Transparency News 9/18/13


Wednesday, September 18, 2013
State and Local Stories


Del. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, wants to shine more light on the workings of the State Corporation Commission by making the state agency subject to Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. Surovell won a measure of success on Sept. 12, when the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council voted to support the delegate’s efforts to work with SCC staff and representatives of regulated industries for a compromise bill. The 2013 General Assembly referred Surovell’s House Bill 2321 to the FOIA Advisory Council for further study.
Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Virginia’s FOIA Advisory Council declined Hanover County’s request to review the state’s definition of a public meeting Sept. 12. Hanover County officials requested changing Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act to allow up to three Board members to meet in private to discuss county business without having to advertise it as a public meeting. Chairman W. Canova Peterson IV, Mechanicsville supervisor, said the Council’s decision didn’t come as a surprise, adding he and the county will continue pushing for changing the state’s open meeting laws. “We opened the conversation and this was just the first discussion of it,” Peterson said.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commissioners raised questions at their Tuesday meeting about a written submission made by Commissioner John W. Salm III in August when the 10 percent toll hike, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, was approved. Commission Secretary-Treasurer Frederick T. Stant III, who represents Virginia Beach asked to add a statement to the minutes contained in the introduction of Salm’s materials, and to hold off on approving minutes until Salm was present. Salm represents Northampton County on the commission. Commissioner B. Wayne Coleman or Norfolk wanted clarification from Salm on this statement: “I did not go into those meetings, and I did that for specific reasons under advice of counsel to not enter those meetings.” Salm was referring to the public meetings the commission held before voting to hike tolls. “All the people that I know on this commission want to do the right thing. If there is a legal reason why Commissioner Salm shouldn’t attend the meetings, I want to know what it is,” said Coleman. “I would like for him to explain himself.”

Paul D. McWhinney, deputy commissioner of programs at the Virginia Department of Social Services, briefed a legislative panel Tuesday on three investigations this year that found deep problems in the Richmond Department of Social Services, which he said “went off the rails a little bit.” McWhinney also cited a finding by the inspector general that supervisors had altered preliminary protective and emergency removal orders to withhold information from juvenile court judges. “That’s not good,” he said.

National Stories

A Washington federal judge today unsealed new information in a dispute over access to counsel at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. In response to a motion filed by a reporter, U.S. District Senior Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the full version of a declaration on detainee search procedures filed by Col. John Bogdan be made public. The government originally filed the declaration under seal, and then released a redacted version. Today, Lamberth said the government had failed to justify keeping the remaining portions confidential.
Blog of LegalTimes

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to decide when an online threat becomes worthy of prosecution, in what could be the first internet speech case to reach the high court’s docket for the 2013-2104 term beginning next month. The justices are weighing whether to review the prosecution of an Iraq war veteran handed 18 months in prison for singing in a 2010 YouTube video that he would kill a local Tennessee judge if the judge did not grant him visitation rights to his young daughter.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secretive US court responsible for reviewing NSA activities, has published a newly-declassified opinion explaining the legal justification behind the foreign surveillance agency's mass collection of phone records. The National Security Agency is permitted to collect aggregated phone data under Section 215 of the Patriot Act as long as the government can show it relates to known or unknown terrorists in the United States, the court said in a heavily redacted opinion dated August 29. The 29-page opinion (see below) signed by FISC Judge Clair Eagan is the first public opinion to address the constitutionality of the agency's data collection program.

Officials in Gettysburg are hoping to borrow one of the nation's most historic documents -- an original copy of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The foundation that runs Gettysburg National Military Park's museum and visitor center wants to borrow a copy held by the Library of Congress and put it on public display as part of its celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's famed speech. Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey wrote to the library Tuesday expressing his support of the plan. But Gettysburg might have to look elsewhere. The library does not lend either of its two copies of the speech because of their fragility and priceless nature. The library owns two of five known copies written in Lincoln's hand. Another copy is on display in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House. The other copies are held by Cornell University and Lincoln's presidential library in Springfield, Ill.
Fox News

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he will hire a full-time employee devoted to government transparency. The job of open-government ombudsman is vacant after the departure of Tim Ford, who did the job part-time. Ferguson had said he planned to hire a replacement. On Monday he told the so-called Sunshine Committee on open-records he would make it a full-time job.
The Tribune

The tide is turning against posters of defamatory screeds on online review websites, at least in the California appellate courts. For the second time in as many months, an appellate panel has ruled against posters to Yelp and similar sites. The decisions cut against the grain of some previous appellate opinions which held that readers expect posts on Internet message boards to play "fast and loose" with the truth, setting a high bar to defamation.
The Recorder

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a new trial for New Orleans police officers convicted of killing civilians after Hurricane Katrina, denouncing the behavior of prosecutors he said compromised the case by posting "vitriolic" comments online. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt said that before and during the trial, prosecutors had used assumed names to post online messages disparaging the New Orleans police and lawyers for the policemen. The messages appeared in a forum, a website affiliated with the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.

A state lawyer determined there was nothing illegal about Maryland State Police deploying dozens of state workers from other agencies to help claw through a backlog of more than 35,000 background checks for gun buyers. In a Monday "letter of advice" to Allegany County Del. Kevin Kelly, who questioned the legality of the move, a lawyer from the Maryland attorney general's office, wrote that no law prevents state workers from doing clerical work for another agency and state police did not violate a law requiring Maryland State Police to review and investigate applications to buy guns.
Baltimore Sun