Transparency News 6/3/14

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

State and Local Stories

Virginia Beach has agreed to pay nearly $17,000 to a disabled former resident, train employees and meet other conditions after federal officials ruled it violated the law by failing to make accommodations for her in a government housing program. The voluntary compliance agreement comes two years after Maude Turner filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which issued its final ruling in the matter in February, according to city documents obtained through the state Freedom of Information Act.

A decades-long policy that restricted students' freedom of speech on Virginia's 23 community college campuses cost state taxpayers $25,000. That's how much the state agreed to pay in damages and attorneys' fees to resolve a lawsuit that overturned the policy.

The filing deadline for town council elections in Chatham, Gretna and Hurt is just more than a week away, but no one has officially filed to challenge the incumbents. Of the 11 seats up for grabs in the three towns, seven incumbents have filed for re-election but two others — both on Hurt Town Council — have said they are not running to keep their seats. Hurt Mayor Gary Poindexter, whose seat is not up for election this year, said he has noticed a lack of interest in his northern Pittsylvania County community. Except for major budget concerns such as a proposed tax increase, citizens have not shown a desire to get involved, he said. “It has been going on for several years,” Poindexter said.
Register & Bee

National Stories

Scotusblog has covered the Supreme Court in depth and with distinction since 2002. It wins journalism awards at a steady clip. Its main reporter, Lyle Denniston, is an old-school journalist of fearsome integrity and independence. But Scotusblog has never gotten a press credential from the Supreme Court. Its Senate credentials were recently revoked. Neither institution has explained what is going on, though everybody knows what concerns them: Thomas C. Goldstein, the blog’s publisher, also argues before the Supreme Court. Whether Mr. Goldstein has a conflict of interest is a good question for a journalism seminar. Notwithstanding thoughtful policies to make the blog’s reporting independent of Mr. Goldstein’s law practice, his dual roles run afoul of some journalistic norms. So does his forthright acknowledgment that in his own work for the blog he would withhold information from readers if he thought publishing it would violate his ethical duties to the court.
New York Times

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to get involved in the case of a reporter who has been ordered to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information. The justices did not comment in rejecting an appeal from New York Times reporter James Risen, who detailed a botched CIA effort during the Clinton administration to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Risen's reporting is at the center of criminal charges against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Federal prosecutors want to force Risen to testify about his sources at Sterling's trial. Risen argued that he has a right to protect his sources' identity, either under the Constitution or rules governing criminal trials. The federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, rejected Risen's bid to avoid being forced to testify.
Fox News

A Washington attorney suing an anonymous Wikipedia editor for defamation can’t force the editor to reveal his identity, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled late last week. Susan Burke, a solo practitioner, sued two anonymous Wikipedia editors she accused of posting defamatory information about her on a Wikipedia page. One of the editors, known only as Zujua, fought Burke’s subpoena for his identity; the other did not participate in the case. A three-judge appeals panel ruled on March 29 that the trial judge was wrong to give Burke the go-ahead to unmask Zujua. The editor fought the subpoena under a District law aimed at shielding protected speech from lawsuits, known as the anti-SLAPP law (strategic lawsuits against public participation.) The law gives defendants in these cases an early route to dismissal.
Legal Times

The federal judge presiding over the case against a D.C. businessman behind an illegal, off-the-books effort for Mayor Vincent C. Gray ordered prosecutors to publicly name the mayor in court, finding that Gray’s campaign was central to the case. The fact that Gray was identified in open court during a hearing in March for businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson prompted criticism from the mayor’s supporters in part because the city contractor’s allegations about the mayor came just weeks before the April Democratic primary in which Gray was defeated.
Washington Post

Consumers everywhere have a voracious demand for customized data. And in just the past few years local governments have gotten remarkably good at responding. The growing proliferation of local 311 systems and where-is-my-bus-type apps allows citizens to quickly -- if not immediately -- get the information and guidance they need. Remarkably, however, local governments do not have access to the same kinds of organization tools, platforms or information for their own use. Cities confronted with a range of persistent challenges -- from pension liabilities to failing school systems -- often lack the means to consult with the right experts or have the time to identify the federal programs, best practices or foundation initiatives that could help them. In an effort to provide this kind of guidance for cities, the Obama administration recently announced the launch of the National Resource Network. A pilot program with an initial $10 million award from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the initiative aims to be a one-stop resource for technical, policy and financial assistance for local governments.


If it was “prepared or owned by” the City “or its officers, employees or agents” in the transaction of public business, it’s a public record. If City Council members are texting each other or the public about an issue before the City, that fits the bill – those texts are created by City officials and are about public business. Possession isn’t the end-all-be-all. But wait, you say – how can the City produce what it does not have? First, as the FOIA Council has explained at least twice regarding e-mail, “it does not matter if the record is composed or received on a private computer or at a private e-mail account — if it is sent or received by a public official, such as a member of the Board of Supervisors, and concerns public business, then it is a public record under FOIA.” FOIA Council AO-07-04; see also FOIA Council AO-02-14. The City is the custodian of records of its officials or employees. Second, the City’s position that it needs access to Verizon’s database and would even then only be able to produce 3-5 days is laughable. Anyone with a smartphone knows that it has long been routine for smartphones to store hundreds of text messages, dating back months or years. The City doesn’t need to be Verizon or the NSA; it simply needs its official/employee to hand over a copy of the texts or to employ a technological solution to allow the City to copy the texts remotely.  This is do-able.
Open Virginia Law

Last week, C-Ville Weekly, a Charlottesville alt-weekly newspaper, reported that a University of Virginia law professor has run afoul of gay-rights activists. Not because he actually opposes gay rights. No, professor Douglas Laycock’s sin lies in his interpretation of laws. According to California activist group GetEQUAL, Laycock’s writings on religious liberty have been used by some groups on the religious right to bolster their arguments on discrimination issues. If this sounds familiar, perhaps you recall the case of Michael Mann, the U.Va. professor who was targeted by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for his work on climate change science. One wonders what the U.Va. students thought of that case. If they thought, as many on the left did, that Cuccinelli’s demands for information on Mann’s scientific research grant applications would dampen academic freedom, then their pursuit now of Laycock, simply because they disagree with him, smells a bit hypocritical.
Free Lance-Star