Transparency News, 7/17/20


July 17, 2020
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state & local news stories
"[The judge] also told the board that if members receive legal advice on FOIA from their attorney . . . and they are not satisfied with his advice, they are required to consult the FOIA Advisory Council."
Following a four-day trial, a Suffolk Circuit Court judge found that the Suffolk School Board and the majority of its members violated the Freedom of Information Act with regard to meeting notices, vague closed-meeting motions and certifications of closed meetings. Judge Carl Eason Jr. ruled July 16 that the board — including Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum, Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, Lorita Mayo, Tyron Riddick and Karen Jenkins, who were all named as defendants in the lawsuit — did not provide proper notice of public meetings and ruled that the motions to go into closed meetings were too vague and that the certifications of closed meetings were “not sufficient.” Eason ruled that the board did not violate FOIA as it relates to its discussions during closed meetings, nor was it in violation of the act as it related to polling. The judge ordered that board members read the Freedom of Information Act within 14 days of his ruling, and that all receive training on it within 60 days. He also ordered the board to comply with open and closed meeting requirements regarding motions, notices and certifications, and ordered that all public vote requirements be followed. He also told the board that if members receive legal advice on FOIA from their attorney, Wendell Waller, and they are not satisfied with his advice, they are required to consult the FOIA Advisory Council.
Suffolk News-Herald

The Library of Virginia has set a deadline of Jan. 1 for what it calls a “herculean effort” to process and make public the collected papers from the administration of Gov. Doug Wilder, who was inaugurated 30 years ago. Wilder, the first African American elected governor in the United States, publicly accused the state library of racism in a letter early this month from his assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University because of the long delay in making his gubernatorial papers available for public research. Mike Strom, state archivist and director of government record services, told Wilder’s assistant, Angelica Bega, on Monday that the library had made completion of Wilder’s gubernatorial papers “our highest priority for the rest of 2020.” “Work on other government records collections and our backlog of electronic records will be put on hold until this project is completed,” Strom told Wilder’s assistant. 
Richmond Times-Dispatch
stories of national interest
After the Trump administration ordered hospitals to change how they report coronavirus data to the government, effectively bypassing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials at the CDC made a decision of their own: Take our data and go home. The health department took credit for restoring the CDC dashboards Thursday and said it was committed to transparency. “Going forward, HHS and CDC will deliver more powerful insights on the coronavirus, powered by HHS Protect,” said spokesperson Michael Caputo, referencing the new data-reporting system that relies on outside vendors who have received at least $35 million combined. The CDC did not respond to multiple inquiries.

The federal government says it was arson. The protester charged with igniting a Molotov cocktail outside the District of Columbia police station during the recent race riots says it is protected First Amendment speech. Jarrett Jeremy Pace, on the night he set the fire, had said on Facebook he wanted to “burn a 12 station to the ground!” The number “12” is street slang for police. But now, Mr. Pace argues in federal district court he was speaking metaphorically, that he actually tossed the firebomb on the street near the Fourth District police station rather than at it, and that his action was not meant to burn the station but rather to express solidarity with George Floyd and protesters in Minneapolis. “Ranging from inappropriate to deplorable, fire has historically been used as an expression of speech,” Eugene Ohm, Mr. Pace’s lawyer at the federal public defender’s office, wrote in briefs asking for his release.
The Washington Times

The coronavirus pandemic has upended how the criminal justice system operates, turning routine face-to-face hearings into virtual adventures. The latest courthouse procedure to go virtual in New Jersey? Grand jury proceedings. But criminal defense attorneys and county prosecutors across the state have banded together and publicly raised concerns over how the virtual grand jury proceedings are playing out and the long-term consequences the new process could have on defendants. A grand jury decision is the first step in the criminal justice process after a complaint is filed. Both organization raised three main concerns: Virtual grand juries limit the cross-section of jurors selected because some residents may not have access to technology because of social and economic inequities. The secrecy of a grand jury proceeding is undermined when held virtually. The technological issues and glitches that often arise on a video conference could impact the presentation and the jurors understanding of the case.