FAC Seeks Nominations for 2014 Free Speech & Open Government Award

Send in your nominations!

Deadline for nominations Nov. 7!

The First Amendment Coalition is soliciting nominees for the FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award, given each year for performance of exemplary work in the arena of open government.

Qualifications for the award are outstanding accomplishment, service or other contributions to “the people’s right to know” about government.

The winner could be a journalist, blogger, lawyer, news organization (print or digital), software developer or community activist. We wish to recognize an individual or institution whose actions deserve public honor and emulation for their advancement of government transparency.

Areas vital in the struggle for open government are access to public meetings, public records, the courts, government data; defense of citizens’ right to speak; defense of journalists’ rights; and defense of the right to “blow the whistle” and alert the public to government misconduct and other matters of common concern. (Read More)

Jerry Brown signs SB 1300Brown signs SB 1300, but calls on Legislature to fix public access issues 

Governor Brown has signed SB 1300, the refinery regulation bill that FAC and others opposed because of last-minute amendments that would weaken rights of access under the Public Records Act.  Authorizing oil companies to oppose public requests and force requesters to pay attorney’s fees are among the problematic amendments to SB 1300 that would limit access rights in several ways.

However, the Governor, in a signing message, made clear he wants the Legislature to pass a new bill to fix those amendments.  The Governor said that Lonie Hancock, the author of SB 1300, “has committed to introduce clean up legislation next year and work with stakeholders to clarify the public disclosure process to ensure that this law does not authorize petroleum refineries to collect attorney’s fees from individuals or organizations seeking those records.”  Hancock, in a letter to Jerry Brown, acknowledged the need for “additional language” to “avoid any misinterpretation” and said it is her “intent to introduce legislation next session” to do that. READ MORE

Proposition 42 election results: 61% vote yes to protect their right to know

Prop. 42 county-by-county election results map

Find out how your county voted on Prop. 42.

Voters in Tuesday’s primary election did all Californians a favor with a strong show of support for Prop. 42. In the final vote tally, 61% voted yes and 38% voted no on the constitutional amendment to end 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.

 “The biggest difference is that local governments will be required to comply with these transparency laws. They will no longer have the excuse that they have today, to opt out of those laws,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director.

Click the button below for more Proposition 42 voting results and commentary.

Election Results for Prop. 42

FAC’s model email policy for local governments:

 A practical fix to keep the public’s business from hiding out in officials’ private emails

send email

Digital communications are the new arena for battles over government transparency. Public officials, like the rest of society, rely on email for communications about business–government business.

While those emails are indisputably public records when sent or received by means of a government email account, the legal status of the very same emails, if sent from a personal email account, is not so clear–and, in fact, is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit that is headed to the Supreme Court.

To address the concern about practicality, we thought it would be helpful to provide a model policy for local governments’ management of their email, with an emphasis on simplicity and practicality. Here is the First Amendment Coalition’s Model Email Policy.

 

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

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)

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

1st Amendment News

  • Federal appeals court makes distinction between speech and conduct in Stolen Valor Act case

    The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling against a former Marine, Elven Joe Swisher,  who claimed to have earned a Silver Star in secret military action in Korea in 1955. He was granted disability but was later found to have lied  and was convicted for stealing government benefits and wearing an unearned […]

  • Social media roundup: Storyful checks authenticity of news on social media

    A news agency begun in 2009 is filling a greatly needed service in identifying and authenticating news content and distributing it to their clients, digital journalists. The agency, Storyful, has been effective in providing reliable news in news fronts such as the Islamic State incursions in Iraq. Murdock’s News Corp. bought Storyful in 2013. (NPR, […]

  • FOIA: Fifty groups asking for new legislation on transparency

    A wide array of public interest groups are asking President Barack Obama to support a law to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The coalition sent a letter to Obama reminding him of his commitment to transparency and urging him to act to make changes that would carry into the future. (The Hill, October […]

  • ACLU, EFF target Tennesse school district rules on tech and social media

    The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Freedom Foundation have asked a Tennessee school district to change its policies governing computers and smartphones and use of social media on and off campus. The policies require students engaged in student activities and those who wish to use school computers to sign off on the policies […]

Coalition News

  • On Access by Peter ScheerWater district, in settlement with FAC, agrees to disclose water usage by corporations

    A Southern California water district, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the First Amendment Coalition, has agreed to tell the public how much water each of its corporate customers is pumping from underground aquifers. The Desert Water Agency in Palm Springs had published this information in past years, but changed policy […]

  • Brown signs SB 1300, but calls on Legislature to fix public access issues

    Governor Brown has signed SB 1300, the refinery regulation bill that FAC and others opposed because of last-minute amendments that would weaken rights of access under the Public Records Act. However, the Governor, in a signing message, made clear he wants the Legislature to pass a new bill to fix those amendments. The Governor said […]

  • Peter Scheer & Santa Rosa PD's Paul GullixsonFAC joins with Santa Rosa Press Democrat to host Open Government candidates' forum

    FAC headed north this week to co-host an Open Government Candidates’ Forum with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The event provided a unique opportunity for members of the community, which a year earlier was rocked by the tragic shooting death of Andy Lopez, 13, by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy, to hear candidates for city council answer tough questions on government openness […]

  • Send in your nominations!FAC Seeks Nominations for 2014 Free Speech & Open Government Award

    The First Amendment Coalition is soliciting nominees for the FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award, given each year for performance of exemplary work in the arena of open government. Qualifications for the award are outstanding accomplishment, service or other contributions to “the people’s right to know” about government. The winner could be a journalist, […]

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 JassyClimate 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. ManningMedia 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: Taping of public charter school meetings curtailed by corporate owners

    Q: I am  the parent of a child attending a public charter school. About a year ago when transparency appeared to be an issue, parents started to videotape school board meetings.  Currently two parents videotape the  board meetings using handheld cameras. No disturbance is made. Tapes are not edited and are posted on a Facebook page that is open […]

  • A&A: Is there an open meeting law that covers the CA legislature?

    Q: It seems like neither the Brown Act nor Bagley-Keene applies to the California legislature. What law governs the process through which the state legislature, including committees, considers laws and informs the public of opportunity to comment at hearings. And are there laws that prevent a committee for adding a last-minute amendment (without notice) to a bill that has […]

  • A&A: Did Prop. 42 eliminate fees for public records?

    Q: I’m trying to find out whether Prop 42 now requires local agencies to provide free access to public records or whether they are still allowed to charge for copies. Thank you, A: I do not read Prop. 42 as prohibiting public agencies from charging a reasonable fee to cover the direct cost of duplication […]

  • A&A: Help! Being sued For Yelp! Review

    Q: I used a company here in Illinois on two occasions and was left with a far less than satisfactory experience both times. As such, I took to yelp! to leave my feedback. After posting the honest review, my attorney was contacted and informed that I am being sued for defamation. My simple review sticks the […]