Transparency News 5/30/14

Friday, May 30, 2014

State and Local Stories

The federal judge handling the corruption case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) delivered a modest win for free press and judicial transparency advocates on Thursday, rejecting a request by McDonnell’s lawyers to make a filing under seal. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer wrote that McDonnell’s attorneys had failed to justify limiting “the public’s presumptive right of access” and called their request to seal the documents “so facially deficient that the public may have effectively been deprived of any ability to assess its interest in accessing the documents at issue.” He also rejected prosecutors’ request that the filing be made with some portions redacted.
Washington Post

An investigation into an abnormal tax assessment on the home of Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has found no sign that the mayor played a role. “Although errors were committed, there was no evidence of any influence exerted directly or indirectly by the mayor,” stated a report released Thursday by the office of City Auditor/Inspector General Umesh Dalal.

Hanover County provides a Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline for citizens to call to suggest improvements or report concerns involving fraud, waste, and/or abuse of county and school assets or resources. Calls are confidential. The hotline is maintained by the Internal Audit Department. “Our office is always interested in hearing ideas that can improve the efficiency of Hanover County government,” says Mike Taylor, Director of Internal Audit. “Anyone who has observed inefficiency or has an idea that could make the county more efficient is encouraged to call the hotline. We need everyone’s help to ensure Hanover County is making the best use of every dollar.”

Ashland Town council rejected a proposal last week to retain citizens’ license plate data for a 24-hour window, citing worries that the “Center of the Universe” could begin to resemble an Orwellian police surveillance state. “I’m one of those who is very uncomfortable with what some would call the ‘rise of the surveillance state,’” said Vice mayor George Spagna. “We’ve all seen the headlines, we’ve all seen the stories about warrantless collection of data, warrantless intrusion into data systems, and I’m at the very least uncomfortable with the notion of the Town of Ashland getting into retaining information of any kind about any citizen without a warrant.”

National Stories

Edward Snowden says he repeatedly raised constitutional concerns about National Security Agency surveillance internally, but an NSA search turned up a single email in which Snowden gently asks for "clarification" on a technical legal question about training materials, agency officials said Thursday.  Asked by NBC News’ Brian Williams whether he first raised his qualms with his bosses, he said, "I reported that there were real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities."  On Thursday, NSA released the email they said Snowden appeared to be referring to, which the agency says is the only communication from Snowden it could find raising any concerns.
Fox News

A victim of child pornography who filed a civil suit against her perpetrator has received approval from a Camden federal judge to proceed under a pseudonym and to withhold her real name and address from the defendant. The plaintiff must disclose her name and address but may designate that information "Attorney's Eyes Only," U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio ruled Wednesday in Doe v. Oshrin. The plaintiff's concerns that her identity would "be spread among pedophiles and child molesters" who would "conceivably attempt to stalk or otherwise revictimize her" are sufficient to outweigh the public's interest in open judicial proceedings, Donio ruled.
New Jersey Law Journal

“Vague safety concerns” don’t trump the public’s right to know the names of officers involved in shootings, the Supreme Court of California ruled Thursday. The justices were responding to a case that arose from the Los Angeles Times’ efforts to learn the names of officers in Long Beach, California, who shot Douglas Zerby, a 35-year-old man holding a garden hose nozzle, 12 times.

Prosecutors and the lawyers defending accused theater gunman James Holmes told a Colorado judge on Thursday that initial questioning of prospective jurors in the mass murder case should be closed to the public and media. The disclosure came during a hearing before Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour centering on jury selection and other logistical issues ahead of the trial set for October.

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission intends to soon make public its draft recommendations spelling out how the state ethics code applies — or should be applied — to legislators’ use of their annual allowances for “incidental expenses” related to their legislative duties. These expenditures have traditionally been hidden well behind the scenes,  but have come under new scrutiny since Civil Beat published a review last October of records detailing how the funds are actually being spent.
Honolulu Civil Beat


If we’re to have true freedom of religion, government cannot be perceived as taking sides. But there’s no way to satisfy everyone. Nonsectarian prayer is watered down and a form of censorship. Should government really be instructing people on what to say to their creator? Sectarian prayer will no doubt leave some people offended or intimidated. Residents — particularly those petitioning their government — may choose alienation over risking the wrath of elected officials. Sectarian prayer becomes divisive when tainted by tacit government endorsement. And for what purpose? A moment of silence would demonstrate respect for the devout, the diverse and the non-adherent. Otherwise, we shouldn’t have a prayer.
Michael Paul Williams, Times-Dispatch

Judge John E. (Jay) Wetsel of our local Circuit Court is a champion of the public’s “right to know,” and I was grateful for his ruling on Wednesday that outgoing Clarke County Superintendent Michael Murphy must provide information withheld the past six months about legal issues and costs imposed on taxpayers by legal battles of School Board member Chuyen Kochinsky against the Clarke division and still ongoing legal case against private Newton School in Sterling.
George Archibald, Winchester Star

Glade Spring Town Manager Brian Martin recently told me that Town Attorney Thomas Dene told council that the town needed to charge 50 cents to “be more in line with other towns’ charges.” Vice Mayor Nancy Williamson said the same thing. Both said a vote was taken at the meeting to increase the per-page copy fee by a factor of 10. It doesn’t appear that a study or cost-analysis was done yet Williamson repeatedly said she knew it cost at least that much. Then show me the costs. Even the claim of aligning costs with nearby towns may not hold up. I checked with Damascus, which uses the same town attorney as Glade Spring, and was told it doesn’t charge for copies, unless, perhaps, someone wants a large file. Saltville didn’t respond to my request for information. In addition to the 50 cents per page charge at a time when the fees had been set at 5 cents, I received the documents electronically. A FOIA council opinion on electronic documents is pretty clear, saying that “Charges for public records are limited to actual costs. The actual cost to provide electronic records is not the same as the cost to provide paper copies.”
Diane Johnson, SWVA Today