Transparency News, 11/11/20


 November 11, 2020
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state & local news stories
The FOIA Council announced three upcoming subcommittees.
Tuesday, Nov. 17
@ 11 a.m. Phishing Study Subcommittee
@ 2 p.m. Criminal Incident Information Subcommittee
Wednesday, Nov. 18
@ 2 p.m. Electronic meetings
Use this link to view meeting agendas and to sign up to give public testimony.

With Virginia’s redistricting debate now settled by voters, state lawmakers approved a package of rules Monday for how the new, bipartisan map-drawing commission will work next year. The commission’s members will be appointed in the coming weeks, and the panel has to hold its first meeting before Feb. 1. The budget language approved Monday lays out who is eligible to serve on the commission and the process it will follow.  Among other things, the language: Declares that the commission’s records, including internal communications, are public and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Bans commission members from discussing redistricting-related matters with any third parties “outside of a public meeting or hearing.”
Virginia Mercury

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo has filed a defamation suit against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Daniel Gade, asserting that during an Oct. 3 debate at Norfolk State University Gade falsely accused him of being “a known segregationist” and a “racist judge.” The suit asserts: “Gade also stated that Cavedo had written that ‘Black people are parasites’ who would suck billions of dollars out of our economy.’ None of these statements are true.” Cavedo, citing damage to his personal and professional reputation, seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. Gade’s campaign has said his assertions about Cavedo during the debate were based on a column Cavedo wrote for the University of Richmond student newspaper in 1977.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Marine Corps is seeking a gag order in the criminal case of a Virginia Beach corporal whose supporters say her actions stem from trauma related to a sexual assault at the hands of a fellow Marine. The Corps is aiming to bar Cpl. Thae Ohu’s attorneys or any other witnesses from speaking with the press. The proposed gag order, which was filed Monday and will likely be argued before a judge on Thursday at Quantico, centers around The Virginian-Pilot’s reporting on the case, which has also been published in other news outlets such as Stars and Stripes. The stories have been shared online and in advocacy circles as emblematic of broader issues with how the military treats sexual assault victims. A Facebook page called Justice For Thae Ohu has more than 7,000 followers and an online fundraiser set up for her legal and medical fees has raised more than $15,000.
The Virginian-Pilot

Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Timothy Martin has decided to investigate whether Richmond’s mayor broke any laws when his administration hired a company to remove the city’s Confederate monuments. Martin, who was appointed by a Richmond Circuit Court judge in September, will investigate a $1.8 million contract with the company NAH LLC for the removal of the Confederate monuments in July. When CBS 6 originally filed a FOIA request for information about the removal of the statues, the contract we received showed the shell company, NAH LLC, as the contractor, and did not list any names. According to the SCC website, NAH LLC was created on June 22, just 10 days before the first statue came down.

stories from around the country
A Sullivan Central High School (Tennessee) teacher who received a three-day suspension notice for “unprofessional behavior” on social media is suing the Sullivan County Board of Education and the schools director over the decision, according to court records obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier. In a lawsuit filed Oct. 21 with the Sullivan County Chancery Court, physics teacher Jeremy McLaughlin asked the court to review certain details about the suspension. He also claimed that the suspension violated his “freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” according to the records. And he requested that the court deem the suspension “unlawful” and award him damages. Director of Schools David Cox had sent McLaughlin the suspension notice Sept. 3, along with a letter of reprimand, which the Herald Courier obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Bristol Herald Courier

Agency Freedom of Information Act professionals, like much of the federal workforce, have spent much of this year rethinking the way they do their jobs under mandatory telework. The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, back in May, encouraged agency FOIA offices to seek out IT workarounds to keep running, “even at a diminished pace,” during the pandemic. Six months after that memo, Michael Sarich, FOIA director for the Veterans Health Administration, said the agency had an “incredible year” and cut its case backlog by more than half. The goal of processing 600 cases in its backlog, he said, helped unify staff around a goal during a challenging time for the federal workforce. “FOIA programs are going to be fine if our people are fine. So we take care of our people first, and then we focus on the mission,” Sarich said Oct. 28 at a virtual conference hosted by AINS, a vendor that provides FOIA request tracking and management software.
Federal News Network