NC Court Rules on UNC NCAA Investigation Records…

Here is a really excellent, detailed blog post on the recent NCAA records ruling involving the scandal in the University of North Carolina athletic department:

North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard Manning recently ruled on the scope of protection for documents related to the highly-publicized investigation of irregularities in the University of North Carolina football program. The Court held that the majority of communications among attorneys are protected from disclosure, but that other categories of investigative documents must be disclosed as public records of a public agency. The Court also ruled that portions of former UNC football coach Butch Davis’ personal cell phone records must be disclosed.  The Court’s rulings are available here and here, and a discussion of a subsequent order entered by the Court is linked here.

Secret Arbitration

HUGE win for the Delaware Coalition for Open Government!

A Delaware law allowing Court of Chancery judges to preside over secret arbitration in business disputes is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, which argued that the secret proceedings violated the rights of citizens to attend judicial proceedings and access court records.

In a 26-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Mary McLaughlin agreed that the Chancery Court, which often presides over high-profile business disputes involving some of the world’s largest corporations, cannot conduct secret arbitration.

McLaughlin noted that under the arbitration process, a sitting judge hears evidence, finds facts and issues enforceable orders.

“The court concludes that the Delaware proceeding functions essentially as a non-jury trial before a Chancery Court judge,” wrote McLaughlin, who heard oral arguments in February. “Because it is a civil trial, there is a qualified right of access and this proceeding must be open to the public.”

Wisconsin High Court: No, Agencies Can Not Charge for Redaction….

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday against the City of Milwaukee and for the Journal Sentinel in a dispute over whether a government body can charge for its employees to delete information deemed confidential from public records. Reversing a Milwaukee County judge’s ruling, the high court said Wisconsin’s 30-year-old public records law has never allowed public agencies to charge requesters for redacting information from records. The city argued it could charge for redacting under provisions of the law that allow fees to be charged for locating and copying records. The Supreme Court rejected that argument and said such fees could be used by governmental bodies to effectively deny release of records. “This case is not about a direct denial of public access to records, but the issue in the present case directly implicates the accessibility of government records,” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote in the decision. “The greater the fee imposed on a requester of a public record, the less likely the requester will be willing and able to successfully make a record request.”

A Great American Tradition: Suing Them Yourself…

A riveting account of suing the government over FOIA, from a pro se litigant’s perspective:

Inside well-funded newsrooms, investigative reporters can usually turn to company lawyers for help with stalled public records requests. But independent freelancers don’t have that luxury, and many can’t afford to hire legal counsel on their own. So when the time comes to stop asking the government for public records and start demanding them, what can a low-to-no budget freelancer without legal counsel do?

To start, it’s possible to act as your own attorney and sue for access to information without the benefit of legal counsel—a tactic called pro se representation. Over the past few years, as the U.S. economy has taken a nosedive, more and more people have elected to save on legal fees by representing themselves in court. “It’s generally a bad idea for people to represent themselves in court, period,” said Geoff King, Northern California’s SPJ FOI committee co-chair and a former staff attorney for the First Amendment Project. King, ever the comedian, quoted an adage to me via e-mail: “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Still, when it comes to FOIA-related lawsuits, there are plenty of resources out there to prevent pro se litigants from looking silly.

The high cost of fighting secrecy…

A three-year court battle between the Mail Tribune and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters over concealed handgun license public records has cost the county nearly $44,000.

Winters was required to pay the newspaper’s legal expenses after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in June that Winters was wrong to deny the Mail Tribune’s request for the names of 2006 and 2007 concealed handgun licensees. The newspaper sent a bill of about $20,674, while the county’s own legal expenses reached about $22,860, according to the county counsel’s office.

“We really had no desire to see the sheriff spend money on legal fees instead of patrol deputies, but we also think it’s important to make sure that public officials follow the law themselves and that they make every effort to keep public records open to the public,” said Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter.

The newspaper had sought the public records to discover how many teachers in the county had permits to carry a concealed handgun.

That information was pertinent to another story the newspaper was covering in 2007 involving Shirley Katz, an English teacher at South Medford High School, who sued the Medford School District seeking to be allowed to carry her concealed handgun on campus.

“I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again: If the sheriff or anybody else wants to make concealed weapons permits exempt from public records laws, they should go to the Legislature and ask them to do it,” Hunter said.

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