UCF Student Media Outlet Sues Its University….

Um, wow….

Student media outlet Knight News sued UCF and its president, John C. Hitt, on Feb. 21, claiming the university violated public records acts and sunshine laws.

According to a PDF of the lawsuit on Knight News’ website, the student media group listed 10 alleged violations including public records request denials involving UCF and SGA, as well as violations of the sunshine laws.

In response to the closure of the Feb. 15 Sigma Chi fraternity suspension hearing, Knight News is looking for ratification of the current denial status of public and media access to observe such hearings.

According to an email written by Knight News’ attorney Justin Hemlepp, this lawsuit is about protecting the public’s rights under Florida laws.

“The public doesn’t know how UCF has been handling these hearings, and that is exactly the point of our lawsuit: to open these hearings to the sunshine so the public can see how the university is making these decisions,” Hemleppsaid.

More here.

NFOIC Joins Washington State Lawsuit Over Guv’s Claims of Executive Privilege

Good for the good ‘ol NFOIC….

The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) has joined media associations and good government groups in asking the Washington state Supreme Court to limit Gov. Chris Gregoire’s authority to withhold documents from public scrutiny.

The case grew out of a lawsuit filed in April 2011 by the Olympia, Wash.-based Freedom Foundation, an NFOIC member organization in Washington state, over the governor’s claims of “executive privilege” as a basis for shielding records from disclosure.

At issue in the case are Gov. Gregoire’s claims of executive privilege to conceal records regarding a controversial, $2 billion proposed tunnel along the Seattle downtown waterfront to replace the elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct, in addition to other documents.

Other organizations supporting the Freedom Foundation’s position in amicus briefs filed in the lawsuit are Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Institute for Justice and the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG), also an NFOIC member organization.

The Freedom Foundation and its supporters say the governor should only be able to shield records from disclosure under the provisions of the state Public Records Act (PRA), which includes a “deliberative process” exemption. Gregoire’s attorneys say she is neither seeking to invalidate the PRA nor claim general immunity from it. They contend, however, that the constitutional separation-of-powers doctrine gives her additional authority to withhold documents in some instances.

Wisconsin Supremes Take Dispute Over Public Records Status of Legal Bills

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a law firm must disclose redacted portions of legal bills to a Juneau County newspaper under the state’s open records laws. The case is one of four recently accepted for review during the current term.

A lawyer with the Crivello Carlson law firm served as counsel to Juneau County’s sheriff in connection with a disciplinary matter. Juneau County retained the lawyer under its insurance contract, which covered the county’s defense in this type of disciplinary proceeding.

Crivello Carlsen sent its legal bills to the county’s insurer, Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corp. (WCMIC). Eventually, a reporter for the Juneau County Star-Times made a public records request for the legal bills.

The law firm provided redacted versions of the bills to the newspaper. The newspaper then sued the county, seeking the redacted portions of the legal bills. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the county, but an appeals court reversed.

In Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County, 2010AP2313, the supreme court is expected to decide whether the law firm must disclose the redacted portions of the legal bills submitted to the insurance company for legal services rendered to the county.

Vermont Supreme Court: Police Dispatch Records Are Public

Seems a bit amazing that it took a state’s high court to clear this little bit of FOI law up, but hey, that’s why litigation is so important…

Police dispatch logs are public records that must be disclosed except in limited circumstances, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday in overturning a lower-court decision that said those records are always secret.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of Stephen Bain, who had sought the records from Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark in a case that began in 2008. Bain, convicted of being a habitual offender, represented himself, according to the justices’ opinion, written by Associate Justice Denise Johnson.

A lower-court judge determined the dispatch logs fell within one of the many exceptions to Vermont’s Public Records Act — in this instance, the provision that allowed the withholding of “records dealing with the detection and investigation of crime.”

” We cannot assume, consistent with the purpose of the PRA, that simply because the records at issue were generated by a law enforcement agency, they necessarily are records ‘dealing with the detection and investigation of crime,’ ” Johnson wrote for the high court. “To so hold would allow for a ‘potentially limitless’ exemption.”

A Group of Openness Warriors Sues the CIA for Stonewalling

A wide-ranging class-action lawsuit was filed Wednesday challenging the Central Intelligence Agency’s practices for handling requests for its records from journalists, national security researchers and the general public.

The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, alleges that the CIA has thrown a series of unlawful hurdles in the path of Freedom of Information Act requesters, such as requiring that requesters commit to pay all fees in advance regardless of the amount, charging for automated searches that involve no actual employee time, and refusing to release records in electronic form.

Arkansas Supreme Court: Police Use-of-Force Records Are Public

Reports from police officers that explain why they use force against someone are not exempt from the state’s public record law, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The opinion from the state’s highest court came months after an attorney, Keith Hall, requested use-of-force reports in the case of an off-duty police officer who allegedly hit his client outside a Little Rock restaurant.

When Hall didn’t get the records he asked for, he filed a petition against Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas, claiming that Thomas violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Thomas argued that the reports are exempt from the public records law as employee-evaluation or job-performance records.

The matter made its way to a circuit court judge, who said the reports are not exempt from the public records law.

Thomas appealed that judge’s decision and the Supreme Court granted his request for a stay in the case.

In Thursday’s opinion written by Associate Justice Robert L. Brown, the Supreme Court sided with the lower court judge and said the use-of-force documents are public record.

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