Transparency News 5/16/14

Friday, May 16, 2014

State and Local Stories

A federal judge on Thursday granted a sharply curtailed version of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s request for documents from Star Scientific, its former CEO Jonnie Williams, and its former chairman and president, Paul Perito. U.S. District Judge James Spencer approved the issuance of subpoenas for documents, records and correspondence related to: Communications with representatives of Virginia universities and colleges regarding research involving anatabine or products made or marketed by Star Scientific or Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals, from Jan. 1, 2009 to Jan. 21, 2014; Communications with representatives of the Virginia Tobacco Commission relating to obtaining funding for Star Scientific or its affiliates or for research of anatabine or Anatabloc, from Jan. 1, 2009 to Jan. 21, 2014; Any communication that discusses an offer or acceptance of an immunity agreement, a settlement agreement, or a consent agreement flowing from an investigation of Star Scientific, Inc. or Williams.
Roanoke Times

Can't get enough of Pharrell Williams' "Happy" song? Well here's three more reasons to listen to it.Two cities and one county in Virginia made their own version of the catchy tune's music video. The videos feature dancing residents, government employees and elected officials.

National Stories

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on Wednesday that it will wait until May 23 to unseal an amicus brief that contains no confidential information and that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed more than five weeks ago. The Reporters Committee and 18 other media organizations filed the brief in support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s challenged to the National Security Letters program on April 8. Amici were required to file materials under seal, but the Reporters Committee filed a motion with its brief asking the Court to unseal the document. "The Court cannot constitutionally seal this brief,” the Reporters Committee wrote in the motion. “Amici have had no access to confidential materials in the case; the brief only includes information that is already public; and there are clear public policy reasons for requiring that the materials be open.”
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A federal judge in Oklahoma City refused Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit seeking access to parking tickets issued by the University of Oklahoma. Chief Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange said that at this point in the litigation, it’s “plausible that parking citations and vehicle registrations are not educational records as defined by FERPA, and therefore, are subject to the (Oklahoma Open Records Act).” OU journalism student Joey Stipek filed the lawsuit in May 2013 seeking electronic copies of vehicle registrations and parking citations issued to students in the spring 2012 semester. OU officials claimed the information is confidential under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. OU and Oklahoma State University officials have made that claim for years even though courts in other states have ruled otherwise.
FOI Oklahoma

Senate Democrats announced plans to move forward with a constitutional amendment to reverse U.S. Supreme Court decisions and give greater authority to Congress and to individual states to regulate campaign finance. In a floor speech Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing soon on a constitutional amendment introduced by sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. The amendment would undo the high court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo and, more recently, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. "The Senate will vote on that legislation," Reid said.
National Law Journal

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to open for public debate new rules meant to guarantee an open Internet. Before the plan becomes final, though, the chairman of the commission, Tom Wheeler, will need to convince his colleagues and an array of powerful lobbying groups that the plan follows the principle of net neutrality, the idea that all content running through the Internet’s pipes is treated equally.
New York Times

The Associated Press and The Guardian U.S., have joined three Missouri newspapers in a lawsuit filed Thursday against the Missouri Department of Corrections, the AP reported in a media advisory. The St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City (Missouri) Star and the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader joined the suit. In a separate suit, St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel also filed along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, according to a story Thursday by the AP and Margaret Wolf Freivogel.

A Connecticut appellate court ruled Tuesday that a website is not liable for linking to someone else’s defamatory statements, even if the website endorsed the statements. In Vazquez v. Buhl, a senior editor for CNBC's web site posted an article online that linked to an article written by Teri Buhl. Buhl's article contained allegedly defamatory statements. The CNBC editor introduced the linked article by saying, “I don’t want to steal Buhl’s thunder, so click on her report for the big reveal.” The editor titled the CNBC story “The Sex and Money Scandal Rocking Hedge Fund Land” and referred to Buhl as “a veteran financial reporter” who “knows her way around the Connecticut hedge fund beat.” While Buhl may be liable for her defamatory statements, CNBC cannot be held liable, the court ruled, because it is protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 immunizes website operators from liability of third-party content. If a user posts a defamatory comment on Facebook, for example, the user might be liable but Facebook should not be liable, under Section 230.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press


Wednesday night, the individuals interesting in representing the Mechanicsville District on the Hanover School Board were able to officially throw their name in the hat to do so. Under Hanover’s appointed school board system, nominations go to the board of supervisors for consideration and, eventually, action. In the majority of localities across Virginia, voters decide who represents them on their respective school board; Hanover is certainly in the minority with its supervisor-appointed system. It’s hard to venture that Hanover would be better off if voters here elected their school board members directly. Certainly, one could argue philosophically about the pillars of democracy and voter empowerment and so forth – the people do not have a direct say on who gets elected to manage the county’s largest budget and arguably its most valuable institution.