FAC’S Guide to Proposition 42: The People’s Right to Know Act

2 Prop 42Proposition 42 is the constitutional amendment that promises to end–once and for all–the funding disputes between the state and local governments that lead to cuts in compliance with open-government laws–specifically, the Public Records Act and the Brown Act.

This amendment will fix the recurring threat to public access laws that started back in the late ’80s when many municipalities requested huge sums as reimbursement for public posting of meeting  agendas and in response Gov. Pete Wilson  suspended  the agenda posting requirement of the Brown Act. The CNPA’s Executive Director Tom Newton has written a good backgrounder on the history here.

We prepared this guide to help answer all your questions on Prop. 42 so you’ll be in the know when it’s time to vote:

FAC’s Guide to Prop. 42

Drone StrikeFederal Judge rules in FAC case:  US can keep secret a legal memo on drone strikes targeting US citizen

In a national security case brought by the First Amendment Coalition, a federal judge has ruled (Read the decision here) that the Obama administration does not have to disclose a Justice Department legal memo explaining the legal rationale for drone strikes and, in particular, drone strikes abroad against suspected terrorists who are also US citizens.

FAC’s suit, based on federal FOIA, was filed shortly after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric and Al-Qaeda operative whom authorities suspected of plotting strikes against US citizens. Another U.S. citizen was also killed in the drone attack.

FAC, represented by Davis Wright Tremain lawyer Thomas Burke, made clear that it sought only the Justice Department’s legal reasoning and analysis, not sensitive, legitimately-classified information about intelligence methods or military capabilities.  Read More

 

In settlement with FAC, LA County Jail releases inmate visitor log, agrees to relax secrecy rule

LA County Tax Assessor John Noguez in court

As part of a legal settlement with the First Amendment Coalition, the Los Angeles County Jail has agreed to pull back its veil of secrecy on the identities of persons who visit incarcerated public officials.

The jail’s prior policy had been to withhold—on grounds of privacy-protection–the names of visitors to all jail inmates. Going forward, the state’s biggest jail will apply a “presumption” of access when the requests (made under the Public Records Act) relate to public officials.

The settlement grows out of a suit by FAC for access to the visitor logs for one of the LA jail’s high-profile inmates, John Noguez, the embattled LA County Assessor Noguez who was arrested in October 2012 following a political corruption probe into allegations that the Assessor’s Office lowered property tax bills in exchange for campaign contributions. Read more

FAC leads Amicus brief urging CA Supreme Ct to require public access in commitment hearings

FAC leads Amicus brief in CA Supreme Ct. case deciding public access to mental competency hearingsWhen a county tries to commit a person, against his will, to a psychiatric facility, may that judicial proceeding–which involves lawyers, a judge and a jury trial—be held behind closed doors, with no access at all for the press and public? A California appellate court recently held that such proceedings not only may be secret, but must be secret.

The First Amendment Coalition has organized an amicus brief  urging the Supreme Court to review the case and overturn the appellate court decision. Joining FAC on the brief in Sorenson v. Superior Court, H038295, are the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Los Angeles Times, The Center for Investigative Reporting and The McClatchy Company. The brief, prepared by lawyers Duffy Carolan and Jonathan Segal at Davis Wright Tremaine, was filed in support of the Monterey Herald’s petition to the Supreme Court. (Read More)

Oakland’s RecordTrac: Public records access for the 21st century

Code for America

Record TrakWhat would “a better way to find public records” look like? How about a central hub for filing all  requests with the city? Track your request like a Fed Ex package?  Records delivered online? Search to view previously released documents? In your dreams, right? No, in Oakland.

Record Trac,  Oakland’s new public records request web app,  is the product of a collaboration between the City of Oakland and an embedded team of Code for America programmers and designers. Oakland is one of 10 municipalities across the US partnering with Code for America to create and implement new applications to resolve local challenges.  

Check out Record Trac.  If you like what you see,  find out how the open source software program can be redeployed in your city . 

Victory for Publisher Tim Crews, CPRA in Court of Appeals decision

Tim Crews, Editor & Publisher Willows Valley Mirror

A state Court of Appeal has ruled that small-town California newspaper publisher Tim Crews does not have to pay legal fees to a school board he sued over his public records request. The unanimous decision  represents a crucial victory for government transparency and a welcome success for the First Amendment Coalition, which was instrumental in organizing and underwriting Crews’ successful defense.

“The appeals court’s decision makes clear that, in deciding whether to go to court to contest an agency’s denial of your request for public records, you will

not have to fear a crushing penalty,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director. “If the court had decided differently, no journalist or ordinary citizen would ever again file suit to enforce the PRA, for fear of being bankrupted by a court order to pay a penalty of tens of thousands of dollars.”

Scheer added: “That would have been a disaster, not just for Tim Crews of course, but for government transparency in general.   (Read More)

Connection between drone strikes and massive government surveillance programs

NSA Prism and Drones

On Access by Peter Scheer

By Peter Scheer–First came news accounts of the government’s use of armed drones in the targeted killing of terrorists abroad. Then came the revelations about government surveillance programs, breathtaking in their scale, tapping into data on phone calls, emails, internet searches and more.

These activities are, in fact, linked.

The use of drones to target America’s enemies represents the fruition of technological evolution in weapon accuracy. While America’s previous military conflicts have been characterized by military strategies that often maximized enemy casualties (think of the “body counts” during the Vietnam War), the technology of drones makes possible the highly discriminate targeting of selected individuals, with minimal civilian casualties (compared to alternative, and less sophisticated, weapon systems).  (Read More)

Judge plugs “private email” loophole in CA public records law

Judge plugs "private email" loophole in CA public records law

Update!San Jose appeals email disclosure ruling  (Read More)

In a big victory for open government, a Superior Court judge in San Jose has ruled that the state’s Public Records Act applies to government officials’ emails and texts about government business–EVEN IF those messages are sent or received using the officials’ private email or text accounts, rather than accounts belonging to the government.

The decision by Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg rejected San Jose’s argument that local governments can’t be held legally responsible for digital messages that reside in computer servers that they don’t own, lease, use or control. Judge Kleinberg reasoned that government officials, when emailing and texting about government business, are functioning as agents of the city. The officials’ ownership and control of the messages is imputed to the city. P. Scheer   (Read More)

 

In settlement with FAC, LA County Jail releases inmate visitor log, agrees to relax secrecy rule

LA County Tax Assessor John Noguez in court

As part of a legal settlement with the First Amendment Coalition, the Los Angeles County Jail has agreed to pull back its veil of secrecy on the identities of persons who visit incarcerated public officials.

The jail’s prior policy had been to withhold—on grounds of privacy-protection–the names of visitors to all jail inmates. Going forward, the state’s biggest jail will apply a “presumption” of access when the requests (made under the Public Records Act) relate to public officials.

The settlement grows out of a suit by FAC for access to the visitor logs for one of the LA jail’s high-profile inmates, John Noguez, the embattled LA County Assessor Noguez who was arrested in October 2012 following a political corruption probe into allegations that the Assessor’s Office lowered property tax bills in exchange for campaign contributions. Read more

 

Find Answers to Brown Act and CPRA questions using these tools:

Asked & AnsweredAsked & Answered, a great resource for researching access-to-government and free speech issues, is a database of our lawyers’  answers to legal questions submitted by FAC’s users and members through the Legal Hotline consultation service. The questions and answers cover the whole waterfront of free speech and open-government issues. Go to Asked & Answered.

 

Legal Hotlineblue scales of justice icon offers our members and users free, ready access to FAC’s lawyers, 1st Amendment & media law experts at the Bryan Cave law firm in San Francisco, for questions about government access—to government records; to agency and local government meetings; and to court document and proceedings. Go to Legal Hotline.

 

 

 

 

On Access by Peter Scheer

Legal Resources
Start here to find answers to Brown Act and Public Records Act questions

Public Records

Everything you need to know about your right to copies of public records held by state and local government agencies. Concise explanations of citizens' rights under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) and other authorities, with step-by-step instructions, sample request letters, discussion of potential roadblocks, and much more.

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Open Meetings

Our comprehensive legal resource on your right to attend--and to participate in--the public meetings of government legislative entities, such as city councils, county boards of supervisors, and school boards. Discussion covers California's Brown Act (for local governments) and Bagley-Keene Act (for CA state agencies), with sample "cure & correct" demand letters, and more.

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Asked & Answered

Asked & Answered (A&A) is FAC's searchable database of our lawyers' written answers to questions, posed by users like you, about their rights under public records laws, open-government laws, and first amendment safeguards. Perfect for drilling down on legal issues so you can find thorough, well-reasoned answers that address your concerns and your issues.

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Legal Hotline

The Legal Hotline is our free legal consultation service, giving you access to FAC's expert lawyers for answers to legal questions. Ask a question about public records; about your right to attend government meetings and court proceedings; about freedom of speech; freedom of the press, and related issues. FAC's lawyers will email their answer directly to you. And yes, the Hotline is really free.

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FIRST AMENDMENT NEWS
Headline News / Coalition News/ Commentary/ Asked & Answered

1st Amendment News

  • Virginia Supreme Court finds climate scientist's e-mails private

    The Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that the University of Virginia did not have to release the e-mails of climate scientist Michael Mann formerly a professor at the university. The lower court had ruled that the e-mails were of a “proprietary” nature and thereby exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of […]

  • U.S. Supreme Court justices criticize Ohio law criminalizing political lies

    The U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to throw out an Ohio law banning lies during election campaigns. An anti-abortion group sued in federal court on the grounds that the law chills free speech. Those found guilty of violating the law could pay a fine of $5,000 and six months in jail. Justices seemed unimpressed by […]

  • Transparency triumphs in federal court order to open records on safety complaint

    The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the unsealing of a consumer safety case that a manufacturer claimed would damage its reputation and “fiscal health.” The court held that the public’s right to know outweighed the company’s concerns. (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, April 17, 2014, by Jamie Schuman) In 2012 a […]

  • Freedom of information: Obama administration restricts contact with media on intelligence matters

    National Security Director Jame Clapper has banned federal intelligence employees from discussing any contact with reporters even if the matter is unclassified. Those violating the rules would lose their security clearances or jobs and be prosecuted if discussing classified information. (McClatchyDC, April 21, 2014, by Jonathan S. Landay) First revealed by Steven Aftergood of Secrecy […]

Coalition News

Commentary

  • Maybe summoning the press before Parliament isn’t such a bad idea

    By Edward Wasserman  Alan Rusbridger, editor of London’s Guardian, faced off with British legislators last week about his newspaper’s publishing secrets about official surveillance that were leaked by the fugitive U.S. intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden. Press advocates weren’t pleased. Carl Bernstein, the Watergate-era star who’s on the Mount Rushmore of 20th century media heroes, certainly […]

  • Jean-Paul Jassy
    Climate change on trial in a defamation case

    COMMENTARY BY JEAN-PAUL JASSY/ A modern-day Scopes Monkey Trial is unfolding in a District of Columbia defamation case. In 1925, two of the most famous lawyers of the time, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, argued over whether John T. Scopes should have been prosecuted for teaching evolution in public school. Scopes was convicted and […]

  • : Media Heroism Turned Its Head --Photo: B. Manning
    Media heroism turned on its head: The real Manning scandal

    BY EDWARD WASSERMAN–In media mythology, the years from the mid-‘60s to the mid-’70s were the classical age, a heroic time of moral clarity. Mainstream journalism marinated in adversarialism. Little Southern newspapers infuriated their own readers by staring down segregation. Foreign correspondents forced upon an unwilling public the realities of a brutal war. Network news ignored […]

  • Let’s sequester Congress and shut down the airports serving D.C.
    Instead of delays at all airports, let's sequester Congress and shut down the airports serving D.C.

    BY PETER SCHEER–U.S. aviation officials are warning of severe flight delays due to furloughs of air traffic controllers triggered by the sequester’s across-the-board budget cuts. I have a better idea. Instead of furloughing controllers across the country, the Federal Aviation Administration should just shut down all major airports for the nation’s capital: Reagan National, Dulles […]

Asked & Answered

  • A&A: Denied access to letters of complaint regarding Airbnb rentals

    Q: My local Neighborhood Council  put forth a motion in the Urban Design and Preservation Committee to ban short term rentals. Luckily one concerned neighbor caught it and individually contacted 100 Airbnb hosts, 50 of whom showed up at the Council meeting that night.  The Council referenced a complaint letter but wouldn’t show it to […]

  • A&A: School denies access to all info about coach fired amid rumors players' were abused.

    Q: I cover school sports for the local newspaper and recently a coach was fired amid rumors that he/she was abusive toward players. Apparently the schools  feel no obligation to answer questions on the troubling situation. When asked, they invoke the phrase “personnel matter” like a talisman, and won’t say anything beyond either “the coach […]

  • A&A: Minutes of City Council meetings don't tell whole story

    Q: A group of cizens allege the city is wrongly leaving out copies of correspondence the city received related to items on its agenda and powerpoint presentations related to agenda items. The council offers a limited number of copies of this information at the city clerk’s desk on the night of the meeting but it […]

  • A&A: Does the CPRA cover private entities that do work for government?

     Q: I am a reporter  working on a story about a recent dog shooting by a police officer although animal control officers say they had the situation under control.  Reports were filed by both Humane Society animal control officers on  the scene when the dog was tasered and shot by the officer.  I understand one […]