Transparency News 6/13/14

Friday, June 13, 2014

State and Local Stories

House Minority Leader David Toscano called for an investigation Thursday into whether former state Sen. Phillip Puckett’s recent resignation was tied to job offers with Virginia’s tobacco commission. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said he asked the state inspector general to see if Puckett had a quid pro quo deal with the commission, which is responsible for $1 billion worth of projects in Southwest and Southside Virginia and the subject of multiple state investigations.
Roanoke Times

Ashland town council’s recent decision not to store license plate data for a proposed 24-hour window has received accolades from the Virginia chapter of the nation’s leading civil liberties champion. In a June 4 letter to Mayor Faye Prichard and Vice mayor George Spagna, Claire Gastañaga, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, praised council’s decision noting that it “reaffirms the basic American principle that important policy decisions affecting the rights and liberty of the people should be made in a transparent and open process that includes their voices.

Lawyers involved in an unusually high-profile firearms case in Loudoun County will not be barred from speaking publicly, a judge ruled Thursday. A defense attorney for Charles Severance, who is charged with felony firearm possession, had asked for a gag order during the case, arguing that a “media tempest” could taint the jury pool.
Washington Post

National Stories

My favorite story of the week:
Nassau, Bahamas - The leaders and top representatives of more than 20 groups and organizations were in among the crowd at Wednesday’s Freedom of Information Rally in Rawson Square,collectively representing more than 35,000 people according to veteran educator Joseph Darville. Darville, one of the directors of fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays, lead organizer of the rally, said the combined membership of political parties, trade unions and citizen activist groups represented constitute a formidable social force that politicians ignore at their own risk.
The Bahamas Weekly

Some lawmakers say the University of Delaware and Delaware State University should be subject to more public scrutiny. A House committee was to convene Thursday to consider a bill revising Delaware's Freedom of Information Act to remove an exemption for the two schools. The universities receive millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year, but are mostly exempt from FOIA. The law currently applies only to their expenditure of state funds and to full board meetings of their trustees. The universities otherwise are not subject to open records and open meetings laws for public bodies.
Houston Chronicle

MuckRock, a website where citizens and journalists can easily submit public information requests to government agencies, just announced it's suing the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act. "The Central Intelligence Agency has a track record of holding itself apart from, and largely above, the Freedom of Information Act, consistently ignoring deadlines, refusing to work with requesters, and capriciously rejecting even routine requests for what should be clearly public information," MuckRock says.
The Verge

Journalists have been using Kickstarter, often successfully, for a while now. (Some projects that got funding include FOIA Machine, Matter and Livestreaming the 2014 Race for Governor by Texas Tribune.) On Tuesday, the company gave the profession its own category.

In a decision on whether a student could record court proceedings, the Court of Appeals of Georgia stated this week that courts risk harming key constitutional rights by attempting to distinguish who is “legitimate ‘news media.’” Joshua McLaurin, a student at Yale Law School, asked to record criminal proceedings in two different counties in July 2013 for a project examining the experiences of impoverished defendants in the Georgia criminal justice system. McLaurin cited two different Georgia laws in his application: Uniform Superior Court Rule 22 and a section of the Georgia code regarding general standards for requesting permission to record court proceedings. The trial court held that Rule 22 only applies to news media, so it applied the Georgia code instead.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Countless parody Twitter accounts have been created over the years — British Petroleum, Mark Zuckerberg, the NSA, the Queen of England and even God. In each case, the target of the account either did nothing in response or simply requested that the owner of the account clearly label it a fake. Not the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, however. Mayor Jim Ardis directed his city manager to use the police to hunt down the author of a parody account about him and threatened Twitter with litigation unless it suspended the account, which it did. Now a man who was raided and arrested for creating the account is suing the mayor, a former police chief, and others for violating his constitutional rights.

The New Jersey Attorney General's Office is asking county prosecutors statewide for their help in overturning a 32-year-old state Supreme Court precedent that requires a warrant to obtain telephone billing records.
New Jersey Law Journal


On May 23, 2014, undergraduate student Gregory Lewis and University alumna Stephanie Montenegro issued an open letter to University Prof. Douglas Laycock and filed a Freedom of Information Act request for his university-funded travel expenses and cellphone records for the past two-and-a-half years. Laycock is currently the Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law and is also Professor of Religious Studies. Perhaps more importantly to the activists in question, Laycock is also the husband of University President Teresa Sullivan. Rather than take the available steps to foster a dialogue with Laycock and reach some mutual understanding, Lewis and Montenegro chose to initiate a media blitz. Starting with The Daily Progress, Lewis and Montenegro’s “dialogue starting” FOIA request was being covered in around a dozen publications, including The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. Lewis and Montenegro have sensationalized an issue that has not proven to affect any LGBTQ person, let alone anyone in the state of Virginia or any student of the University. As a former president of the Queer Student Union at the University and active member in the LGBTQ community on Grounds, I worry that Lewis and Montenegro’s radical approach at dialogue will reflect poorly on the great strides the University has made for LGBTQ life on grounds.
Blake Calhoun, Cavalier Daily