Threat Watch Update

Gov. Brown must veto SB 1300

Learn more about SB 1300, and join us  in urging Gov. Brown to veto this bill that will establish a toxic precedent far beyond the oil industry in claims to regulate

BY PETER SCHEER- Ostensibly a bill to strengthen safety regulation of oil refineries, SB 1300, introduced by Senator Lonnie Hancock (D-Berkeley), requires oil companies to file reports on scheduled shutdowns, typically for maintenance, of their refinery facilities. So far, no problem. Then came last-minute amendments, backed by organized labor as well as oil companies, that give oil companies de facto control over all decisions about what information the public can see. (Hint: not much).  READ MORE

Here are links to other important voices and sources of information on SB 1300: Jim Ewert, CNPA, letter to Gov ; FAC letter to Gov ;Bruce Brugmann, SF Bay Guardian Editor at Large, SOS: A bill to protect oil refineries also threatens public access rights   Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee, Dan Walters’ column: Three Obscure Bills Show How Big Policy Gets Buried

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.

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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.

Read More

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

1st Amendment News

  • Federal appeals court overturns conviction of man who sent 'hateful' poem to professor

    The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a poem full of hate and threats was protected speech and threw out the conviction of Aaron Michael Heineman who had sent the poem to a University of Utah professor. Heineman’s lawyer argued that a lower court failed to find that he intended the professor to […]

  • Reporters Committee hires litigation director in free press struggle

    The  Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is launching an aggressive campaign in defense of journalists, for the first time hiring a legal director to bring lawsuits across the U.S. The RCFP is expected to focus on the right of journalists “to monitor government activities.” The move is seen as helping to fill a […]

  • 9th Circuit decision in high school free speech case causes dismay

    The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected a bid for an en banc hearing of case brought by Live Oak High School students of Morgan Hill  in North California after the administration kept them from wearing U.S. flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo day in 2010. A three-judge panel of the court ruled in […]

  • Brown Act roundup: San Diego city council in hot water over restrictions on public comment

    A San Diego nonprofit filed a lawsuit claiming that the City of San Diego was violating the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, by failing to add or allow non-agenda public comment on Monday agendas thus eliminating public comment. The nonprofit claims that the Brown Act requires public comment for each meeting. (San Diego Reader, […]

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 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: Can CA Alcoholic Beverage Control withhold documents?

    Q: I have tried for over a year to get certain documents from the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to no avail. I have a lot of backstory and email exchanges. I also have a lot of experience through activism and advocacy regarding their policies and am asking relatively clear questions and requesting data I […]

  • A&A: Can I access a deceased relative's employment records?

    Q: I have read your FAQ section, but still cannot find an answer for my specific question, which is ”Why cant I have access to my deceased grandfather’s application data/birth information?” He is dead. Who is the information going to hurt? It is very frustrating trying to research historical genealogy information to pursue my roots […]

  • A&A: Can someone be arrested for speaking too long at a public meeting?

    Q: An activist was arrested at a city council meeting for exceeding the time limit. It’s very loosely enforced by the mayor who allows some people to speak longer and others not to. The decision to target the activist was made earlier by the city attorney who told the police officer the next time this particular […]

  • A&A: Under CPRA, do I have a right to know who issued a citation?

    Q: I recently received a copy of vehicular citations from a local police department. The names of the officers issuing the citations are not listed. Do I have a right under the CPRA to find out the name of the officer? A: Under California’s Public Records Act, “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of […]