FOI At Work: 911 Records

This story made possible by FOI:

A barrage of frantic 911 calls made by motorists moments before Diane Schuler’s drunken crash killed eight people has finally been made public, bringing the tragedy back to life for a Yonkers man who lost two relatives that day…

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Bendable straws….really?

Sarah Palin holding a T-shirt related to the G...
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Speakers’ contracts are ALWAYS a lot of fun to obtain via FOI — try it on your local campus! Sarah Palin fought like a, well, renegade, but lost her bid to keep her contract secret….

A California university on Thursday released Sarah Palin’s contract for a June speech in order to comply with a court order.

California State University, Stanislaus, made the nine-page document public after saying earlier in the day that it did not have a copy.

The school said it obtained the contract from its nonprofit foundation arm, which handled the negotiations with the Washington Speakers Bureau to arrange the former Alaska governor’s appearance at a fundraiser.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne on Monday ordered CSU to hand over the contract, along with other documents related to Palin’s June 25 appearance at the university’s Turlock campus. The open-government group Californians Aware had filed a lawsuit in April accusing the university of violating its disclosure obligations under the California Public Records Act.

The contract, dated March 18, includes Palin’s $75,000 speaking fee—an amount the foundation made public in July. Other requests include first-class airfare for two from Anchorage to California—if she flies commercial. If not, “the private aircraft MUST BE a Lear 60 or larger …,” the contract specified.

The contract also said Palin must be provided with a suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel near the Central Valley campus. During her speech, her lectern must be stocked with two unopened water bottles and bendable straws.

Here is the contract.

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An indictment for sharing information?

Map of Texas highlighting Nueces County
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This is an incredible story

A Nueces County grand jury on Friday indicted the executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on two felony counts related to the release of information about an inmate suicide.

Adan Munoz, 62, was indicted on two counts of misuse of official information, according to online court records.

District Attorney Anna Jimenez said the charges stem from allegations that Munoz released a document to KIII-TV reporter Rudy Trevino and Caller-Times reporter Jaime Powell that related to a suicide at the Nueces County Jail.

Munoz has not been arrested and said he only heard about the allegations from reporters. He had no further comment on the indictment.

Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin said Munoz responded to a public records request from at least one reporter by sending a document from an ongoing criminal investigation at the Nueces County Jail.

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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.

Amazing the things that have to be litigated in FOI land…

The First Amendment Center brings us today’s fresh heaping of outrage…

Citizen complaints brought against police are subject to public disclosure, according to a state Court of Appeals ruling that reinforces a New Mexico sunshine law granting access to government records.

The court ruled this week against the state Department of Public Safety, which refused to release complaints against one of its law enforcement officers on grounds that they were confidential personnel records.

In a unanimous ruling, the court disagreed and said the complaints were not covered by exceptions in the Inspection of Public Record Act that provide for the confidentiality of “matters of opinion in personnel files” and “letters of reference concerning employment.”

At issue was a public-records request filed by a former captain with the state Motor Transportation Police Division, Charles Cox, who was fired in 2005 for making a racist comment about a black patrolman and for discrimination against a female employee.

Sounds like a road trip!

Parliament Building in Reykjavík, Iceland
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After Iceland‘s near-economic collapse laid bare deep-seated corruption, the country aims to become a safe haven for journalists and whistleblowers from around the globe by creating the world’s most far-reaching freedom of information legislation.

On 16 June a unanimous parliament voted in favour of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a resolution aimed at protecting investigative journalists and their sources.

‘We took all the best laws from around the world and pulled them together, just like tax havens do, in order to create freedom of information and expression, a transparency haven,’ Birgitta Jonsdottir, the member of parliament behind the initiative, said.

Describing herself as an ‘anarchist’, the 43-year-old said she had decided to get into politics to seize the opportunities to change the system in Iceland following its dramatic financial collapse at the end of 2008.

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Rav rave: Get copies of company complaints to FTC

I rave about Michael Ravnitzky ( He’s gathered thousands of federal records and knows his way around FOIA probably more than anyone else. He recently posted tips on the FOI Listserv on how to get copies of complaints against companies that have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission. This is how, in his words:

“Just send a letter, fax or email to:

Freedom of Information Act Request
Office of General Counsel
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
Fax number for the FOIA branch is (202) 326-2477
The e-mail address is FOIA@FTC.GOV

In the letter indicate that you would like copies of complaints mentioning a
particular company or companies, or any organization.

Or else, in your letter, indicate you would like a copy of complaints
mentioning a particular product or keyword.

If you are a news media requester, you should identify that fact and that
the request is being submitted for news reporting purposes.”

Scanners yield FOI fruit

An example of Airport security.
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It’s official: a full-body security scanner can theoretically store your blurry nude picture. After a Freedom of Information Act request from the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, the U.S. Marshals Service released 100 of 35,314 stored images taken by a scanner at an Orlando, Florida, courthouse. Though airport security scanners use similar radio wave technology to get a hazy peek under your clothes, whether these scanners can store your image still seems unclear.

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A GREAT Use of sports!

This is a sportswriter in a documents state of mind!

Florida associate athletic director Greg McGarity and long-time NFL executive Jim Steeg are among 49 people who have asked to be considered for the vacant athletic-director position at the University of Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday obtained, under Georgia’s Open Records Act, copies of e-mails, letters and resumes submitted to UGA by McGarity, Steeg and others applying for the position vacated by the resignation last month of Damon Evans.