For News Reporters, FOIA Is Often a ‘Cruel Joke’
An article by the New York Times’s public editor explains the newspaper’s protracted and costly struggles behind the scenes to use the Freedom of Information Act to discover what the federal government is doing or knows about.
Hentoff: All Should Know of ‘Secret Law’ Hearing
Veteran Columnist Nat Hentoff, writing in the Washington Times, explains why he believes that “So important was an April 30 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution that it should have been on front pages around the country.” Titled "Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government" and chaired by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), it focused on an issue ignored by the presidential contenders that has deeply weakened our rule of law. See the transcripts, view the webcast here.
Editorial: No Secrecy Arrangement with Refinery
The Contra Costa Times notes in an editorial that the Richmond City Council last week agreed to hire an outside expert to review the Chevron refinery’s application for permission to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer. The consultant’s role would be to determine whether approval would lead to processing of heavier crude and determine the health effects, but the city has agreed to allow him to enter into a confidentiality agreement with Chevron to see documents he needs to complete his investigation. Says the newspaper, “ If Chevron wants approval of its expansion, it's application should be subjected to full public scrutiny.”
Seats Coveted on San Francisco’s Sunshine Panel
Fog City Journal reports that two veteran members of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, the 11-member body that monitors how well or poorly city officials, employees, agencies, and policy and advisory bodies comply with local and state open-meetings and public-records laws, were in tight competition with two contenders to replace them; the positions are subject to appointment by the board of supvervisors.
City Wipes Tape of Staff Meetings on 4-Day Week
The Victorville Daily Press reports that when it asked to view the videotape of recent city staff meetings at which a new four-day workweek plan was announced, which included “interesting comments by senior city staff,” it was told the tapes had been erased. A city spokesperson said that the tapes were made for the benefit of city employees who missed the meetings, and because almost all showed up, city officials “decided it would be too difficult to edit the tapes and have since deleted all footage.”
Costs of Secrecy about Violence-Prone Officers
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that “Kelly Medora, a petite preschool teacher who weighed about 118 pounds, went out with a friend in North Beach one Saturday night in 2005 for some fun.” But on the way a San Francisco police officer, said to weigh more than twice as much, “arrested her for jaywalking, twisted her arm behind her back and broke it with an audible crack.” Never admitting any wrongdoing, the city recently gave Medora a check for $235,000—its largest settlement on record of a lawsuit alleging excessive force other than with a weapon. State law makes officer misconduct complaints and investigations strictly secret, even when the investigations confirm the complaints, leaving lawsuits and criminal prosecutions as the first and only window on rogue behavior.
Public Records Disclose . . .
• that more than 6,000 Los Angeles city employees are paid more than $100,000 per year, according to the Daily News. “City workers' average salaries will reach about $68,850 for civilians and $93,800 for sworn police and fire by July—placing them in the upper ranks of comparable cities and far higher than private-sector workers,” the report says.
‘Elated’ Nonlawyer Gets Appellate Win Published
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports the rare triumph of a layperson successfully representing herself in the court of appeal, and getting the court’s opinion published as precedent. The issue in Evans v. Evans? A trial court order broadly barring her from publishing on the Internet allegedly false and defamatory statements, or “confidential personal information,” about her ex-husband, a deputy sheriff.
UC Campus Speech Policy Disfavors ‘Nonaffiliates’
The UC San Diego Guardian reports that a new set of proposed rules governing speech on all University of California campuses, originating in the office of the system’s president, would mean among other things that no “nonaffiliate” (person from the off-campus world would be permitted to gather or demonstrate on university property without prior approval. Members of the public would also be barred from distributing leaflets or advertisements without authorization, and violation of the policy could result in a misdemeanor offense.
State Senate Votes to End Communist Party Ban
The Sacramento Bee reports that the state Senate last week passed legislation that would end membership in the Communist Party as a reason for firing a public employee, a Cold War-era party affiliation hurdle now remaining on the books only in California.
Court: No Protection for Dissenting College Prof
The American Association of University Professors reports that it and the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression have filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the appeal of a federal court decision holding that no First Amendment protection exists for a veteran UC Irvine Professor who was denied a merit salary increase because, while participating in faculty governance, he allegedly angered university administrators by opposing certain faculty hiring and promotion decisions as well as the university’s use of lecturers in place of professors.
Court: No Right to Be Free of School Uniforms
Education Week magazine reports that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion triggered by a Las Vegas school district but applicable to California, upheld a mandatory school uniform policy in the face of a multi-pronged First Amendment challenge.
Border Group Dropped from Highway Program
The Associated Press reports that lawyers for the San Diego Minutemen group have told a federal judge that the state had no right to rescind its invitation to join a roadside litter cleanup program after state legislators complained to CalTrans. The group asked that its blue Adopt-a-Highway sign be put back where it had stood without incident for about six weeks until the agency removed it in January.
Mall Ordered to Pay PETA for 'Trespass' SLAPP Suit
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reports that the San Diego Superior Court has ordered Fashion Valley Mall to pay it the $63,525 in legal fees it spent fighting a SLAPP suit that the mall brought against it. After a PETA demonstration last year urging shoppers to boycott the Burberry store in the mall because the company uses fur in its clothing, the mall sued PETA, alleging that the protesters had trespassed, and sought damages for profits that the mall claimed it had lost because of the demonstration.
DA: Photographing Water Polo Player Players No Crime
The Associated Press reports that after a four-month investigation, Orange County prosecutors have announced they will not bring any charges against two men who took pictures of teenage water polo players which were then posted on gay porn sites. The district attorney's office investigated the case for four months, but found that no offenses had been committed.
Guards First Warned of UC Bomb Lab’s Security Flaws
Six years ago two security officers at the University of California’s Los Alamos National (nuclear weapons) Laboratory wrote a memo that “showed that, among other things, more than 200 computers were missing from the Lab—including from top secret black programs,” according to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). When the memo leaked, the two were fired, later winning more than $1 million in settlements from UC. Now POGO reports that at UC’s other weapons lab in Livermore just weeks ago, “government mock terrorists tested the security, defeated the protective force and gained access to their target—simulated special nuclear materials.”
Lawyer Files Second Lawsuit against School Board
The Watsonville Register-Pajaronian reports that lawyer Luis Alejo has filed a second lawsuit this year against the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, alleging the school board violated the Brown Act when it approved contracts for several superintendent positions in a closed-session meeting. In February he sued the district for failing to provide the public with a copy of its response to a June 2007 grand jury report in a timely manner.