News

Format: 2014-04-18
Format: 2014-04-18
April 17, 2014
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled this morning that the University of Virginia does not have to release certain emails sent to and from a former professor. The American Tradition Institute (now the Energry and Environmental Legal Institute) requested emails under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act from Michael Mann, a climate scientist and then-professor at UVA, in 2011. He intervened in the case at the trial level, alleging that the university was not sufficiently representing his privacy and academic freedom rights in a controversy surrounding climate change research.
April 17, 2014
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit instructed a Maryland district court yesterday to unseal in its entirety a consumer safety case that a company had sought to close on the grounds that disclosure would injure its reputation. In 2011, a yet-to-be-identified manufacturer sued to stop the Consumer Product Safety Commission from publishing on an online database a report that one of its products caused an infant to die. After the district court sealed most of the record and let the company use a pseudonym, three consumer advocacy groups – Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union – challenged the decision.
April 9, 2014
A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund awarded eight states a grade of A for comprehensive websites detailing public spending, while three states received Fs. Indiana ranked the highest of all the states, earning 94 of 100 possible points. Oregon, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and Wisconsin all earned 90 or more points. The three lowest ranking states were Idaho, Alaska and California, with California pulling in the lowest score: 34 out of 100.
April 7, 2014
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) reversed the dismissal of a challenge to the Ventura County, Calif. Superior Court’s document policy, which withheld from public inspection records filed with the court until administrators there completed processing – a procedure that could take several days, and, in some instances, much longer. In early 2012, Courthouse News Services filed the action in federal court, claiming that the Ventura County Superior Court’s policy violated its First Amendment right of public access and its right to gather and disseminate news. A lower court had previously dismissed CNS's suit on a rule that “permit[s] the federal courts to decline to decide matters ... which implicate sensitive state interests.”
April 7, 2014
The Toledo Blade filed a lawsuit Friday against various military officials after reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser were detained March 28 outside a contractor-operated Department of Defense facility in Lima, Ohio. According to the complaint, filed in a U.S. district court in Ohio, the journalists intended to take "file" photos for the newspaper's future use with stories related to the plant. They parked on a public road in front of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and took photographs of the outside of the facility, according to the complaint. They began to leave but were stopped by military police and detained for an hour, according to the complaint. Their equipment was confiscated, and their photos were deleted.
April 2, 2014
Alabama blogger Roger Shuler was released from a Shelby County, Ala. jail on March 26, more than five months after he was imprisoned on contempt charges for refusing to comply with a court order to take down allegedly defamatory articles. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued in an October letter that the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint. Shuler had written a series of posts on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, claiming that Robert Riley, Jr., son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley and potential candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant U.S. House of Representatives seat, had an affair with and impregnated lobbyist Liberty Duke.
March 31, 2014
In Maine, the administration of Gov. Paul LePage has enacted a ban on state employees’ use of text messaging, instant messaging and the use of personal email accounts to conduct state business. The directive is an effort to better comply with the Maine Freedom of Access Act, which requires all communications related to state business to be stored as state records and open to public inspection, unless the record falls into a particular exemption category.
March 21, 2014
The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the state's eavesdropping law as unconstitutional. Annabel Melongo spent 20 months in jail, according to the Chicago Tribune, for recording three telephone conversations with a supervisor in the Cook County Court Reporter's Office. The Illinois eavesdropping statute makes it a crime to record any conversation, even in public, without the person's consent.
March 19, 2014
The Society of Environmental Journalists has released a statement criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to respond to public records requests, including still-lingering questions about a Jan. 9 chemical spill. "As we celebrate 'Sunshine Week,' it’s worth noting that nowadays EPA in many cases simply fails to answer questions posed by journalists on behalf of the public – even some that are routine and non-controversial," wrote Beth Parke and Joseph Davis. Parke is SEJ's executive director and Davis is the director of SEJ's Watchdog Project. "When the agency does respond, a favorite tactic is to wait until just before or even after a reporter’s deadline and then mail a short written statement that does not answer the questions," they wrote.
March 19, 2014
The Ohio Supreme Court decided Monday not to hold a reporter in contempt of court for refusing to testify in a disciplinary hearing against an attorney. While the case was poised to answer the question of whether the state's reporter's privilege applied in quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings, the state's high court did not squarely answer this question. Instead of issuing a full opinion, the court briefly announced that it was dismissing the case and denying the Akron Bar Association's request to hold the reporter in contempt.
March 5, 2014
Federal prosecutors in Texas have moved to drop 11 of 12 fraud charges against Barrett Brown, an Internet activist and occasional columnist. Brown was originally charged with several crimes after posting a hyperlink to materials obtained from a hacked computer in a public Internet chat room. Brown linked to a website that included 860,000 email addresses and the credit card information of more than 60,000 people. However, as laid out in a legal memorandum, Brown’s attorneys believed the hyperlink charges were too vague, were in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech, and would have a chilling effect on Internet activity.
March 5, 2014
The Ohio Attorney General argued against its own election-related speech law in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. In Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether two organizations can challenge an Ohio law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements about a candidate for office or ballot proposition. Rather than defend the law, the Ohio Attorney General admitted it “raise[s] a number of potential constitutional issues.”
March 3, 2014
The Hawaii judge who closed the courtroom multiple times during the last day of a high-profile murder trial has unsealed the transcripts from that proceeding in response to a motion by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.
February 27, 2014
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday unanimously declined to address the First Amendment claims of a protester who was banned from a military base , deciding the case solely on property ownership grounds. Anti-war activist John Apel was banned from Vandenberg Air Force base in 2003 after he was involved in a protest that included throwing blood on a sign at the base. He was arrested and served two months in jail and was barred from the base for three years. After he began protesting there again in 2008, the base commander permanently banned Apel.
February 26, 2014
The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday unanimously passed the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, paving the way for more streamlined Freedom of Information Act request processing and a stronger role for the independent agency charged with reviewing government compliance. H. B. 1211 creates a presumption of openness, allowing a document to be withheld only if an agency “reasonably foresees that disclosure would cause specific identifiable harm to an interest protected by an exemption, or if disclosure is prohibited by law.” Current FOIA law simply instructs agencies to release non-exempt information, rather than starting from the presumption that all information should be released and only then applying narrow exemptions.