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)

Assembly approves constitutional amendment to protect CPRA, Brown Act

Vote June 20149/13/13–The CA Assembly overwhelmingly (78-) approved placing a constitutional amendment–SC3–on the June, 2014 ballot asking voters whether to end the practice of suspending the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act (CPRA) whenever the state faces a revenue shortfall, the CNPA Legislative Journal reported:

Senator Mark Leno [who introduced SCA 3 with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said] the legislature’s action ‘allows California voters to debate the importance of strengthening the state’s most critical open-government laws,  ’The state should not have to provide a fiscal incentive to local governments so that they comply with these important transparency laws.’

FAC supports SCA 3, the amendment to end–once and for all–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.   (READ MORE)

Climate change on trial in a defamation case

Jean-Paul JassyCOMMENTARY 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 fined $100, although the conviction was later overturned on a technicality.

Now, Pennsylvania State University climatology professor Michael Mann, a prominent researcher in the study of global warming, is in a legal fight with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) over his climate change research. As today’s article from Onward State explains, CEI accused Mann of manipulating data regarding the connection between human behavior and global warming. Penn State investigated the allegations and exonerated Mann, as did British authorities and the EPA.   (Read More)


Legislature, Gov. Brown accept budget bill that leaves open-gov law intact

Gov. Jerry Brown, Senators Darrell Steinberg and Mark Leno all reversed course on changes to CPRA in Budget Bill

It’s official!  The Public Records Act will be restored when Gov. Brown signs the Budget Bill into law.

The fate of the CPRA unfolded  this week as public and media criticism grew over the Legislature’s adoption of a section of the Budget Bill that allowed local governments to opt out of key provisions in the Public Records Act.  The Assembly was first to blink, announcing on Wednesday that it would  vote to remove the CPRA changes from the bill.  Although the Senate initially balked, public pressure prevailed on Senate leaders. Finally, Governor Brown agreed to reverse course on the budgetary cost-cutting scheme. (READ MORE)

Bill killed! Threat of $10 fees for court record search dies in legislature

Threat Watch UpdateJournalists, open government advocates and thousands of concerned citizens made their outrage heard all the way to Sacramento and this week legislators turned a deaf ear on the Administrative Office of the Courts proposal to levy a charge of $10 per file to look at court records.

The bill died when a joint budget conference committee representing both chambers voted to accept the Assembly version of the bill, ending a threat that could have dealt a devastating blow to the people’s right to know.

Courthouse News reported that the AOC also took criticism on their already tarnished record on  transparency — including proposing rules  that would delay access to court records until they have been officially accepted, a process that can take weeks and destroys the news interest in a new court filings.

AOC also took heat for  denying information requests by  the Alliance of California Judges that called the AOC’s response to requests for information an “is an assault on the basic notion of open government that as Americans we expect of those who are funded by public dollars.” (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)

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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Headline News / Coalition News/ Commentary/ Asked & Answered

1st Amendment News

  • Federal 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 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 […]

  • Judges afford First Amendment protection to flashing lights warning of speed traps

    A federal judge in Oregon was the most recent judge to rule that flashing your lights on a freeway to warn other motorists of a speed trap was protected speech under the First Amendment. The traffic court judge held that the sheriff’s deputy had acted improperly in arresting the driver for “expressive conduct” protected under […]

  • Federal judge rules federal government can keep secret the rationale for deadly drone attacks

    A federal district judge in California ruled that the Justice Department could withhold a memo with the legal rationale for a drone attack in 2011 that killed a U.S. citizen accused of plotting a terrorist act. The First Amendment Coalition filed the suit after the drone attack. A federal judge in New York ruled against […]

  • NSA surveillance campaign under fire for lack of transparency

    A media coalition is bolstering efforts to challenge the National Security Agency’s National Security Letters program, particularly the non-disclosure provision that they claim constitutes prior restraint of journalists reporting about the program. The FBI routinely issues the letters to phone companies and Internet service providers with non-disclosure orders gagging them from discussing the letters. (Reporters […]

Coalition News


  • 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 […]