Transparency News 10/30/13

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
State and Local Stories


A Freedom of Information Act case filed against the town of Onancock by resident Charles Landis has been settled out of court. The case was due to be heard in Accomack County General District Court Nov. 1. Town attorney John Custis as part of the terms of the settlement read aloud during the Oct. 28 town council meeting a statement in which the town acknowledged certain documents Landis requested earlier this year under the Freedom of Information Act were improperly destroyed. The missing document according to the statement related to the performance of former Town Manager Thomas Robinett, who resigned last summer. “In reviewing the facts related to the allegation, it has come to our attention that a working paper that was originally not believed to be subject to the FOIA request should have been disclosed,” the statement said, adding the document and all digital copies of it were destroyed by its creator after Robinett resigned and before the town received Landis’ request. In the statement Custis read, the town acknowledged Landis did not file his complaint “as a result of any personal vendetta, but instead because he is a citizen who believes, like all Onancock citizens and all members of this town government, that openness and transparency is the best recipe for good governance.”

Have a voting question? Call William & Mary's nonpartisan voter help hotline on Tuesday to seek an answer from a law student. Since 2007, each year on Election Day, William & Mary law students with the Election Law Society have operated VOTEline. It can be reached at 757-221-2890 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 5. The Election Law Society said in a statement that the hotline's purpose is "to prevent confusion at local election precincts."
Virginia Gazette

Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon is one member of the AG’s office who won’t be returning to her current position when a new administration takes over in January, say the two candidates competing for the role of Virginia ’s top lawyer. Both Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain and Democratic Sen. Mark Herring, in response to a Bristol Herald Courier inquiry on Pigeon’s future job status, blasted her apparent aid to a pair of energy companies now being sued by Southwest Virginia landowners for millions of dollars in natural gas royalties.
Herald Courier

A federal appeals court in Virginia is set to hear arguments on whether North Carolina can offer anti-abortion license plates without making plates available to people who hold the opposite view. U.S. District Judge James Fox ruled last December that offering just the "Choose Life" license plate violates the First Amendment. The state appealed, and a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond will hear arguments from both sides Wednesday.
News & Advance

National Stories

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office launched a website today that allows visitors to find information about local governments in the state. The comptroller’s office collects more than 9,200 reports from 5,200 local governments each year. Now, much of that information is available online. Dubbed The Warehouse, the site allows users to find financial reports and audits from counties; cities; special taxing districts, such as park districts; and other bodies of local governments. “We’re essentially allowing taxpayers to scour The Warehouse from wherever they are to seek whatever they want to learn,” Topinka said at a Chicago news conference. “It’s designed to be user friendly. In fact, we’re going to keep trying and trying and trying to make sure anything we put out [will] be as user friendly as possible.” She said the new site was made possible by a 2012 law that requires local governments to submit their information to her office electronically.
Illinois Issues

A Little Rock lawyer and blogger filed a lawsuit Monday accusing Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr of violating the state Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release his personal cell phone number in response to an open records request. Matt Campbell, who runs the Democrat-leaning Blue Hog Report website, filed the complaint in Pulaski County Circuit Court and asked a judge to order the state's No. 2 elected official to hand over the number. Darr is a Republican who was elected in 2010.
The Republic

A proposed rule change would make clear that members of the news media can use phones and laptops to report live on proceedings in Iowa courtrooms with permission. The Iowa Supreme Court released a plan Monday to revise rules for expanded media coverage, which has long allowed audio and video recording and photography in courtrooms. The plan would allow for live electronic reporting, including tweeting and blogging, by members of the news media with advance approval from the presiding judge. The rule would also expand the definition of the news media.
WCF Courier

A lawyer for one of three college friends who allegedly helped to cover the tracks of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev argued on Tuesday that a judge's order keeping most evidence in the case out of public view was unfair to his client. An attorney for Azamat Tazhayakov, who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, said prosecutors had failed to give a specific reason for sealing evidence, other than concerns about pretrial publicity and protecting the litigants.

Lawmakers proposed legislation Tuesday that would effectively end the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection program. The legislation has support from Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, and from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and National Rifle Association. But the USA FREEDOM Act’s passage into law remains uncertain.

The White House has long been aware in general terms of the National Security Agency’s overseas eavesdropping, the nation’s top spymaster told a House hearing on Tuesday.
New York Times

The court battle between two girls and their Pennsylvania school over "I (heart) Boobies!" bracelets could be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Easton Area School District board voted 7-1 Tuesday night to appeal a federal appeals court's decision that rejected its claim the bracelets are lewd and should be banned from school. The case started in 2010 when two girls, then ages 12 and 13, challenged the school's ban on the bracelets designed to promote breast cancer awareness among young people. The students, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, said they merely hoped to promote awareness of the disease at their middle school. They filed suit when they were suspended for defying the ban on their school's Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Fox News


Free Lance-Star: THE VIRGINIA State Board of Elections is being a little careless with voters’ rights. In late August, the board gave city and county registrars the names of some 57,000 voters registered in Virginia who had allegedly registered elsewhere later. They were told the list was verified but also told they should use their own judgment before making the final call. The board, in fairness, did not instigate the purge. The legislature amended state law earlier this year to require voter rolls to be coordinated with those of other states. Some registrars purged everyone on the list. At least one refused to purge anyone until after the election.