Freedom of Information

North Jersey Media Group v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office

July 21, 2014

A FOIA request concerning a criminal investigation of a priest over a sexual abuse allegation was denied by prosecutors who said they would not disclose whether an investigation was going on. We filed an amicus brief joined by 25 other news organizations. We argued that a "neither confirm nor deny" response is not appropriate for state government records requests, as it was developed at the federal level to protect national security interests and has since morphed into a broad and damaging secrecy tool.

Supreme Court allows execution without disclosure of drug information

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | July 23, 2014
July 23, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court prevented an Arizona death row inmate from delaying his execution date in order to receive information on the drugs to be used in his execution.

The denial overturns a decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) that ruled capital prisoner Joseph Wood’s requests for information on the drugs the state planned to use to execute him had sufficient merit to delay his execution, scheduled for Wednesday.

The state of Arizona asked the full Ninth Circuit court to review the panel's decision, but the circuit court refused Monday to hear it in front of its full 11-judge panel. The state then took its appeal to the Supreme Court, which also refused to hear the appeal but did lift the Ninth Circuit stay to allow Wood’s execution to go forward.

Federal appeals court finds death row prisoners might have a right to information on lethal injections

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | July 21, 2014
July 21, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) granted a death row inmate a delay in execution so he could receive information about his execution protocol, marking the first time a federal appeals court indicated there might be a right to know details about the drugs used in an execution.

On Saturday, the divided three-judge panel reversed a U.S. District Court of Arizona decision that denied Joseph Wood the right to know the credentials of his executioners and the source of the drugs to be used on him.

The decision came four days before his scheduled execution.

The appeals court held that Wood’s questions about the drugs and executioners held merit, while there was little evidence for the state’s concerns that publicly identifying the drug manufacturer and administrators would interfere with the execution process.

Senators introduce bipartisan FOIA amendment

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | June 25, 2014
June 25, 2014

Two senators crossed party lines in support of legislation that would strengthen the current Freedom of Information Act and diminish agencies’ excuses for withholding documents.

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced the bill June 24 after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a meeting in March to discuss changes to the FOIA.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of our nation’s most important laws, established to give Americans greater access to their government and to hold government accountable,” Leahy said in a press release.

Letter to Cherokee leaders about proposed FOIA changes

May 28, 2014

The Cherokee Nation Council was considering several changes to the tribe's freedom of information law, including extending the time tribal agencies would have to respond to a request and consolidating all FOI processing in the attorney general's office. The Reporters Committee urged tribal leaders to minimize the changes to response times and, if a consolidation of processing were necessary, to put that authority in an independent office instead of a political one.

Berger v. New York City Dep't of Health and Mental Hygiene

June 20, 2014

The Jewish Daily Forward sought records from the New York City health department regarding mohels who have given babies herpes during, as the paper reported, "the performance of metzitzah b’peh, a controversial circumcision rite used by some ultra-Orthodox men, in which the mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound with direct oral to genital contact." Some of the rabbis involved in this practice are refusing to give parents a consent form required by law. The case centers on the privacy rights of the mohels versus the right to know about public health issues. In the case, which is on appeal to the NY Supreme Court Appellate Division, the Reporters Committee argued that the mohel had a reduced privacy interest in his identity given his professional status and that the public interest outweighed any privacy interest he had due to the grave health risks associated with the procedure.

Cherokee Council amends nation's FOI law

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | June 18, 2014
June 18, 2014

The Cherokee Nation Council passed an amendment to its freedom of information law that will extend the response time to records requests about the tribe’s government.

The Freedom of Information Act amendment passed 10-6 Monday night with one councilor not in attendance, after the council also passed an amendment to its Governmental Records Act, which provides government officials access to records.

The amendment creates an information officer that will receive all records requests and will be independent of any office within the government. Under the old act, the attorney general handled records requests from the press and public.

How to file a FOIA lawsuit

If your appeal is denied, or if the agency fails to respond to your appeal within 20 working days, you may file a FOIA lawsuit in the United States District Court most convenient to you, nearest the agency office where the records are kept or in the District of Columbia. Though technically you have up to six years after the date on which your appeal was denied to file a lawsuit, you should try to file the suit as soon as possible in order to demonstrate to the court your need for the information.18

The Federal Courts Improvement Act removed the automatic expedited judicial review provisions from a number of statutes, including FOIA. However, under that law expedited processing will still be given by a court whenever “good cause” can be shown. The statute does acknowledge that in FOIA cases the need for timely release of information will qualify under the “good cause” standard.19

Washington State Supreme Court grants ABC affiliate access to dashcam videos

Bradleigh Chance | Freedom of Information | News | June 13, 2014
June 13, 2014

After a drawn out legal battle over access to police car dashcam videos between TV station KOMO and the Seattle Police Department, the local news source received a favorable opinion from the Washington State Supreme Court. The court concluded the police should have released videos in response to two public records requests made by KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder.

KOMO sued for access when the Department of Justice was investigating the Seattle Police Department for use of excessive force.

Calif. Supreme Court rules names of officers involved in on-duty shootings are public record

Bradleigh Chance | Freedom of Information | News | May 30, 2014
May 30, 2014

The Supreme Court of California this week upheld a lower court ruling requiring a police department to release the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings.

In December 2010, Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton asked the Long Beach City Attorney‘s Office for the names of the two police officers who shot and killed a man in Los Angeles.

The officers were responding to a resident’s tip about an intoxicated man carrying a six-shooter though the neighborhood. When they arrived on the scene, they found 35-year-old Douglas Zerby. According to the officers, Zerby held up an object resembling a gun and the two of them reacted by firing shots and killing him. When the officers approached his body, they could see that the object Zerby was holding was actually a garden hose with a pistol grip spray nozzle.