Briefs & Comments

  • May 6, 2014

    The Reporters Committee filed a brief in a FOIA case concerning prison records. Prison Legal News requested from the Federal Bureau of Prisons all documents related to claims filed against the bureau and settlements related to those claims. The bureau did release much of the information PLN asked for, but redacted key details about who filed some of the complaints and who was accused, citing both FOIA privacy exemptions (b(6) and b(7)(C)) to justify the redactions. A district court judge upheld the redactions, finding that the privacy interests at stake outweighed the public interest. The Reporters Committee's brief argued that no FOIA exemption applies to the information at issue, and that if the privacy exemptions do apply, the public interest in the information outweighs the privacy interest at stake because the identity information will help the public better assess how BOP is handling tort and civil rights complaints.

  • May 2, 2014

    The Reporters Committee jjoined a media amicus brief in a case involving payment disputes between the NCAA and its student athletes. The athletes contend that they have a right of publicity in the live broadcast, or re-broadcast, of any game in which they play, meaning that broadcasters must negotiate with them for rights regardless of what rights they obtain from a school or conference. The amicus brief argues that such an outcome would be a dramatic shift in the definition of publicity rights that would interfere with the media’s ability to air matters of public interest, and is not the proper way to resolve the dispute over whether college athletes should be paid. The brief was written by Nathan Siegel and Celeste Phillips of Levine Sullivan Koch and Schulz, and Erwin Chemerinsky of U.C. Irvine.

  • May 1, 2014

    Tom Scholz, founder of the band Boston, sued the Boston Herald for libel over a series of stories that discussed motivating factors that may have led fellow band member Brad Delp to take his own life. The Reporters Committee and 25 other media organizations argued the Herald's statements were protected opinion because the Herald disclosed truthful facts that formed the basis of the statements, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from the facts presented, and because the Herald's conjecture as to why Delp may have taken his own life cannot be proven false and therefore cannot be actionable. The brief noted that offering analysis and speculation is an important part of journalism that contributes to a robust public discourse on matters of public importance, and the court must allow this type of speech to continue unhindered.

  • May 1, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and four media organizations intervened in a political speech case, asking a Wisconsin federal court to unseal records in a civil suit that alleges that the state misused an investigatory tool to retaliate against perceived political adversaries. The underlying case alleges that the so-called John Doe proceeding was used by state prosecutors to chill conservative speech and to drum up Democratic opposition to Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker. One of the conservative targets has challenged the state’s investigation in federal court, and much of the material was placed under seal.

  • April 28, 2014

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund, ACLU of Idaho, and others filed suit alleging that Idaho's "ag gag" statute is unconstitutional. The statute criminalizes the recording of an agricultural production facility's operations without the facility owner's express consent. It also criminalizes obtaining records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation, or trespass. It defines "agricultural production" broadly, including preparing land for agriculture, handling pesticides, making repairs, and raising or keeping animals, fish, bees, and so on. It includes both private and public operations. The Reporters Committee, joined by 15 other news organizations, argued that the Idaho statute weakens food safety guarantees at the same time it stifles free speech. Journalists' investigations into meat-processing facilities have long been credited with advancing the safety of the food the public consumes.

  • April 22, 2014

    The Reporters Committee and 28 other news organizations filed an amicus brief with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals urging it to accept jurisdiction to hear an immediate appeal of the denial of a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute. This is the second time this case has come before this court. During the first round, the court dismissed the appeal as moot because defendants appealed a decision on the original complaint, but Mann had filed an amended complaint that superseded the first, and the lower court still hadn't ruled on the motion to dismiss the amended complaint. The parties are now back in the Court of Appeals after the lower court denied defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint.

  • April 11, 2014

    The Reporters Committee joined a media coalition amicus brief in a case ordering Google to take down a You-Tube video, the "Innocence of Muslims" movie, based on an actress's copyright claim in her brief appearance. The brief supports Google's petition to the Ninth Circuit to rehear the decision of a panel that ordered the take-down and then required Google to keep the order secret.

  • April 9, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 18 other media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in April in support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s challenge to the National Security Letters program. The media brief argues that the non-disclosure provision on the National Security Letter statute is a classic prior restraint on speech, and the Northern District of California’s failure to term it as such threatens an important protection on which journalists rely.

  • April 2, 2014

    The Reporters Committee joined a media coalition brief, urging the D.C. Circuit to uphold a decision dismissing a defamation claim under the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act. The magazine Foreign Policy reported that Palestinian businessman Yasser Abbas, the son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, traded off his political connections to become wealthy. Abbas is challenging the Anti-SLAPP Act’s applicability in a federal court.

  • March 27, 2014

    The Reporters Committee, joined by 13 other media organization, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit seeking information about a case brought by death row prisoners. The prisoners' case at the district court level in Missouri focused on the lack of information available to the public about where the state gets its execution drugs. The court sealed several docket entries, one order, and many of the documents it relied upon to make decisions in the case. Publisher Larry Flynt moved to intervene in the case for the limited purpose of challenging those sealing orders; that motion was denied and he appealed. The Reporters Committee brief addressed the issue of standing to intervene for the purpose of unsealing court records, arguing that access is a public right and any denial is a "concrete harm."

  • March 18, 2014

    Under Texas Penal Code § 21.15, a person commits a felony if he or she “photographs [or otherwise records] . . . a visual image of another” in any location “without the other person’s consent” and “with [the] intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire” of the photographer or a third party. This amicus brief, written for the Reporters Committee by the UCLA School of Law First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, argues that the statute is a content-based restriction on the creation of constitutionally protected speech, and is therefore unconstitutional under the extremely demanding “strict scrutiny” test.

  • March 17, 2014

    A newspaper accurately reported that a woman was arrested for a marijuana offense. The arrest was expunged from her record as part of a first-offender diversion program deal. She sued the newspaper, claiming that the expungement statute means that newspapers must treat the arrest as if it never happened, and must therefore remove the story from their archives. The district court rejected the argument, and the plaintiff appealed to the Second Circuit. This amicus brief, written for the Reporters Committee by the UCLA School of Law First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, argues that an "erasure" statute cannot restrict the speech of non-government speakers, and that libel law does not require publications to update information that was accurate when reported.

  • March 14, 2014 reporter Joseph Hosey was ordered to testify in an Illinois murder trial regarding the identity of his source who supplied him with a police report that contained details of the double murder. The judge in the trial court applied the state's shield law to Hosey but nonetheless deprived him of the privilege, finding that the identity of the source was relevant to the trial, alternative sources had been exhausted, and the information was essential to protect the public interest. When Hosey still refused to disclose his source, the judge fined him $1,000 plus $300 a day until he complied. Hosey appealed, and the fines are on hold pending resolution of the appeal. In this amicus brief, joined by 38 other media organizations, we argue that the Illinois reporter's privilege should protect Hosey from having to reveal his source in court. We emphasize the importance of crime reporting and why reporters must have access to reliable information from law enforcement sources.

  • March 10, 2014

    The Reporters Committee joined an amicus brief in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court examining the issue of warrantless searches of the cell phones of arrested suspects. In this brief, written by attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine, we argued that Fourth Amendment law must acknowledge the role that smart phones play in modern society and particularly with journalists, and the information is clearly of a personal nature sufficient to demand that officers obtain a search warrant before examining the records on such phones.

  • January 21, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press put together a media coalition and successfully intervened to unseal records in a child-support modification case in D.C. Superior Court. The parties in the case are former Office of Management and Budget director and current Citigroup executive Peter Orszag and his ex-wife Cameron Kennedy. Orszag had tried to seal his financial records that were evidence in the case. The coalition argued that sealing runs counter to the presumptive right of access under common law to court documents in civil trials in Washington, D.C., that the public has a legitimate interest in learning how courts decide child-support matters, and that Orszag's purported justifications for sealing documents were insufficient to overcome the presumption of access.