Transparency News 10/24/13


Thursday, October 24, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Navy has instituted new safety precautions after the drowning of a sailor who slipped from the top of a submarine at Norfolk Naval Station. The Virginian-Pilot reports that sailors standing watch topside aboard Navy submarines are now required to wear life vests.An investigative report obtained by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request also recommended that the naval station add trained divers to its emergency response team to improve future rescue and recovery efforts.
Washington Post

This summer, state Sen. John S. Edwards, D-Roanoke, asked Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli whether it is a conflict of interest for Cuccinelli and his office to preside over an election in which he is a candidate. He wanted to know whether that conflict required Cuccinelli to recuse his office from prosecuting any violations of election law.

Aid to energy companies and public trust issues aside, Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon gets to keep her job because few others can do it, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Wednesday. “That area of law is a really rare expertise,” Cuccinelli told the Bristol Herald Courier during a gubernatorial campaign stopover in Abingdon. “We have taken her off litigation, which is where the problems arose, but she still has knowledge and experience that is helpful to Virginians and we want to employ her for that purpose.”
Herald Courier

National Stories

State officials must turn over the names of all candidates considered for Detroit’s emergency manager job. A Wayne County Circuit judge court ordered that information be made public Tuesday. Union activist Robert Davis asked for documents related to Detroit’s emergency manager search under the Freedom of Information Act. Davis contends the state process that selected emergency manager Kevyn Orr violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.
Michigan Radio

A University of Texas System regent who is the subject of impeachment hearings requested about 800,000 records from the Austin campus, an official testified Tuesday, placing a huge burden on university officials and putting sensitive data at risk. Kevin Hegarty, vice president, chief financial officer and custodian of records at UT, said he was put under extreme pressure by regent Wallace Hall’s requests for information and received mixed signals from school advisers about how to protect data that would normally be redacted from an open records request.
Dallas Morning News

A judge has ordered the release of the grand jury indictment against John and Patsy Ramsey in the JonBenet case that has been sealed since the grand jury was dismissed in 1999. Retired Weld County Judge Robert Lowenbach ruled Wednesday morning that the indictment will be released Friday in response to a lawsuit brought by Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press seeking the release of the unprosecuted indictment of the Ramseys.
Daily Camera

South Dakota's Argus Leader newspaper urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to reverse a ruling blocking the newspaper from receiving data on how much the federal government pays to stores that redeeem food stamp benefits. Jon Arneson, an attorney for the newspaper, told a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that a lower court judge misinterpreted the law by ruling that a confidentiality provision for retailer applications allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withhold all data on payments to those retailers. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper requested the data on annual payments to each retailer approved to take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

A federal judge did not err when she allowed the FBI to withhold information sought by the American Civil Liberties Union on a secret program of collecting racial, ethnic and cultural data for use in criminal and terrorist investigations in New Jersey, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit comes a year after U.S. District Judge Ester Salas in Newark granted summary judgment motions to the Justice Department, ending a lawsuit alleging the government had improperly withheld data sought under the Freedom of Information Act.

Even as Washington gets heat for snooping on ordinary Americans and warning them that they"have no reasonable expectation of privacy" on, federal officials are increasingly using the “personal privacy” exemption in the law to shield their employees from scrutiny, according to open government advocates. Information about pay bonuses, disciplinary actions and severance packages are being withheld by federal agencies citing the personal privacy concerns of their employees.
Washington Examiner

The Obama administration released a highly anticipated set of cybersecurity standards for private industry. The preliminary rules are intended to help critical infrastructure operators, such as power plants and telecommunications companies, better protect their systems from hackers.
The Hill

Delaware's legal industry suffered a blow when a federal court found on Wednesday the state violated the U.S. Constitution with its novel system of allowing judges to arbitrate private business disputes, which critics called secret trials. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found private arbitrations taking place in Delaware's highly respected Court of Chancery violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


Free Lance-Star: There's an old joke about the Soviet newspaper, Pravda (“Truth”): Napoleon returns from the dead. A Soviet citizen points to a Russian tank and says, “If you’d only had that, you wouldn’t have lost at Waterloo.” Napoleon points to an issue of Pravda and says, “If I’d only had that, no one would ever have found out about Waterloo.” A free press serves as a check on government and a window on its policies. Disturbingly, after promising “the most transparent administration ever,”President Obama is presiding over the most closed administration since Nixon, and press freedom watchdogs are barking. The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index shows the United States dropping from 20th in the world in 2010, to 42nd in 2012 in press freedom. And the Committee to Protect Journalists, which, normally spends its time studying foreign governments for free press abuses, has focused its spotlight closer to home.

Virginia Gazette: The Oct. 4 episode in James City County’s New Town which has turned police and an elected official against each other presents a hard lesson in the power of words, intended or not.   Put simply, never say aloud or put on paper what you fear may haunt you later. Supervisor Jim Kennedy maintains remarks he made to two James City Police officers following an Oct. 4 incident were in jest. Police were called to his restaurant after a teen-age boy exposed himself in public and made a sexual reference, which led to a fight with another male. Police officer Robert McKenzie went far beyond the exercise of explaining what happened, as reported by the Gazette's Cortney Langley. This is where Police Chief Emmett Harmon, who will retire at the end of the year, should step in. Now. Get Kennedy, Campbell and McKenzie together and talk out the problems and perceptions. It's obviously taken time to build up to this level of discord. Teach McKenzie that facts only belong in a police statement, thendig in to how snippets of his report wound up in e-mails to news outlets last Wednesday, prompting Freedom of Information Act requests.