Transparency News 6/18/14

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

State and Local Stories

Richmond police are now saying the department will enforce its payment policy for information like mug shots as well as accident and incident reports. Police department spokesperson Gene Lepley first sent CBS 6 an email saying the department’s chief of staff would speak on the issue, then later, another email saying, “We are going to pass on the opportunity to do an interview.” CBS 6 reached out to the mayor’s office as well and his Spokesperson, Tammy Hawley. She sent an email that reads in part, “RPD has a capable public information staff that can assist you with respect to any interviews about their agency operations.”

The state Inspector General’s Office has joined the Virginia Department of Transportation’s internal probe of the U.S. 460 highway project. Transportation officials said the IG’s office is working with VDOT’s Assurance Compliance Division to determine whether the state followed all requirements of the department and the Public-Private Transportation Act during procurement and after signing an agreement to build the $1.4 billion toll expressway. The inquiry, which is expected to be completed by the end of the month, is also examining whether the state followed its own rules in procurement in development of the project.

Numbers released last week by the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which runs the online prescription monitoring database, show a decline statewide in the number of patients who visit multiple doctors and pharmacies, at least by one measure. In a practice known as doctor shopping, drug abusers feign injuries or illnesses — or embellish their existing symptoms — to multiple physicians, accumulating enough painkillers to feed their addictions.
Roanoke Times

Republican congressional candidate Dave Brat continued to avoid the media spotlight Tuesday, making only brief remarks to reporters before retreating to a closed-door appearance before a local Rotary Club breakfast. Brat also canceled a public appearance that had been scheduled for Wednesday, and although he added to his schedule an event that his campaign called a “news conference” the next day, the announcement noted that “there will be no Q&A or individual interviews.”
Washington Post

National Stories

An Oklahoma County trial judge ruled Tuesday that Gov. Mary Fallin may keep the content of records secret pursuant to a common law deliberative process privilege. However, District Judge Barbara Swinton gave Fallin 20 days to produce a log revealing the “dates, sender, recipients and re: lines” of 100 documents the governor claims are confidential under the privilege. “Only the content of the emails may be withheld,” Swinton said. Fallin is the first Oklahoma governor to claim those privileges to keep records secret. The ACLU of Oklahoma last week argued that those privileges do not exist in Oklahoma law. Fallin’s attorney Neal Leader argued that the deliberative process privilege and the executive privilege are implicit in the separation of powers clause in the Oklahoma Constitution. 
FOI Oklahoma

A Minnesota high school student has filed a lawsuit against his school district and his hometown's police chief, claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was suspended over a message he posted on Twitter. Reid Sagehorn was suspended by the Elk River School District after he responded to an anonymous tweet claiming he had kissed a young gym teacher at Rogers High School. Thinking it was a joke, Sagehorn said he sarcastically replied, "Actually yes." A parent who saw the tweet reported the matter to authorities.  The case was investigated by local police for possible criminal defamation charges; however, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to press charges due to insufficient evidence. Authorities also confirmed there was never an inappropriate relationship between the two. While prosecutors dropped the case, the lawsuit says the school district suspended Sagehorn for five days for violating school policy against "threatening, intimidating or assault of a teacher, administrator or other staff member."
Fox News

The Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1966 to increase trust in government by encouraging transparency, has always been a pain in the ass. You write to an uncaring bureaucracy, you wait for months or years only to be denied or redacted into oblivion, and even if you do get lucky and extract some useful information, the world has already moved on to other topics. But for more and more people in the past few years, FOIA is becoming worth the trouble. There’s also simple opportunism behind the FOIA boomlet in journalism: Primary source documents play well on the Web. They add heft to posts, building trust in young sites.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) reversed a trial court ruling that would have reportedly been the first case in which defense attorneys obtained access to government surveillance court materials. The three-judge panel sided with the government Monday, stating that the disclosure of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court records to the attorneys of Adel Daoud would pose a threat to national security. Daoud was arrested in 2012 for attempting to bomb a Chicago bar in what turned out to be a sting operation. The court submitted its public opinion with a sealed, classified opinion that provides more explanation.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Utah’s court system began allowing TV cameras, smartphones and laptops into public court proceedings last year, but officials revised that rule after repeatedly denying one man’s requests to record family law proceedings. The revision reverses the presumption that video cameras are allowed in family court proceedings, and, instead, lets the judge weigh a number of factors to decide when taping is allowed. Though judges made the rule effective immediately, Utah’s Judicial Council is considering comments from the public on the proposal until June 24 and plans to permanently vote on the rule change in August.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Nik Richie, operator of the website TheDirty.comcannot be held liable for potentially defamatory remarks made by a third-party poster on his website, according to a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling released Monday. The court reversed a district court ruling that held Richie could be liable because he “encouraged” defamatory statements and then “adopted” the statements by adding his own comments to the posts. The court describes as “a user-generated, online tabloid” where users can post gossip about anyone, often private individuals. Sarah Jones, a Cincinatti Bengals cheerleader and high school teacher, sued Richie for statements alleging she had contracted sexually transmitted infections from her ex-boyfriend and that she had sex with him in her classroom. An anonymous poster submitted the comments, and Riche selected them for posting and added his own comment, “Why are all high school teachers freaks in the sack? -nik.”
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Thirteen bidders have applied to host Barack Obama's presidential library, the foundation overseeing the project said on Tuesday. The deadline for organizations or cities to submit their initial proposals to the Barack Obama Foundation was on Monday. The foundation did not say what sites had applied, but Hawaii, where Obama was born, and Chicago, his political base, are considered top contenders.


How much information should energy companies using chemicals to drill for natural gas be required to make available to the public? With the number of natural gas wells increasing across the state, the question is not one to be taken lightly. The prospect that hydraulic fracturing — or fracking as it has come to be known  — could be approved for parts of the George Washington National Forest means that folks in Central Virginia should be paying attention to the debate. So how much information about the drilling process should be disclosed to the public? The public is always served best by having as much information as possible. The mining panel should keep that in mind as it develops new rules for this potentially environmentally destructive enterprise.
News & Advance