The Local Legal Initiative provides local news organizations with direct legal services to pursue enterprise and investigative stories in their communities.
In Tennessee, local reporters and news organizations face many legal obstacles, including excessive delays in access to public records, challenges in access to body camera video, problems with electronic records access and overly broad applications of law enforcement exemptions.
There is no administrative appeals process or ombudsperson office in the state, so requesters must challenge all records request denials through litigation. News organizations in the state require more resources to bring such lawsuits.
Since the launch of the Local Legal Initiative in Tennessee in 2020, state lawmakers passed a bill strengthening campaign finance and ethics rules — a move that appeared to be an outgrowth of an open meetings lawsuit in which Local Legal Initiative Attorney Paul McAdoo represented a group of Tennessee news media and open government organizations.
McAdoo continued to provide legal support for the law enforcement accountability reporting of investigative journalist Marc Perrusquia. In April, he sued the city of Memphis for access to records documenting how the Memphis Police Department supports officers who have been subject to disciplinary proceedings. And in June, he sued the Shelby County sheriff for access to video footage capturing a Memphis police officer’s use of excessive force.
Through the Reporters Committee’s free Legal Hotline, McAdoo also helped the nonprofit Nashville Banner obtain billing records that revealed why taxpayers paid nearly $900,000 for a local election commission to litigate an anti-tax charter amendment that never even made it onto the ballot.
Learn more about the Local Legal Initiative’s impact in other states.