This is a signal victory for openness in Tennessee, and a major shot across the bow of private prison operators. Seems CCA’s argument that it was not in the “official business” of running prisons didn’t hold water. Maybe it’s because they, well, run prisons?

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that Corrections Corporation of America’s legal settlements are subject to the state Open Records law.

In a ruling filed on Feb. 28, the court said it disagreed with CCAs assertion that the company shouldn’t have to turn over settlement-related records because they aren’t part of the “official business” of running a prison.

The request for settlement agreements from CCA was part of a public records request made in 2007 by Alex Friedmann, the editor of Prison Legal News.

The company turned over some documents after a 2009 Appeals Court ruling that CCA is subject to the state’s Open Records law, but the legal settlements weren’t included.

CCA argued that the settlements didn’t fall under the statute’s definition of a public record and that because they were created for litigation — not the running of the prison — they weren’t subject to the law.

The court rejected both arguments.

“Settlement agreements have consistently been held to be public records by our courts,” the opinion stated.

More here.

Nebraska Lt. Gov. Resigns in Wake of FOI-driven news…

Wow. This is a really obvious example of why transparency of things like taxpayer-funded cell phones is an important thing:

Rick Sheehy’s long, late-night cell phone calls most often were directed at two former elected officials, both widely known in their communities.

An investigation by The World-Herald found that Sheehy’s most recent flurry of calls was directed at Michele Ehresman, the former head of the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and a former school board president there.

Ehresman, 40, who was recently divorced, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview in recent days…

An investigation by The World-Herald discovered that Sheehy made 2,300 late-night telephone calls to the women on his state-issued cellphone, many of them long conversations held in the wee hours of the night.

Many of Sheehy’s long conversations with the women were held late at night or in the early morning hours. Sometimes, he would call more than one woman a night, sometimes three different women.

Nice FOI get by the Texas student paper…

The Daily Texan broke some news today thanks to some reporter’s brilliantly simple FOI request:

Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” in 2009, according to a statement released by UT men’s head athletics director DeLoss Dodds on Friday night.

The incident took place during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, when Applewhite served as running backs coach. The identity of the student was not revealed…

The story was made possible thanks to an FOI request for a letter from UT’s athletic director to Applewhite outlining his punishment for the incident: the department froze Applewhite’s salary for the rest of the year and required him to schedule an initial session with a licensed professional counselor.

Much ado about gun permit records…which apparently are a mess.

From the scarred earth of the New York gun permit kerfuffle comes some great reporting…..seems the records everyone is so upset about demonstrate wonderfully why access is critical to evaluate the efficacy of the system itself!

When Mike Smith checked an online map of pistol-permit holders published by The Journal News, he was shocked to see his home on it.

He quickly determined his brother-in-law had used Smith’s Valley Cottage address when he successfully applied for a handgun license — in 1997, a few months before he moved to Arizona.

Though angry at his brother-in-law, Smith said he also was left fuming about a process that hadn’t measured up.

“Nobody ever called and verified the address,” Smith said. “They didn’t use his driver’s license. Could somebody else use my address?”

Much, much more here.

Open federal court records: Free Pacer!

Passing along this important post from the Sunlight Foundation

On Monday, Princeton’s Steve Schultze argued for the right of all Americans to access federal court records online at no charge. He made these remarks not only because it is fundamental to a democracy that the people know what their government is doing, but because his friend Aaron Swartzwas improperly persecuted by the government for his efforts to ensure that all Americans can exercise this right.

As Steve explains, all federal court records are available online — behind a paywall, on court-run PACER — that unlawfully overcharges the public for access and subverts the reason and rationale for its existence.Court records should be free for the public to access.

He is looking for Congress to act by considering this legislation, which provides for free and open access to court records. He is looking for bill sponsors, and asks that you call your elected representatives.

Steve gave this talk as part of a series of 3-minute lightning talks on transparency hosted on Capitol Hill on Monday by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, a project of the Sunlight Foundation that brings together organizations from across the political spectrum that believe in a more open government.

If you like this video, please share it. Call your member of Congress. And visit openpacer.org.

Gun permit issues pop up in North Carolina…

The battle over gun permit data in New York spreads to another state:

A Gaston County commissioner wants to put personal information contained in gun permits – now part of the public record – out of public view.

At Thursday night’s board of commissioners’ work session, vice chairman Tracy Philbeck introduced a measure asking the county’s legislators to change the current law.

Sheriffs’ offices in North Carolina are required to maintain records of handgun purchases issued by their offices, and those records include information such as names, addresses and ages. The public has access to this information, and Philbeck wants that stopped.

“In light of recent events, the media has taken advantage of the public records law and abused it,” he said, referring to news reports that followed incidents such as last month’s shooting at a Connecticut school. “This information should not be used to criminalize or defame gun owners.”

As an example of abuse he mentioned Raleigh-based WRAL-TV’s story last summer about concealed-carry permit holders. He said the story included an online database of public information that allowed people to search street names in the station’s 22-county viewing area for permit holders.

Philbeck believes that people who go through the application process and legally obtain a gun “should expect some form of privacy.”

He wants county commissioners to support legislation that would exempt handgun purchase permits and concealed-carry permits from sheriffs’ office lists accessible by the public at large.

Philbeck said Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger “is in full support of this action.”

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NY gun records draw lawsuit by NYT reporters…back in 2010

Gawker moved the story forward yet again, publishing a list of gun permit holders in New York City.

In the Gawker piece, the author writes that the list he got “contains only the names, and not the addresses, of the licensees,” and though he argued that both were supposed to be public information based on Article 400 of the Penal Code, that the “only way to get the associated addresses from the NYPD, as the law requires, would be to take them to court, which no one has apparently done.”

And as this post at capitalnewyork.com helpfully points out, actually someone has.

Though the New York Times hasn’t acknowledged as much in its coverage of the issue, in 2010, three New York Times reporters sued the New York Police Department over what it described as the department’s failure to comply with state law requiring public access to information, including the addresses of gun-permit holders in New York City.

“We’ve become increasingly concerned over the last two years about a growing lack of transparency at the N.Y.P.D.,” David McCraw, a lawyer for the newspaper, said at the time. “Information that was once released is now withheld. Disclosures that could be made quickly are put on hold for months.”

Among the reporters who filed suit was Jo Craven McGinty.

According to the lawsuit, in May of 2010, McGinty filed a Freedom of Information Law request for an electronic copy of the database containing names and addresses of all gun permit holders who live in New York City.

The NYPD gave her the names, too, but refused to give her the accompanying addresses, arguing that doing so might endanger the life or safety of permit-holders.

In court, the police department also argued that the law allowed it to withhold the addresses if it believed that they would be used for fund-raising or commercial purposes.

McGinty went on to submit an affidavit affirming that she did not intend to use the names or addresses for solicitation or fund-raising purposes, nor would she give the information to anyone with that intention.

The judge argued that others could use the published data for those purposes if it were published, which complicated the issue; ultimately, she ruled that the list should be released to the Times, but that some redactions could be allowed:

Inasmuch as the Times could not control the use to which others might put the addresses requested from the NYPD, were the Times to place them on the Internet, Ms. McGinty‘s affidavit, in effect, bars the Times from putting the addresses on line. Accordingly, the Times is entitled to have the residential addresses of gun licensees in searchable electronic form, as already redacted to delete the names and addresses of retired law enforcement officers and several current or former civilian government employees. Petitioners have not opposed such redaction.

The NYPD appealed the verdict, and the case was argued before the appellate division in May, and is awaiting a decision. If another decision comes down against the NYPD, it’s likely to go to the Court of Appeals.

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