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Judge torpedoes California ban on ‘offensive’ vanity plates

In upholding the First Amendment, a federal court ruled that California could not ban vanity license plate messages that were “offensive to good taste and decency.” U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar agreed with five plaintiffs and cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a victory by the band The Slants over the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. (Reason, November 25, 2020, By Elizabeth Nolan Brown) Tigar found the ban enables unconstitutional restrictions on private

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Section 230 battle surges as McConnell calls for full repeal

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill for repeal of Section 230, opportunistically tying the repeal to increasing stimulus payments to $2000. Section 230 exempts computer companies from liability for third-party content. (The Verge, December 29, 2020, by Makena Kelly) Big tech companies like Facebook can handle liability without Section 230 protection. The less powerful companies like WordPress, eBay, Etsy, nextdoor, Pinterest, TripAdvisor and Wikimedia have most at stake. (techdirt, December 28, 2020, by

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Judge blocks release of video in North Carolina shooting

A North Carolina judge turned down a request for body camera video of sheriff’s deputies shooting and killing of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man. The judge cited the dangers of damaging an ongoing investigation or risking the lives of people shown in the video. He did allow the man’s family to see the videos, one with redactions. (WRAL.com, April 28, 2021, by Ben Findley and Jonathan Drew of The Associated Press) The judge said

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House Republican shed free speech mantle in Cheney ouster

Amanda Marcotte in Salon, May 11, 2021, writes that the Republicans accuse the Democrats of “cancel culture” to shield their own extremist views and otherwise claim they are the victims of censorship when Democrats mock them. In the meantime they criticize athletes for kneeling in protest of racism during the national anthem. Now they censor anyone refusing to say Donald Trump lost the last election, pointedly Rep. LIz Cheney of Wyoming, whom they removed from

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Accessing information on claims against school district

Accessing information on claims against school districts Q: Are claims filed against a school district public records and if so can a district redact names of minors or other information mentioned in such claims for any reason? A: The issue of access to Tort Claims Act claim forms has come up in several cases.  It is by now clear that claim forms are not exempt from disclosure under the pending litigation exemption (Gov. Code section

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A&A: CFAC v. Santa Clara County and Critical Infrastructure Information

Q: Has there been any appellate court ruling in CFAC v. Santa Clara County? I’m very curious about the Critical Infrastructure Information issue that the County raised in the trial court, having just had my California Public Records Act request to another agency denied on similar grounds. A: The Sixth District has just recently issued an order to show cause requesting full briefing and permitting the parties to request oral argument in the GIS basemap

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First Amendment: Stolen valor case goes to U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a California man held criminally liable for lying about his military exploits. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the man’s lies were permissible under the First Amendment. A dissenting judge wrote that the Supreme Court had already established that false statements of fact are not protected speech. -db From the Courthouse News Service, October 17, 2011, by Barbara Leonard. Full story

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California 'libel tourism' bill breezes through state Senate

Efforts to thwart “libel tourism” – the practice of suing in countries with less stringent standards for proving defamation – are gaining ground as a bill advanced that would ban enforcement of most foreign libel verdicts in California. -DB San Francisco Chronicle May 15, 2009 By Bob Egelko Legislation designed to thwart “libel tourism” – the practice of trying to silence one’s critics by suing them in England, where defamation is easier to prove than

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Automation coming to Freedom of Information Act requests

The Center for Investigative Reporting is creating an automated Freedom of Information Act process to streamline the request for government records. It plans to fund the free  FOIA Machine through a Kickstarter campaign. (Consumerist, July 18, 20132, by Chris Morran) The effort to build the FOIA Machine has received favorable reviews in the tech press, including articles by Klint Finley in Wired, July 22, 2013 and Billy Gallagher in TechCrunch, July 18, 2013.

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A&A: Arrested for using “colorful” language at city council meeting

Q: I was just arrested  for saying the word “pussies” (referring to the lack of courage) at a city council podium, after of course signing up and being called up to speak. They have since added three other charges, four total, based on my use of “colorful” language at other city council meetings. I’ve already tried an exparte injunction against the city but the response has been  “you better not go to these meetings until

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California: Oceano board acts to correct open meeting breach

In the face of community pressure and legal threat, the Oceano Community Servies District is changing its way of conducting business. The board is allowing public comment after staff reports and vacating a closed meeting vote on an increase in the pay for the interim general manager.  -db From The Tribune, February 23, 2012, by Cynthia Lambert. Full story

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Biden Justice Department caught violating press freedom

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, June 6, 2021, criticizes President Joe Biden’s Justice Department for continuing the Trump administration’s spying on reporters. Ryan said the department continued to solicit subpoenas of phone records and only stopped the practice when news reports revealed its efforts. The Biden administration scrambled to reverse the practice after The New York Times reputed that there was a gag order preventing them from revealing a court fight over attempts to obtain

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A&A: What does the CPRA say about an agency charging a $48 “clerical fee”?

Q:  I’m interested in getting some feedback from someone a little more experienced at filing public records act requests. I’m a little suspicious of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing charging a $48 “clerical fee”although their invoice does not list the amount of pages or mailing fee, implying the search has not yet been done. The request I made was for copies of complaints made against several businesses. Your thoughts? A: From your inquiry I understand that you

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California court unseals records in murder of eight-year-old

Weighing the family’s right to privacy to the public’s right to know, a Superior Court judge released most of the records sought by the media pertaining to last year’s murder of an eight-year-old girl. The judge withheld autopsy photos. -db Tracy Press Jun 14, 2010 By Jaclyn Hirsch STOCKTON, Calif.  — Judge Linda Lofthus decided this afternoon to unseal most of the grand jury transcript and most of the evidence that police used to charge

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NASA considers changes in policies to favor whistleblowers

In response to criticism that scientists working for the National Aeronautical and Space Agency have been prevented from criticizing the agency’s operation and policies, NASA has agreed to draft policies that would grant their employees greater freedom of dissent. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, expanded in 1994, whistleblowers have been favored in only 3 of 206 cases filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The new policies would address the loopholes in

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Media law expert questions college ban on athletes’ tweets

Public and private universities are increasingly limiting players’ use of social media that one expert says constitutes in most cases illegal prior restraint and a violation of their free speech rights. -db Citizen Media Law Center Commentary November 9, 2010 By Eric P. Robinson An exercise we did Friday at University of Nevada, Reno’s High School Journalism Day raised an interesting legal question: can a public university restrict its students’ use of social networking sites such

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Santa Clara law sweeps drones from the sky over 49ers stadium

With the Super Bowl scheduled at the 49ers stadium for next February, Santa Clara enacted a law creating a half-mile no-fly zone over Levi’s Stadium and any other sporting or large venue event. With drones inexpensive and easy to operate, government officials are increasingly concerned they could be used for terrorist strikes. (Government Technology, September 24, 2015, by Eyragon Eidam) The ban allows the broadcast rights holder of stadium events to enter the no-fly zone

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Former CIA agent gets jail term for revealing name of colleague

A former Central Intelligence Agency officer received a two and a half year jail sentence for revealing the name of an undercover colleague to a journalist. The former officer John Kiriakou claimed that he disclosed the name not knowing the journalist was going to use it and that the disclosure was a mistake. The government prosecutors said in the plea deal for the jail time, Kiriakou admitted he had willfully disclosed the information. (Michael S.

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Federal appeals court boosts blogger First Amendment rights

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled for a blogger in a defamation case, stating that First Amendment protected bloggers as well as reporters for traditional news outlets. The blogger, Crystal Cox, had accused a firm dispensing financial advice of fraud, corruption and bribery. (The Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2014, by Maura Dolan) Eugene Volokh, who represented Cox, hailed the decision for reaffirming that First Amendment protections extend to “all who speak to

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Victory: California Appeal Court Orders Records Unsealed

A California appeal court today issued an important opinion affirming the public’s right of access to court records.  The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles sided with FAC and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, finding that records in a civil case had been improperly hidden from the public. A unanimous three-judge panel cited the common law and constitutional right of access to judicial records, and found the superior court failed to make the appropriate

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