Nixon Grand Jury Testimony Unsealed…from 1975.

There might be a gem or three in here….

A federal court in Washington, D.C., on Friday ordered the unsealing of the transcript of former President Richard Nixon’s 1975 grand jury testimony related to the Watergate investigation, subject to the “review procedures” of the federal agency in possession of the records.

 

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A Trillion Dollars on Secrecy Since 2001: Indeed, We Do Have a Spending Problem…on Secrecy

American Civil Liberties Union

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In the years since 9/11 the United States government has spent over a trillion dollars on national security measures that have increased government secrecy exponentially. A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, “Drastic Measures Required,” illustrates the vast and systemic use of secrecy, including secret agencies, secret committees in Congress, a secret court and even secret laws, to keep government activities away from public scrutiny.

“Our government has reached unparalleled levels of secrecy,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Though this administration’s attempts to be transparent are laudable, the reality has been that it is just as secretive as its predecessor. Congress has the tools to curb this excessive secrecy but it must be more aggressive in using them. It’s time to drastically overhaul the way our government classifies information.”

“Drastic Measures Required” highlights the significant powers Congress holds under the Constitution to stem the tide of government secrecy: the authority to regulate the military and national security activities, as well as the tools to investigate executive branch authorities. The report lays out specific recommendations for Congress to help turn the tide of excessive government secrecy –including reforming the misused state secrets privilege, strengthening congressional oversight of national security programs and enacting legislation to limit and regulate the executive branch’s classification power.

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Gawker Sues for Records of Fox Chief’s Tutelage of New Jersey Guv

Gawker, the popular blog based in New York, is going to court to investigate the relationship between the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

On Monday, the company and one of its reporters, John Cook, plan to file a civil suit against Mr. Christie’s office to try to obtain records of the communications between the two men. Mr. Cook, who regularly uses freedom of information and open public records acts to ferret out information for his Gawker articles, said the court action represents the first lawsuit filed by Gawker to obtain information.

The lawsuit has its origins in a New York magazine story in May which reported that Mr. Ailes had called Mr. Christie and “encouraged him to jump into the race” for president earlier this year. The report piqued the attention of people like Mr. Cook who believe that Mr. Ailes, a former Republican strategist who has run Fox News since its founding in 1996, still has a hand in politics. Mr. Christie has repeatedly ruled out running for president in the current election cycle.

In an interview with The Daily Beast weeks later, Mr. Ailes denied urging Mr. Christie to run, but acknowledged having dinner with him last summer.

By then, Mr. Cook had already sent a request to Mr. Christie’s office for any letters, logs of phone calls or records of meetings between Mr. Ailes and Mr. Christie. Mr. Cook asserted that that communications trail should be available under the state’s open public records act, but in mid-June, Mr. Christie’s office said that the records, if they exist, would be exempt upon “executive privilege and well-settled case law.”

FOI At Work: Money for the Poor Used To Buy Ritzy Furniture in Detroit

Knoll Pollock Chair

Man, will these people NEVER learn? The Detroit Free Press just nails ‘em to the wall, thanks to FOI:

More than $210,000 intended for poor people but instead used to furnish a City of Detroit office paid for numerous leather chairs, a $3,000 mahogany-finish conference table and at least three stainless steel trash cans with motion sensor lids and a price tag of $315 each, records show.

A 56-page receipt, obtained by the Free Press under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, lists dozens of high-end items destined last year for the Human Services Department’s east-side building, including more than $30,000 spent to furnish the office and conference room of the director.

The Free Press first reported the furniture purchases in May, prompting an FBI investigation and the suspension of Director Shenetta Coleman and several other employees. Coleman could not be reached for comment.

Is your blood boiling yet? OK,try this on for size:

In a city where a third of the population lives below the federal poverty level, demand for services from the agency is so high, virtually every service has a long waiting list for some of the neediest families.

Citing financial shortages, the department didn’t open a popular warming center for homeless people until late into the winter earlier this year, drawing criticism from council members and welfare groups.

And the coup de grace?

Three state-of-the-art trash cans were designated for reception areas on the third and fourth floors of the building, according to the receipt.

The Safco Kazaam receptacles each hold 11.5 gallons of refuse and feature lids that open when infrared sensors detect an approaching hand.

According to sales literature, such a trash can “ensures odor and infection control.” The cans cost $314.93 each.

I need to go lay down now.

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Winning a case does not mean you can scrub it….

From the Des Moines Register:

Winning a criminal court case does not mean that defendants are allowed to have their electronic court records hidden from public view, Iowa Supreme Court justices ruled this morning.

But justices left the door open to possible further action by them to address concerns raised in two Linn and Polk county court cases where lower-court judges had moved to shield the records from public view.

State lawyers, court officials and First Amendment advocates had urged the Iowa Supreme Court to reject arguments that fairness required the removal of electronic records in cases that end in dismissal or acquittal. The arguments involve various changes to a 1973 law requiring that some “criminal history data” be deleted from state computer systems in defendant-won cases and how that requirement butts up against several other laws that require court records be kept.

Linn County District Judge Casey D. Jones first used the law in December 2009 to erase an OWI arrest following a successful suppression motion by the lawyer for Jamie Paul White. Polk County District Associate Judge Odell McGhee later used the same logic  to erase a misdemeanor assault case that prosecutors had declined to pursue against Cary Ann Ryan. (Ryan and White are both named in court records but mentioned only by their initials in the rulings issued this morning.)

Justices, in opinions released today, reasoned that legislators in 1973 originally were focused more on “the potential for error and misuse” of a then-new state computer system that was being developed to be incorporated into a national criminal database. The legislature subsequently passed laws requiring that complete court dockets be maintained, source documents be preserved and that the public have access to criminal history data.

“We think that giving a reasonable effect to all these laws leads to the conclusion that the judicial branch need not alter its official document,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote in the Linn County case.

Mansfield, noting Iowa’s on-going work to develop an all-electronic document filing system, said arguments for shielding electronic court dockets from public view eventually would require that “court files themselves would have to be removed whenever the proceeding ended in the defendant’s favor, because those files would constitute ‘criminal history data in a computer data storage system.’

Nationwide county-by-county sin rankings

How much fun is this?

Casey Anthony Trial: The Hits Just Keep Comin’

A bad trial with a disliked outcome produces a legislative overreach of titanic proportions:

Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, on Thursday filed a bill that would call for a nine-month “cooling off” period after jurors are dismissed before they could consider accepting money for sharing details about a trial.

The moves comes just days before Casey Anthony is released from jail after a jury last week found her not guilty in the murder of her child.

Randolph’s Juror Compensation Bill, HB 51, would make violations of the law a third-degree felony punishable by fines of up to $10,000.

Concerns are that the prospect of being paid to discuss a trial might influence a jury’s thinking during the case.

“The purpose of this legislation is to preserve the integrity of the jury process,” Randolph said in a prepared statement. “It balances the First Amendment freedom of speech with the Sixth Amendment guarantee to a fair trial. The United States Supreme Court has always held that the preservation of a fair trial must be maintained at all costs. I believe that means fairness for the state as well as the defendant.”

Randolph said he will also file legislation that would keep the names of jurors private, unless individuals choose to come forward.

So….that nine month “cooling off period” might be more aptly named the “secrecy period” or “total and utter secrecy period,” in all trials in Florida, regardless of media attention of fact pattern, forever and ever. Nice, Rep. Randolph. You got your name in the paper. Now can you go come up with a way to ensure that juries are operating properly in the absence of even the possibility that there might be a scintilla of accountability?

 

Utah Becomes A National Rallying Point for FOI….

My good buddy Joel Campbell gives us the scoop in the Salt Lake Tribune:

It may be a dubious honor, but Utah’s open-records fight has become a battle cry for open-government activists across the nation.

The Washington-based Sunlight Foundation delivered a petition Friday at the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse signed by thousands of open-government activists to governors attending the National Governors Association meetings here.

They want to raise the profile of open government in every state. That’s important because it has become popular for politicians to promise open government on the campaign trail and then abandon the idea once in office.

Gabriela Schneider, the group’s communications director, said it was ironic that Salt Lake City is the site of the petition delivery since Utah lawmakers enacted and then rescinded HB477, which would have thrown up major roadblocks to government-records access. Gov. Gary Herbert is featured among the group’s poster children for open-government abuse, and images from HB477 protests are part of a video call to action.

“Over the last few months, Sunlight has observed a disturbing trend of states rolling back transparency of government information, clouding the ability of the public to see what their government and its officials are doing,” Schneider said,

Like the Sunlight Foundation, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also noted several governors who didn’t keep their campaign promises for open government. Included on the list are governors from Wisconsin, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.

ESPN Pulls the FOI Trigger Against Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes college football head coac...

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And now it gets really interesting…the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the details:

The tattoos for memorabilia scandal that has swept away former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel and ex-star quarterback Terrelle Pryor has now reached the state’s highest court in a public records showdown between OSU and ESPN.

The sports entertainment giant filed a lawsuit Monday with the Ohio Supreme Court claiming the university violated Ohio’s public records laws by failing to make available three different sets of public records sought by ESPN earlier this year. The lawsuit is essentially asking the state’s highest court to force OSU into releasing the records to ESPN.

One set of records involves e-mails, letters and memos from Tressel, OSU President Gordon Gee, OSU director of sports compliance officer Doug Archie and Athletics Director Gene Smith related to Pennsylvania businessman Ted Sarniak that ESPN requested on April 20.

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Ohio Supreme Court denies fee-seeker dough

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Following the lead of state lawmakers, the Ohio Supreme Court has forbidden the collection of damages for illegal destruction of public records when money, rather than access to records, is the main motivation in filing lawsuits.

A party is not “aggrieved” and entitled to damages when his or her objective is not to obtain records but to seek the cash penalties accompanying the destruction of public records, the justices ruled in an opinion released today.

The court’s ruling involves a case from New Philadelphia, where Timothy Rhodes filed a lawsuit seeking nearly $5 million in damages over the illegal destruction of old tape recordings of police dispatch calls between 1975 and 1995.

A jury refused to give Rhodes any money, finding he was not aggrieved because his primary interest was money, not gaining access to records. He also had sought old police and 911 tape recordings from other communities.

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