The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sought Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) data from the City and County of Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act. The City and County contended that all such data was exempt from disclosure as law enforcement records. The City and County prevailed at the trial and appellate court; ACLU and EFF filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of California. We argued that the breadth of the law enforcement exemption, as interpreted by the court of appeal, violated the constitutional obligation to construe exemptions from disclosure narrowly. Broad law enforcement exemptions shield too many records from public disclosure, and construing the Public Records Act to exempt these documents would significantly impair the ability of the press to inform the public about law enforcement activity.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) solicited public comments regarding the counterterrorism programs conducted by the Intelligence Community pursuant to Executive Order 12333.The Reporters Committee argued that PCLOB should make public more information about the programs that are in place under E.O. 12333, both because uncertainty regarding surveillance results in an unconstitutional chilling effect on journalists and reporters, and because the surveillance programs themselves may infringe on constitutional rights.
The Washington Post sought access to a sealed summary judgment motion and a sealed opinion granting summary judgment in a civil case in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The civil case was filed by a couple whose children were removed from their home on suspicion of child abuse. A family court later found no reason to suspect abuse, and the children were returned to the home. The Caplans later sued the Family Services Agency for negligent and malicious conduct, and the court denied public access to the case. The Post appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals.
The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus brief arguing that the trial court had misapplied the "actual malice" standard and not required proof that the reporter knew a statement was false or recklessly disregarded the truth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nick Merrill is suing the FBI to lift a ten-year-old gag order preventing him from disclosing key details related to a National Security Letter (NSL) he received in 2004. NSLs are a secretive form of administrative subpoena frequently accompanied by a nondisclosure order. Merrill was the first person to challenge the constitutionality of NSLs. In 2010, the gag order preventing Merrill from speaking about the NSL he received was partially lifted, but the FBI continued to bar Merrill from disclosing the categories of information they sought in the 2004 NSL. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus brief in support of Merrill arguing that the press and the public have a constitutional right to hear information that Merrill wishes to disclose. We also argued that information regarding how FBI uses NSLs to obtain communication records has significant statutory and constitutional implications.
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.
Independent journalist Johnny Dwyer sued to unseal case documents in a criminal proceeding against a John Doe defendant who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges. The Eastern District of New York granted a motion to close the courtroom and to seal all case documents. The sealing order was itself sealed. Dwyer intervened and sought to unseal the record. The district court denied the motion to unseal. Dwyer appealed to the Second Circuit.
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.