Transparency News 3/11/14

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

State and Local Stories


Like many cities and businesses, Newport News reimburses its employees and its top officials for legitimate business-related expenses. But under the city code, those expenses are vetted for some employees but not for elected council members. If an employee attends a conference, for example, there's a manual that governs what are acceptable expenses to reimburse and what must be paid out of pocket. But if Mayor McKinley Price or a council member travels or gets lunch while conducting city business, they operate under the honor system. On Tuesday at the urging of Councilman Rob Coleman, the council will consider a law change that would subject the council to the same guidelines as rank-and-file employees and officials.

Daily Press

The mudslinging started the day Bob McDonnell was indicted, when attorneys for the former Virginia governor compared prosecutors to the Roman emperor Caligula, trying to imprison people “for violating laws written in tiny lettering on a pillar too high to see.” In filings since, McDonnell’s attorneys have accused prosecutors of having a “seriously flawed understanding of federal law,” suggested that they want to “unilaterally decide what evidence the defense, the judge, and the jury get to hear” and even sarcastically mentioned speed-reader Evelyn Wood in a dispute about documents. Legal experts say the aggressive — even rancorous — motions are an effort to educate the judge and the public about McDonnell’s view of the corruption charges against him.
Roanoke Times

National Stories

The Coalition for Court Transparency, which includes the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, marked the 50th anniversary of the momentous press freedom case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan by sending a letter to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to take another historic action on behalf of press freedom by allowing for video broadcast of hearings at the High Court. “This Court has long supported the First Amendment presumption that court proceedings should be open to the public,” the letter states. “Greater openness” – such as broadcasting oral arguments – “fosters confidence in the judicial system and encourages dialogue about public issues.” Further, the coalition writes, “Video would serve an important civic benefit, as it would be an incredible platform for legal education and future students of history, rhetoric and political science. As it stands now, only a few hundred individuals can fit into the courtroom at One First Street, so many people hoping to view the arguments are unable to, especially in cases that have broad public interest.”
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Politicians have always loved to see their names in the newspapers, but at California Polytechnic State University, candidates for student government face fines of $100 just for talking to reporters. J.J. Jenkins, editor-in-chief of the Mustang News, the school’s student newspaper, told that two of four candidates for president at the public university in San Luis Obispo have been fined $100 after they or their campaign staff spoke to the student-run publication. The students were notified they violated code banning active campaigning including “non-verbal public display” until 10 days before the April 23 election.
Fox News

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a school district's appeal over an attempt by officials to ban breast cancer awareness bracelets bearing the message "I (heart sign) boobies," handing victory to two students who challenged the decision on free speech grounds. The court's decision not to take up the case means that an August 2013 ruling by the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of students Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez is left intact. School officials at Easton Area Middle School banned seventh- and eighth-grader students from wearing the bracelets in October 2010 prior to national Breast Cancer Awareness Day. At the time, Hawk was in eighth grade and Martinez was in seventh.

A Louisiana state lawmaker has filed a measure to keep a state database of people who have had medication abortions.

Lawyers for the man charged with killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater asked the Supreme Court to require a Fox News reporter to identify her sources for a story about the defendant. The attorneys said Monday they asked the justices to review a New York state court ruling that Colorado cannot force New York-based reporter Jana Winter to reveal who told her that James Holmes sent his psychiatrist a notebook containing violent images before the July 2012 attack.
USA Today

A federal judge has blocked the government from destroying telephone metadata collected by the National Security Agency that plaintiffs say is critical to suits challenging the constitutionality of the surveillance. In a two-page order issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California granted an emergency motion from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to thwart the destruction of potential evidence in Jewel v. NSA, 08-4373, and First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, 13-3287, a pair of suits that object to the federal government's harvesting of telephone call data.
The Recorder

The U.S. Supreme Court’s printed guide for counsel is blunt on the subject of trying to be funny in briefs or oral arguments: “Attempts at humor usually fall flat.” Yet here comes the Cato Institute and its client, satirist P.J. O’Rourke, presenting the court an amicus curiae brief replete with attempts at humor—all aimed at making the point that humor and even falsehoods are essential to politics and the First Amendment. Its very first footnote, the one that is supposed to disclose the brief’s relationship to the parties in the case, states, "amici and their counsel and family members and pets have all won the Congressional Medal of Honor." That’s a riff on the 2012 United States v. Alvarez ruling, which struck down the federal law that made it a crime to falsely claim having won a military honor.
National Law Journal


Locally elected officials are expected to conduct public business in the open, and not behind closed doors. And any abuse of closed-door executive sessions represents a serious breach of trust between an elected official and those constituents he or she is charged with serving. That’s why we are concerned by the recent actions of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. Not only is this board holding executive sessions every month, but the five elected board members are increasingly spending more and more time behind closed doors. This is unacceptable, and can not continue.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph