Transparency News 12/4/13

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
State and Local Stories


A review of the financial disclosure requirements for the justices on the nation’s 50 state supreme courts gives Virginia an F, along with 41 other states. The disclosure requirements for most states make it difficult for the public to identify conflicts of interest that justices might have, concludes The Center for Public Integrity in its study released today. The center, a nonprofit investigative news organization, based its grading system on a tougher version of the disclosure requirements for federal judges. The federal system scored an 84 and was given a grade of B.

The recount in the race for Virginia attorney general is headed to a preliminary hearing in Richmond Circuit Court. The hearing Wednesday is one of the first steps before a recount court is convened to settle disputed ballots in the protracted contest between Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain. Herring has a 165-vote edge over his fellow state senator. Obenshain petitioned the court for a recount after the state certified Herring's razor-thin edge, the closest statewide contest in modern Virginia political history. Under state law, the cost of the recount will be at taxpayer expense. The recount court is expected to convene in mid-December.

National Stories

Local officials in Newtown, Connecticut were cautioning residents to prepare themselves emotionally for Wednesday's release of nearly half an hour of 911 recordings from the shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December 14. On Tuesday, Newtown School Superintendent John Reed emailed parents to alert them to the recordings' release and remind them the recordings could serve as an "emotional trigger."

When USA TODAY started investigating mass killings, it seemed a fairly straightforward thing to count: How many times have at least four people died at the hands of another in a single incident? Yet marking the death toll of mass killings in America is anything but simple. It's hampered by the FBI's voluntary reporting system that gets it right a little more than half the time, and by advocacy groups who may count only incidents that support their cause, ignoring killings that don't involve a gun or did not get heavy media coverage.
USA Today

In the wake of a district court in Kentucky rejecting the legal precedents of the federal law thatshields Internet service providers from liability in defamation claims, a certain gossip website is getting some unlikely supporters. Eric Goldman, a contributor in Forbes, explains the situation. A former NFL cheerleader and school teacher is suing after being victimized by it. The site creator, Hooman Abedi Karamian posted that the teacher had sexually transmitted diseases and had slept with an entire football team. Normally, Goldman explains, lawsuits such as these are "preempted by a federal law … that says websites aren't liable for third party content." However, the district court rejected this defense by TheDirty, which allowed the case to go to trial, where the teacher was awarded $338,000 in damages, according to Goldman. Not surprisingly, TheDirty is appealing the decision. As of last week, a litany of the Internet's elite filed amicus briefs supporting the gossip website. "Virtually every major publicly traded user-generated content company, representing nine of the top 10 U.S. websites as ranked by Alexa, spoke in support of TheDirty," writes Goldman. Those companies include: Inc., AOL Inc., eBay Inc., Facebook, Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Twitter and Yahoo Inc. to name but a few.
Law Technology News

Some of the world's oldest and rarest Bibles and biblical texts were placed online Tuesdayin newly digitized form by two of the world's most venerable libraries. The project, which aims to make 1.5 million pages of ancient texts freely available in virtual form over the next three years, is a joint effort by the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University and the Vatican Library. The project is focused on three main areas: ancient Greek manuscripts, Hebrew manuscripts and 15th-century printed books, known as incunabula. They will include secular and religious texts.


Times-Dispatch: Two Tuesday headlines captured the eye and engaged the mind. The first generated dismay, the second hope. A front-page headline reported, “Voting machines cause concern,”According to a headline on Page B4, “Sorensen Institute seeks redistricting reform.”

Virginian-Pilot: As members of Congress work to prevent a second year of automatic budget cuts, which would take another $55 billion from the Department of Defense, a Reuters investigation into Pentagon records and practices shows that since 1996, the Defense Department has been unable to account for $8.5 trillion in spending. The investigation, released last month, reveals a mammoth, error-plagued bureaucracy that has cheated soldiers out of pay, fudged its books to cover up discrepancies, ordered more supplies when years' worth of inventory sat in storage and failed to keep track of whether departments actually received the goods and services they paid for. These infuriating findings make it difficult to argue for greater discretion in Pentagon spending. They make it impossible to justify any budget increase without corresponding accountability requirements and penalties. And they defy claims that defense spending cannot be trimmed without affecting readiness.

News Leader: The State Board of Elections met Monday and some of what its members had to say wasn’t good. Virginia has too many different kinds of voting machines, and too many of those are outdated. This would be disturbing even if the attorney general’s race wasn’t heading to a recount. Worse, in our view, is that the old voting machines are part of the problem: Our entire voting system is due for a retool. We encourage the state board to take the lead in upgrading not only the equipment but the process as a whole.

Virginia Gazette: The recall effort launched in the wake of last week's firing of James City Administrator Robert Middaugh will make an already bad situation in the county worse. Yes, the supervisors gave the appearance of head-hunting by deciding to fire Middaugh in a hastily called closed session. They compounded the problem by offering no explanation for a vote of no confidence. Michael Hipple's vote is difficult to decipher, given he'd been a supervisor all of two weeks. Two separate petitions popped up on social media roughly 12 hours after Middaugh was fired. One targeted chairman Jim Kennedy, while the other sought to recall the three sitting Republicans, plus Kevin Onizuk. He's apparently guilty by association, since he's yet to take office. Since we don't know the reason behind the dismissal, the assumption is that the petitions seek revenge. Basing a recall on revenge is hardly a valid reason, especially when the state spells out very specific circumstances for taking that step.