Transparency News 11/1/18



November 1, 2018


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state & local news stories


Bergano v. Virginia Beach is scheduled for oral arguments at the Virginia Supreme Court Friday the 2nd at 9 a.m.

Tomorrow, the Virginia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the FOIA case of Bergano v. Virginia Beach, in which a citizen sought detailed billing records for the private-practice attorneys Virginia Beach used against him to pursue an unsuccessful eminent domain case. The argument is slated for 9 a.m., though the exact time is subject to change between 9 and noon. The court is located at 100 N. 9th St. in Richmond.

After three hours in closed session, Warrenton’s council late Tuesday night voted, 5-2, to fire Town Manager Brannon Godfrey. Technically, the council terminated Mr. Godfrey’s contract, scheduled to run through June 2019, and agreed to pay him $77,500 in cash, equal to half a year’s salary. The contract includes that buyout clause. The unprecedented decision ended a tense relationship that resulted in three closed council meetings over the last 11 months to discuss the manager’s performance. After firing the manager, who started the job in October 2015, the council members and mayor very quickly left Town Hall just after 10:30 p.m. They all refused to comment.

A threatening text message sent to a Richmond city councilman led police to question one of his colleagues because it came shortly after they’d been in an argument at City Hall. Councilwoman Reva Trammell, of the South Richmond 8th District, said Richmond police contacted her in connection with a threat sent to Councilman Michael Jones of the South Richmond 9th District. Jones and Trammell, who represent contiguous districts, have served together on the city’s nine-member legislative body since 2017. On Monday afternoon, they argued outside of a scheduled closed-door meeting at City Hall with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration. Both council members acknowledge the dispute happened, but each declined to describe what caused it. The meeting was about plans to redevelop the area around the Richmond Coliseum. Trammell ultimately left the meeting early, she said. Later Monday, Jones said, he received a text message from a phone number he did not recognize threatening “bodily harm” to him.
Richmond Times-Dispatch


national stories of interest

Connecticut officials said Tuesday that they will not appeal the recent Supreme Court decision ordering the public release of documents and journals belonging to Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza. The decision to not ask the court to reconsider its ruling or to try and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in effect gives The Courant a victory in its battle to get the records from the state police. "Because the state Supreme Court is the court of last resort with respect to the issues in this case — the proper construction and application of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act — no appeal is anticipated," Attorney General Spokeswoman Jacyln Severance said Tuesday. The court last week unanimously ordered a lower court judge to reverse itself and deny the state’s appeal of a Freedom of Information Commission decision that ordered the items released.
Hartford Courant

The Metropolitan Police Department says body worn camera video critical to a major civil rights lawsuit against a D.C. police officer has been erased -- despite department policy requiring it be kept for at least five years. “The Body Worn Camera (BWC) video footage that you are seeking has been purged,” the department wrote in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from WUSA9 News. “There are no records responsive for this request.” The video would have shown a second angle of the search by officer Lojacono on Cottingham. Cell phone video of the incident sent shockwaves through the DC community and collected hundreds of thousands of views on you tube and twitter.

Last year the number of patent applications that were subject to a "secrecy order" under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951 was the highest that it has been in more than two decades, according to data obtained from the US Patent and Trademark Office. Whenever disclosure of a new invention is deemed to be "detrimental to national security," a secrecy order may be imposed on the patent application, preventing its public disclosure and blocking issuance of the patent. Most affected inventions seem to involve technologies that have military uses. But the current criteria that are used to make the determination have not been released, so the actual scope of invention secrecy is not publicly known. At the end of FY 2018 (September 30, 2018), there were 5,792 secrecy orders in effect, up slightly from 5,784 the year before.
Secrecy News



"Whenever disclosure of a new invention is deemed to be 'detrimental to national security,' a secrecy order may be imposed on the patent application."


editorials & columns


"Though the legal wranglings and machinations may sound like so much inside baseball, this ruling matters."

A judge in Richmond decided earlier this month that Virginia’s judiciary was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The ruling was the culmination of a more than three-year tug-of-war between an Eastern Shore sculptor and the court system’s administrators. Though the legal wranglings and machinations may sound like so much inside baseball, this ruling matters. It matters because one judge sitting in Richmond has decided, with little explanation in a case where one party was acting without an attorney, that there is a constitutional prohibition against citizen use of FOIA to monitor the judicial branch of government.
Megan Rhyne, Virginia Mercury