Briefs & Comments

  • May 12, 2015

    The Reporters Committee and 28 other media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of an appeal of the denial of access to information from the Eric Garner grand jury investigation in Long Island, N.Y. The New York Post, along with a coalition of public interest groups that included the NYCLU, Legal Aid Society, the NYC Public Advocate and the Staten Island branch of the NAACP, petitioned for release of documents, transcripts, videos, photos, and other materials from the grand jury. Garner was killed when NYPD officers used a chokehold on him on July 17, 2014. The New York trial court ruled that none of the petitioners had articulated a "compelling and particularized need" for the material. On appeal, the Reporters Committee amicus brief argued that the public interest was best served by disclosing the grand jury materials in this case.

  • May 7, 2015

    This testimony was submitted to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public roundtable on the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The Reporters Committee's testimony argues that BWC videos are public records that should be treated the same as any other record under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. Additional information is provided regarding available technology that can be used to redact the videos for privacy and law enforcement concerns.

  • April 23, 2015

    Nevada Senate Bill 444, introduced in the Legislature with the support of casino owner Steve Wynn, aimed to scale back the protections of the state's anti-SLAPP law. The bill quickly passed the Senate and was under consideration by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary when the Reporters Committee wrote its letter.

    The Reporters Committee argued that, by making it easier for plaintiffs seeking to stifle public debate by embroiling speakers in meritless, protracted litigation, SB444 would chill speech on matters of interest and importance to the public. Nevada's anti-SLAPP law is strong in its protection of speech and special interests should not be able to weaken it to serve their own ends.

  • April 16, 2015

    The New Richmond News sought certain police reports under the Wisconsin open records law. The City redacted certain information from the reports, claiming that it was not allowed to provide it pursuant to the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). The amicus brief of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Reporters Committee argues that the requested records were not controlled by the DPPA, and even if they were, they fell under one of its permissible use exemptions. The brief also argues that the City's interpretation of the DPPA is not supported by other federal and state authorities, and the City's position would pose enormous burdens on records custodians and requesters, leading to a deprivation of public information.

  • April 1, 2015

    Photographer Paul Raef was prosecuted under California Vehicle Code 40008, basically an anti-paparazzi law that imposes additional penalties on violators of generally applicable reckless driving laws when those violators are driving with the intent to gather news for commercial purposes. After Raef appealed the Court of Appeals\' refusal to hear his case, the California Supreme Court returned the case to the Appellate Court. The Reporters Committee then filed another brief in the case, this time on the merits.

  • March 27, 2015

    The Washington Post sought access to completed jury questionnaires in the criminal trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The district court released the completed questionnaires, but with names and juror numbers redacted, making it impossible for the public to know which questionnaires corresponded with empaneled jurors. The Washington Post filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Fourth Circuit, seeking an order directing the district court to identify which questionnaires were completed by seated jurors. The Reporters Committee and 22 media organizations filed an amicus brief, arguing that the First Amendment provides a presumptive right of access to juror questionnaires, which are merely a written form of oral voir dire, which is presumptively open to the public. The brief argues that the right of access includes the right to identify which questionnaires match with seated jurors.

  • March 26, 2015

    In October 2014, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the Pasadena Police Officers Association (PPOA) to release a redacted copy of a report produced by the Office of Independent Review Group for the City of Pasadena that reviewed police department policies in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed teenager. In January, the L.A. Times filed a petition for writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in California for release of the report. The PPOA quoted from the report liberally in its reply brief, which was filed publicly without redaction, and the brief was distributed to the parties. Nine days later, PPOA sought to replace the unredacted copy of the brief with a redacted version, to file the unredacted version under seal, and to have the parties return their copy of the unredacted brief to the court. The Court of Appeal issued the order. The L.A.

  • March 11, 2015

    Plaintiff Milner sought info from the Department of Defense under FOIA for records relating to the construction of an explosives handling wharf at a naval base. The department cited, among other exemptions, 10 U.S.C. § 130e, a statute that allows an exemption for "critical infrastructure" information but requires that a public interest balancing test. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus letter to the district court for the Western District of Washington in support of Mr. Milner, arguing that based on the legislative history and text of the statute, as well as the department's own interpretation, it is important that there be an opportunity for the public to provide input on the importance of public access to the information that the government wishes to exempt under the statute.

  • February 27, 2015

    Members of news media made records requests to the Nashville police department for records regarding an alleged rape on the Vanderbilt campus. The trial court granted access to certain categories of records, but the Court of Appeals later held that the records should be exempt. Before the state high court, the Reporters Committee and others submitted an amicus brief arguing that the records act mandates maximum access to government records, including information created by third parties and received by law enforcement agencies, and that the records are not exempt under rule used by the appellate court because it does not bar access to third party records that do not constitute work product. The brief also argued that the state's Victims Bill of Rights does not create an exemption to the act, and that allowing a broad law enforcement exception would have a devastating effect on the ability of the press to report on issues that are of utmost public concern.

  • February 20, 2015

    Donald Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards and securities fraud, among other things, stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010, which killed 29 people. Immediately following the indictment, a federal judge ordered the parties, attorneys, witnesses, families of victims and others from making any statements to the media, and restricted all access to filings in the case. A coalition of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, National Public Radio, and the Charleston Gazette, intervened to overturn the restrictive orders, but the judge denied the request and found that news coverage was sufficiently likely to prejudice Blankenship’s right to a fair trial. The media intervenors appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

  • February 17, 2015

    Twitter is suing the Department of Justice in the Northern District of California, contending that restrictions on disclosing the number of FISA requests and national security letters it receives are unconstitutional prior restraints on its speech. Five U.S. communications providers filed motions in 2013 to allow them to publish aggregate data about FISA orders and national security letters they had received. These five companies — Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo!, and LinkedIn — entered into a settlement with the Department of Justice allowing for limited disclosures. Twitter took issue with the fact that providers who have never received a NSL or FISA order are apparently forbidden to reveal that fact. The government argued that the district court should dismiss the case, contending that the FISA Court is a more appropriate venue.

  • February 17, 2015

    Media plaintiffs, prisoners' rights groups, and prisoners sued the State of Pennsylvania Attorney General in the Middle District of Pennsylvania over the constitutionality of the Revictimization Relief Act, a law that put restraints on the conduct and speech of convicted prisoners that caused "mental anguish" in the minds of their victims and those close to the victims. Plaintiffs sued for a preliminary injunction, arguing that the law was unconstitutional. The Reporters Committee and three other amici filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. The brief argued that the Act's restriction on speech is an unconstitutionally vague prior restraint on a limitless range of speech, including matters of public interest.

  • February 11, 2015

    The Virginia Legislature is considering a bill that would exempt information on the drugs used in executions, as well as the pharmacies that produce them and any investigations into those pharmacies, from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The Reporters Committee argued that this information should not be kept from the public, especially in light of the concerns that have been raised with regards to the sources of execution drugs and the numerous recent botched executions around the nation.

  • February 10, 2015

    The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, city and county of Los Angeles, and the L.A. Police Department for release of automatic license plate recognition system records. The trial court determined that all such records are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act as investigatory records. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief arguing that the trial court's reading of the investigatory records exemption was overbroad and erroneous and emphasized the importance to the press of access to police records.

  • February 2, 2015

    In connection with a civil lawsuit filed after an accident at a veteran's parade, the Atlanta FOX 5 television station broadcast a series of news reports detailing the police investigation and indictment of the plaintiff, Shane Lardner, for lying about having a Purple Heart. Ladner sued for defamation, and FOX 5 attempted to use the Georgia anti-SLAPP law to have the suit dismissed. The trial court ruled that the anti-SLAPP law was inapplicable because the news reports did not qualify as statements "made in connection with" an official proceeding and because they were "sensationalistic." The Reporters Committee wrote an amicus brief supporting FOX 5's petition for review to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court applied an unduly narrow interpretation of the anti-SLAPP statute, which should cover media reports discussing lawsuits.