NFOIC honors the father of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and its chief interpreter well over 30 years and a founding member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation who, as an attorney, is responsible for the most important press freedom cases in Georgia ever.
The NFOIC is happy to announce this year’s inductees into the State Open Government Hall of Fame: Don Gemberling of Minnesota and Peter Canfield of Georgia.
Without Peter Canfield, there might not be a Georgia First Amendment Foundation. Already well known in legal circles as a fierce defender of the First Amendment, Peter was instrumental in setting up the necessary paperwork, recruiting board members and crafting the organization’s bylaws.
When the foundation embarked on creating a series of open government guides tailored to county government, law enforcement, the courts and others, Peter stepped up to help. When the foundation needed an amicus letter in an important appellate case, Peter and his colleagues at the Canfield Law LLD law firm were the first to volunteer. In the courtroom, Peter has been an unwavering defender of a free press and the public’s right to know. His successful argument before the Supreme Court of Georgia in Smith v. Northside Hospital Inc. made it clear that state Sunshine Laws apply to private entities doing work on behalf of government agencies.
Having never forgotten his formative years during the Watergate scandal and secrecy surrounding the Vietnam war, Don was integral in Minnesota’s legislative response, not only shepherding the 1979 Minnesota Government Data Practices Act’s implementation but also by drafting key sections of the law in his position at the Minnesota Department of Administration and negotiating with media and government stakeholders to help the law evolve. When legislators granted his department permission to issue advisory opinions on the MGDPA, Don wrote them all until his retirement in 2005. Additionally, he co-wrote two massively influential law journal articles that are cited whenever data practices questions require resolution in the courts.
Since retiring, Don has been a Minnesota Coalition on Government Information board member, the lion of its cause. As the board’s chief spokesman and educator, he helps journalists and citizens alike understand the head-spinning ins and outs of data practices, open meetings and privacy law and their implications. According to Kevin Featherly of the MCGI: “Bottom line. He is a hero in the struggle over the public’s right to know.”