Transparency News 6/12/13

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


State and Local Stories

The Republican Party of Virginia has rescinded its Freedom of Information request to Circuit Court Clerks across Virginia to access the information of concealed weapon permit holders across the Commonwealth. The Party intended to use the information to spread its political message leading up to the fall elections. The release of the information will be illegal in less than a month after the passage of a new law championed by Republicans during the past legislative session. In a letter via e-mail message to Clerks across Virginia, RPV Executive Director Anthony Reedy explains that the high cost of the request made it impossible for the party to go forward with their voter education effort.
NBC 12
“The data that they’ve been asking for … is really not readily available in that format,” said Chesterfield Circuit Court Clerk Judy Worthington. “Certainly anyone can come into a clerk’s office for a record and we’ll be happy to provide it to them, but we do not have that information in the format that they’ve requested. I imagine that most clerks are in that same boat and will not be able to provide it.” The same would be true if someone requested a list of all people who were granted marriage licenses, or convicted of a specific crime. “They are free to come look through our public records to make a list like that,” said Hanover Circuit Court Clerk Frank Hargrove, using the example of a list of people convicted of murder. “But we’re not obligated to do something like that. I don’t think clerk’s offices possess ready made lists.”

Isle of Wight School Board member Herb DeGroft has withdrawn from November's election for the Hardy District School Board seat, while petitions seeking to remove him and Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Byron "Buzz" Bailey from office continue to circulate in Isle of Wight. Community members have been calling for the men's resignations since emails DeGroft and Bailey sent containing racist jokes and images were made public. Neither official has resigned.
Daily Press

A former Amherst County treasurer has been charged with money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. Evelyn Bowling Martin, 59, was arrested Tuesday afternoon by a Virginia State Police special agent, according to a state police news release. Authorities began investigating in July 2012 after being notified of discrepancies in the Amherst County Treasurer’s Office, the release states.
News & Advance

Christopher Gerrit Johnson found his plans to vote in Tuesday's primary temporarily stymied at the Strasburg Police Department before authorities agreed he had a right to cast his ballot and allowed him to do so. Johnson's initial trouble in voting at Strasburg High School, his designated polling place, stemmed from a "no trespassing" order banning him from Shenandoah County Public Schools property. The order was issued after an incident in mid-December when Johnson entered Sandy Hook Elementary School with a board bearing the words "high powered rifle." He walked into the central office where, after speaking with school officials, deputies arrested him and charged him with disorderly conduct.
Northern Virginia Daily

The committee formed about a month ago to look into the possibilities for displaying a copy of the Ten Commandments on county property is making progress, Washington County, Va., Board of Supervisors member Bill Gibson told other board members Tuesday. The committee, made up of Gibson, supervisor Wayne Stevens, and five other citizens of the county and pastors — including Rev. Jerry Eggers, who first suggested to the board that the Commandments be displayed — has met once, Gibson said.
Herald Courier

National Stories

The math underlying conservatives’ allegations of ideological bias at the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t add up, the agency says in a breakdown provided to POLITICO. For one thing, EPA says the activist complaining about the agency’s denial of fee waivers for document requests never actually had to pay any money, regardless of whether it officially waived the costs.

Three of the largest Internet companies called on the U.S. government to provide greater transparency on national security requests, as they sought to distance themselves from reports that portrayed the companies as willing partners in supplying mass data to security agencies. In similarly worded statements released within hours, Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. all asked the U.S. government for permission to make public the number and scope of data requests each receives from security agencies.

The battle between privacy and security has reared its head again with the news that the National Security Agency gained access to the phone records of U.S. citizens. But a majority of people polled think this practice is reasonable. Among 1,005 Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, 56 percent said they believe that tracking phone records is an "acceptable way" to investigate terrorists. Taking the opposite view, 41 percent consider the practice unacceptable, while 2 percent weren't sure.

Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg calls the revelations by a government contractor on U.S. secret surveillance programs the most “significant disclosure” in the nation’s history. In 1971, Ellsberg passed the secret Defense Department study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to The New York Times and other newspapers. The 7,000 pages showed that the U.S. government repeatedly misled the public about the war. Their leak set off a clash between the Nixon administration and the press and led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment.
First Amendment Center

A Tennessee newspaper investigating the state's Department of Children's Services may have to pay almost $35,000 for public records on deaths or near deaths of children who had contact with the child welfare agency, according to an estimate released by the DCS last week. The Tennessean earlier this year was engaged in a legal battle with the agency under similar circumstances. The newspaper requested public records on the children from a different time span and was told it would cost $32,000 to obtain copies of those redacted documents. In April, Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy ordered the agency to begin turning over redacted documents from early 2009 to mid-2012, finding that the agency could not use confidentiality expemptions to deflect the newspaper's Freedom of Information request.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

In the Delaware House, meetings routinely end with a show of hands by members for or against a bill. In the Senate, however, meetings adjourn without lawmakers taking a stand, one way or the other. No one says “aye” or “nay.” “They just walk away. No one votes,’’ said Phil Drew, a retired brigadier general who lives in Sea Colony near Bethany Beach, where he is active in Republican politics. “There is no accountability.” Instead of voting, the bill is sent around for signatures of those wanting to release it to the full Senate. Sometimes it gets done during a meeting, but no results are announced. Most times the signatures come afterward, sometimes days or even weeks later as the sponsor tries to persuade members. “It’s referred to as ‘the meltaway,’ ” Sen. Greg Lavelle said. “You have these big hearings on controversial issues. Same-sex marriage, bail, guns. And people just walk off the dais.”
Delaware Online

A study released on Tuesday by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy identified a "statistically significant" relationship between ballooning campaign contributions by business interest to state supreme court candidates and pro-business decisions by those courts.  Researchers studied more than 2,345 business-related state high court opinions between 2010 and 2012 and campaign contributions during that same time to sitting state high court judges. As the percentage of contributions from business groups went up, the probability of a pro-business vote by judges — defined as any decision that made a business better off — went up as well.
National Law Journal

A Washington federal judge today ordered the disclosure of certain previously sealed information related to the Watergate scandal, but denied a request to unseal all of the records at issue—including the substance of an illegally obtained wiretap. A historian of Richard Nixon's presidency petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to release documents sealed in the criminal case against G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy was convicted in 1973 of charges related to the Watergate Hotel break-in. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth last year unsealed court records the government didn't object to unsealing, saying he would then weigh a request to unseal the contested information.
Blog of LegalTimes

For years, out-of-control tuition costs and funding woes have been the biggest stories in the world of American higher education. Now, a series of high-profile scandals have put the sector under an even brighter spotlight as leading university presidents — including Ohio State University’s E. Gordon Gee and Florida Atlantic University’s Mary Jane Saunders — have resigned amid unprecedented scrutiny. Although it may be unfair to hold the head of an institution personally responsible for what happens in every corner of campus, analysts say, the dawn of social media and other factors have created a reality in which leaders of colleges large and small must accept that they are under the microscope at all times.
Washington Times

A former student journalist at Georgia Perimeter College filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Regents Monday for failing to turn over public records concerning the school’s $25 million budget shortfall. David Schick accused the University of System of Georgia of not complying with his open records request and for using delaying tactics. The system originally told Schick he’d have to pay $2,963.39 to view the records. The cost was ultimately negotiated to $291, but the lawsuit says the system has yet to turn over the records.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


News & Advance: Gun-rights advocates fear government compilation of any list of gun owners as the first step to gun confiscation — a far-fetched notion, we’d argue. A political party’s attempt to compile just such a list for the very real purpose of electioneering is nothing short of craven and brazen. Too bad no one in the state GOP front office thought of that first.

Kerry Dougherty, Virginian-Pilot: Are they nuts? Tone deaf? Shameless? Leaders of the Republican Party of Virginia, that is. Last week, they blanketed the commonwealth with Freedom of Information Act requests, reportedly asking circuit court clerks for lists that include the names, addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers of all concealed-carry permit holders. he purpose was to help the GOP build a database of gun-friendly voters. Just one problem: A law that takes effect July 1 - one that Republicans enthusiastically supported - shields such information from the public. So this move by the party was an attempt to scoop up all available personal information on some handgun owners before the door slams shut. It's almost as if Republican honchos really weren't concerned with the privacy rights of gun owners when they supported SB1335 but simply wanted to keep this information away from nosy newspapers and supporters of gun control.

Roanoke Times: Summer is upon us in a gubernatorial election year, and that means it’s time for debates. Debates about debates, that is.

Frida Ghitis, CNN: The great irony of the government spying controversy is that even America's state-of-the-art spy agency could not keep secret the fact that it might be spying on our secrets. Nobody's secrets are safe. Not spies, not corporations, and certainly not the rest of us regular people, with our clever little passwords, our privacy settings and our restricted friends' lists.

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times: Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) , a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is hopping mad. Sensenbrenner considers himself the father of the Patriot Act, the 2001 law that gave the federal government new powers to investigate potential terrorists. But he thinks the National Security Agency's program to collect records on every telephone call in the country goes well beyond what he intended. "This is an abuse of that law," Sensenbrenner thundered. What's more, he complained, the Obama administration never told him about it. "Some members of Congress were briefed," he said, but "most, including myself, were not." There are two problems with Sensenbrenner's complaints. First, the Justice Department did tell his committee about the secret program, just not in public. And second, as the author of Section 215, the clause under which the NSA collected telephone metadata, he had every reason to ask for more details about how the law was being used; apparently, he didn't.