Does a young woman kidnapped at age 11 and kept as a sex slave for 18 years have a right to insist that the grand jury transcript detailing her experience—which even one of her captors calls a chronicle of "evil"—be permanently sealed from the eyes of the public? Does it change your answer to know that she's about to publish a book telling her story? An El Dorado County judge is expected to rule on the sealing request, opposed by major media, on June 2, reports Demian Bulwa for the San Francisco Chronicle.
In a rare but not unheard-of challenge to governmental secrecy by another public agency, the Beverly Hills Unified School District has taken the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority to court seeking an order for release of allegedly withheld documents sought under the California Public Records Act, reports Damien Newton on the L.A.StreetsBlog. The district opposes a planned subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School and wants to analyze MTA records to show the feasibility of an alternate route. It's sued now because it senses MTA is stalling.
The Orange County District Attorney has sent an unusually emphatic warning of impatience with the Board of the Capistrano Unified School District, which has shown—well—an unusually persistent pattern of thumbing its nose at the Brown Act in recent years. Scott Martindale reports for the Orange County Register.
As a penance for having followed a crowd of protesters into an administration building last fall to videorecord the 11-hour occupation, U.C. Berkeley student journalist Josh Wolf—who's already spent long months in a federal jail after filming an anarchist riot—has been ordered to write an essay, reports Nanette Asimov in the San Francisco Chronicle. The assigned topic? How the university should treat student journalists.
Californians Aware (CalAware), the nonprofit organization co-founded by Richard McKee to improve transparency in government and defend free speech rights, has created a fund in his name to enable it to continue his work of enforcing such rights by going to court if necessary.
Less than two weeks after the death of CalAware's founding president, Rich McKee, more than 100 California newspapers have joined in a friend of the court brief supporting the lawsuit he filed last year to challenge the lawfulness of 30 or so unannounced but official luncheon meetings of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, held in 2009 but since discontinued.
Bell Bills: Measures React to City Scandals The CalAware-supported AB 392 (Alejo) passed its first hurdle in the Assembly Local Government Committee last week on a 6-1 vote and was part of a bundle of measures launched to avert repetitions of the crimes and other excesses uncovered in Bell and other Los Angeles County cities, reports Patrick McGreevy in the Los Angeles Times. AB 392 would require all local government bodies that have websites to post their meeting agendas and related staff reports on them at least 72 hours in advance.
Same-day Access to Court Records Trimmed The CalAware co-sponsored SB 326 (Yee) appeared due to take a severe haircut in the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow (Tuesday). Instead of requiring the California Judicial Council to adopt a rule requiring trial courts to provide press and public with day-one access to most new court filings in civil lawsuits and criminal cases, the bill may well be altered, at the insistence of the Judicial Council, to allow an 18 month delay in adopting the rules, and even then applying them only to courts that have "fully implemented" the new computer-based Case Management System that has proven so costly and problem-ridden. Whom to thank: Committee Chair Noreen Evans sits on the Judicial Council.
Prison System Watchdog to Be Dismantled? The Senate Public Safety Committee will give a first hearing to two bills tomorrow (Tuesday) proposing to shut down the in-house Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, reports Don Thompson for the Associated Press.
CHP Sued for Arresting Preachers at DMV Office You're waiting in line outside the DMV office when a fired-up preacher starts haranguing you from a planter strip in the parking lot. Is he a big enough violation of your rights to have him arrested for trespass? A CHP officer thought so a couple of months ago, and now the preachers—others were arrested later in the day—are suing the Patrol for violating their First Amedment rights, reports John Asbury for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside.
Rich McKee's family invites fans, acquaintances or just appreciative members of the public to a memorial happy hour—Hawaiian shirts suggested but optional—at the Doubletree Hotel in Claremont from 3-7 pm on Saturday, May 7. This informal occasion—whose style Rich would have enjoyed and insisted on—will offer all who'd care to do so an opportunity to meet with Rich's family and friends and the staff of Californians Aware to share reminiscences about Rich and how he affected their lives and lift a glass in his memory. Those too distant to attend are welcome to write a note with their own thoughts and experiences and send it to the CalAware staff—email@example.com—who will see that it's read aloud at the gathering.
Richard P. McKee, who died suddenly at his home in LaVerne this past Saturday, was 62 years old and recently retired from a chemistry teaching career at Pasadena City College. Here is some of what the newspaper obituaries may not have room to tell about all that he did in his spare time to make California's government agencies more transparent to public observation and more hospitable to citizens' informed comment.
A San Diego school superintendent with a quarter million dollar annual salary is reported to have sought—and gotten—expense reimbursements from his district for some 303 meals over a three-year period totaling $11,500, despite receiving a monthly allowance of $800 for expenses, not including a $750 per month auto allowance. This double-dipping is not unique—the president of California State University, provided with a $9,000 yearly auto allowance, recently billed the university $103 for a month's driving around town. But the question raised by the latest report is—which guests, if any, are being treated to local officials' tax-supported dining hospitality?
Santa Clara County would become one of just a handful of California counties to adopt a "sunshine" law granting greater access to the inner workings of government, under a plan being introduced this week, reports Karen de Sa in the San Jose Mercury News.
It's one thing to forbid people from using street medians to solicit anything from passing motorists, says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial; it's a safety issue. But day laborers who use the sidewalks to seek work have as much right under the First Amendment to convey their appeals for support there as anyone else anwhere else in public. The full U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals should recognize that right and strike down a Redondo Beach ordinance, the paper argues.
CalAware's audits have found a surprising number of public agencies unlawfully charging more that the 10 cents per page maximum permitted by the Political Reform Act for copies of financial statements which that law requires key public officials and campaign commitees to file as public records. But one public agency—and maybe the first to do so—is actually correcting that mistake by offering refunds to those subjected to this kind of overcharge.
Those who've had their requests for information turned down by a federal agency based on one or more Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions can now keep track of who's taking similar denials to court. Details about every new court challenge to the withholding of information by the Obama Administration are now available on a new website developed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).
It's often easy to assume that the most labor-intensive First Amendment activities—people holding signs or clipboards and trying to persuade others within earshot—are settings for settled law, with free speech doctrine's open questions now confined to all sorts of mass media and technical communications. But the right to send or seek support for a message at pavement level where the crowds are is still a legal work in progress, as recent court challenges involving the rights of gays and union members show.
Steven Aftergood, the nation's most renowned observer of federal secrecy policy and practice in general and the national security state in particular, is beginning to think that apparatus is literally out of control. And while he has been one of the soberest critics of WikiLeaks, he seems close to acknowledging that it may be an inevitable response to official powerlessness against the forces that ever-increasingly erode freedom of information.
While the matter may still go to the U.S. Supreme Court for the final word, until then the Stolen Valor Act, which criminalizes lying about being awarded military decoration, is unenforceable in California and the West as violating the First Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has let stand the ruling of a three-judge panel to that effect, incidentally providing Chief Judge Alex Kosinski, concurring, with an occasion for the exercise of his pungent and witty prose style.
The Manhattan Beach City Council's efforts to conceal the circumstances and price of its city manager's abrupt departure in December 2009 has just cost it a sum probably approaching $100,000, to say nothing of the chastening of having to admit it violated the law and to undergo remedial training.
Two officers of Californians Aware—a former elected council member of the state's second largest city and a veteran country newspaper editor—were recognised tonight by the Society of Professional Journalists for their remarkable contributions to open government. Both are also remarkable for their plainspoken directness and skepticism.
By Richard McKee, Vice President/Open Government Compliance, Californians Aware
Duing this Sunshine Week it's important to remember that our Founding Fathers, revered for their courage and determination, knew far too well the nation they were creating was only an experiment; that persistence lay ahead if a people’s government was to survive.
The U.S. Supreme Court, which only last week rejected a bid for personal privacy protection for corporate business information sought from federal regulators under the Freedom of Information Act, yesterday closed a far wider judge-created loophole in FOIA that's been operating for a generation—one which allowed the government to deny access to records whenever it believed that there was no conceivable public interest in them and an unacceptable risk of frustrating government activity or enabling crime.
Those troubled by last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision giving corporations the same First Amendment speech rights as individuals in terms of political campaign spending should take some solace in the court's decision last week that corporations have no "personal privacy" rights when it comes to blocking access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to facts about them acquired by a government agency in a law enforcement investigation.
A story in today's (March 5) Los Angeles Times shows the importance of investigative journalism—the old-fashioned kind that more and more news organiztions are less and less inclined to pay for—in keeping government officials honest and free from corruption. But it equally shows the importance of
The U.S. Supreme Court's 8-1 decision this week in Snyder v. Phelps should not be that surprising. And its logic could help any First Amendment court challenge to a new law giving survivors of soldiers killed in war a veto over—or a royalty from—the marketing of messages naming the deceased.
From the past two weeks:
Federal appeals court finds no First Amendment right to cover crash scenes up close
Federal appeals court hears case of high shool history teacher's insult to creationism
Bell administrator: I cooked up phony salary information in case someone asked
Berkeley council adopts 'sunshine lite' policies to reduce appeal of citizen initiative
Lawyer's challenge prompts access to school superintendent-board president e-mails
From the past two weeks:
CalAware board member Tim Crews cited by journalist peers for lifetime achievement
L.A.'s city attorney wants jail time for repeat protesters
O.C.'s district attorney wants conspiracy prosecution for student speech disrupters
Former Bell official offers insider's tip on hiding pay rates from public records requesters
Comment: Forget new audits of local finances; give us a public records law that has teeth
Court denies Sacramento criminal trial juror's request to keep his Facebook post private
Federal court issues first order to release metadata in document sought under FOIA
BART board fumbles move to fire CEO: does quick 180 to correct Brown Act violation
Follow the money on a new website tracking inflows to state legislative committee members
A video journalist who was arrested for taping and speaking up at a North Coast workshop last year conducted by state and nonprofit officials concerning the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative has sued the offending agencies for damages and a court order against repetition of the practice, reports attorney Peter Martin.
A judge has rejected a police union's argument that the public is not entitled to learn the names of officers involved in shootings. The contention that some of the information might provoke unlawful acts in the future is too speculative to warrant an order blocking release of the information requested by the Los Angeles Times, report Victoria Kim and Richard Winton.