FAC, allied groups urge government transparency during pandemic

The First Amendment Coalition and other advocacy organizations sent a letter to California’s Chief Justice to urge her and the court system to maintain courtroom access for the press during the pandemic even as they close their doors to the public. FAC and friends asked that they use telephone hearings on conference lines, use video to allow the public to follow court proceedings and continue making records available in the usual way and to also make available on court websites. (Courthouse News Service, March 25, 2020, by Maria Dinzeo)

FAC’s letter read in part, “We recognize the severe health crises we all face as a society and applaud your leadership in issuing the March 23 Statewide Order. At the same time, we need to recognize that important civil liberties and constitutional rights should not be unduly restricted. While courts are closing buildings, halting proceedings and holding some hearings telephonically, we are concerned members of the press and public will face insurmountable barriers to accessing judicial records and proceedings.” (First Amendment Coalition, March 25, 2020)

FAC had earlier reminded local governments that the pandemic did not justify suspending fulfilling public records requests quoting the California Constitution, “The people have a right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” FAC said open government is even more essential in times of crisis. (First Amendment Coalition, March 23, 2020)

FAC joined the National Freedom of Information Coalition and other groups to address a letter to sate and local public agencies to advocate for transparency and access during the pandemic. The letter advised the agencies when possible to delay important decisions to allow the public to participate. If making decisions they should make it easier for the public by providing access and information online. (First Amendment Coalition, Marcy 20, 2020)

An Associated Press story revealed problems the public is encountering across the country as their elected officials ban them from meetings. Sometimes a feed to the public freezes and there is no pause in the proceedings. It isn’t always the case that essential documents are shared with the public. It is often the case that elderly citizens most at risk during the pandemic have the least experience and ability to view government proceedings online. (Belleville News-Democrat, March 21, 2020, by David A. Lief of the Associated Press)