 13-page ruling, Warren County (NY) Supreme Court Judge David B. Krogmann held that many of the meetings of the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company are of a "social" or "private nature," and are not subject to the state's Open Meetings Law.
NFOIC awards grant in New York public records suit —A news website publisher in upstate New York and a citizen open government activist have been awarded a litigation grant from the Knight FOI Fund to press a legal action against a volunteer fire company.
NFOIC Knight FOI Fund supports victorious transparency case —A California judge, as a result of litigation backed by the Knight FOI Fund, has ordered the state’s pension fund to release records about a $100 million real estate investment loss. Judge Charlotte W. Woolard of the San Franicsco Superior Court, in a six-page writ signed on Tuesday, September 14, ordered the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) to release records regarding its investment in Page Mill Properties, a controversial East Palo Alto low-income housing development.
NFOIC awards FOI Fund grant in New Mexico public records suit —A weekly newspaper in New Mexico has been awarded a litigation grant from the Knight FOI Fund to press a legal action against a state college for disregarding basic requirements of that state's "sunshine law." The $11,000 grant to the Rio Grande Sun newspaper was announced by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), which administers the Fund that was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant was the first awarded for a New Mexico case since the Fund was established.
Knight FOI Fund supports another victorious transparency case —In a court challenge brought with the support of a Knight FOI Fund grant, proponents of government transparency won a significant victory in a California case involving a county’s attempt to keep pension compensation to former employees secret. A California judge ruled that Sacramento County must disclose the pension payments, rejecting the contention of the county retirement system that state law and the system’s own regulations required it to keep the information private.
FAC seeks records on pension fund real-state investments —The First Amendment Coalition (FAC) today announced that it has sued the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), over access to records about the agency’s ill-fated investment in an East Palo Alto residential real estate development that has gone bust–at a loss to CalPERS of all of its $100 million stake in the controversial venture.
FAC, media coalition win unsealing of search warrant affidavit —A media coalition organized by the First Amendment Coalition (FAC), a member of NFOIC, with support from NFOIC's Knight FOI Fund, has been successful in securing disclosure of the search warrant affidavit used to search an online journalist’s home for evidence concerning the Gizmodo/Apple/missing iPhone investigation. Joining FAC in the unsealing motion were the Associated Press, Wired.com, Bloomberg News, CNET, the LA Times and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
FAC files suit against LA City Council —The First Amendment Coalition (FAC), a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), has filed suit against the Los Angeles City Council over the Council’s failure to tell the public, in advance, that it was about to consider and vote on layoffs of thousands of government workers. FAC’s suit, supported by NFOIC's Knight FOI Fund, alleges a “pattern and practice” of violations of the Brown Act and requests declaratory and injunctive relief.
Florida firm latest recipient of Knight FOI Fund grant (PDF) —A firm representing a pair of sisters in a mobile home community in Bradenton, Florida, is the latest recipient of a Knight FOI Fund grant by the National Freedom of Information Coalition, in a case that raises some big issues about open government in small settings. The NFOIC awarded Lewis, Longman & Walker $15,000 to help offset a portion of the mounting legal costs in a suit brought by the sisters against the Trailer Estates Park and Recreation District for what they claim is a series of violations of Florida Sunshine and Public Records laws. The District was at one time a mobile home park that converted into a Special District form of government governed by an elected nine‐member Board of Trustees.
Special to Sunshine Week 2010 —A few weeks ago, Columbia Daily Tribune reporter T.J. Greaney was looking at court records to see who was suing whom and for what—a staple of the city reporter—when a case file jumped out at him. (See the Daily Tribune article for more information.)
Big Spring, Texas, hit with lawsuit —The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is pleased to assist the Concerned Citizens Council of Big Spring – Howard County in the filing of a lawsuit against the City of Big Spring, challenging a decision made during an illegal meeting under the Texas Open Meetings Act and asking for a tax rollback election as a remedy.
Knight FOI Fund awards first funds (PDF) —In its first awards from the newly created Knight FOI Fund, the National Freedom of Information Coalition is helping citizens in Florida seek answers to important questions of FOI law, including the scope of public access to economic development documents in Sarasota and whether handwritten notes used by a government official during a public meeting are subject to disclosure.
A Brief History of the Knight FOI Fund —Why did the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation want to partner with the National Freedom of Information Coalition to create a Knight Freedom of Information Fund? Let’s start by going back to Oct. 2, 2009, when a major report was released by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. It concluded that information is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets and good schools.
Online Media Legal Network partners with NFOIC —The Berkman Center’s Online Media Legal Network (OMLN) announced that it is partnering with the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) to assist with freedom of information lawsuits and to provide online journalists with FOI information and assistance.
New Knight FOI Fund announced —We are delighted to announce that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has approved a new $2 million, three-year grant to the National Freedom of Information Coalition to launch the Knight FOI Fund and support state open government groups.
The full MLRC/NFOIC survey here (PDF) —In July 2009, MLRC sent the attorneys of its Defense Counsel Section an electronic questionnaire developed in conjunction with the National Freedom of Information Coalition to collect information on the effect of the changes in journalism on the intensity of the battle for access to government records and proceedings.