Announcing FAC’s 2014 Free Speech & Open Government Award Winners

Chris Murphy

C.A.R.R. Co-Founder Chris Murphy

Christina Selder

C.A.R.R Co-Founder Christina Selder

Charles Piller

Sacramento Bee Reporter Charles Piller

The First Amendment Coalition is proud to announce the winners of the 2014 FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award.  FAC received 30 nominations and chose two winners:   Sacramento Bee investigative reporter Charles Piller is honored for his three-year effort to uncover construction flaws and apparent fraud in the $6.5 billion project to replace the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.  Christina Selder and C.M. Murphy, Co-founders of Consumer Advocates for R.C.F.E Reform (C.A.R.R.) , are recognized for constructing the first (and only) website devoted to the regulatory history of California assisted living facilities (officially referred to as RCFE, or “residential care facilities for the elderly”).  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

  • "The Interview": Censorship prevails in withdrawal of film about North Korean leader

    Theater chain owners are removing “The Interview” from their theaters concerned about the chance of terrorist attacks on their customers. The film depicts journalists assigned to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un portrayed in negatively. (The Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2014, by Richard Verrier and Ryan Faughnder) Steve Kovach of Business Insider, December 17, […]

  • Free Speech: Supreme Court to decide thorny issue of messages on state license plates

    The case before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether Texas can ban a license plate with the Confederate flag after the Fifth Circuit appeals court held that the specialty plates are private speech so can’t be restricted by the state. The appeals court found that the state was practicing viewpoint discrimination in banning the plate. […]

  • California: Police keep tech surveillance under wraps

    With scant transparency, California police departments are spending millions on surveillance technology including license plate readers. Reporters and civil rights groups are meeting stiff resistance when they try to learn the details of department policies, practices and expenditures. (Pasadena Weekly, December 11, 2014, by Andre Coleman) The Electronic Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties […]

  • Mississippi student wins First Amendment case over his online rap criticizing coaches

    A federal appeals court ruled for a Mississippi high school student suspended for posting a rap about coaches who he said were acting inappropriately with female students. The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found that the student could not be punished by the school since he wrote the rap off campus and posted in […]

Coalition News

  • FAC sues San Diego PD for records on controversial cell phone surveillance technology

    The First Amendment Coalition today filed suit against the San Diego Police Department to obtain information about the SDPD’s purchase and use of surveillance equipment that can identify and track all cell phones in a specific location, such as a building, neighborhood or street intersection. “We believe the SDPD has an obligation to tell San […]

  • FAC leads amicus filing in case seeking access to records in hands of private firms that contract with government

    An open-government coalition led by FAC has filed an amicus brief in a California freedom-of-information case involving access to data of government contractors that the contractors are required, under their agreements wth local government, to create and maintain. In Flynn v. Los Angeles a PRA requester seeks information in databases about the towing and storing […]

  • Christina SelderAnnouncing FAC’s 2014 Free Speech & Open Government Award Winners

    The First Amendment Coalition is proud to announce the winners of the 2014 FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award. This year FAC received 30 nominations covering the efforts of journalists, individuals, government officials, educators, attorneys, community groups, non-profit journalism organizations and newspapers. The two 2014 winners of this year’s awards use different methods to […]

  • 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 […]

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: Does the CA legislature have an open meeting law?

    Q: It seems like neither the Brown Act nor Bagley-Keene applies to the CA legislature. What law governs the process through which the CA 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&A: Public Agency claims investigation files are exempt PRA

    Q: I filed a complaint alleging the violation of the corporate practice of medicine by a large California Corporation. The complaint was filed with the Medical Board of California. After many months I was informed the case was closed. I asked for access to their files of the investigation and was informed that it was exempt […]

  • A&A: Police refuse to release names of individuals who bought stolen laptop

    Q: My laptop was taken in a burglary.  When the police located it, it had been bought and sold twice people who had it innocently bought it off Craig’s List. Those people are listed as “witness” on the police report. Police refuse to identify them to me because 1) they don’t release witness identities 2) release their […]

  • A&A: New rules by city council restrict free speech

    Q: Several months ago the city council majority changed the public comments procedure to make it more difficult for all that wanted to make comments to do so. At a recent council meeting, they changed the ordinance regarding conduct during city council meetings, and more specifically the conduct while addressing the council. For example, if the mayor, in […]