The Constitutional Challenge to Arkansas Sunshine is Getting Weird…

A western Arkansas judge has refused a request from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to review a ruling against part of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, a move likely to send the case to the state Supreme Court.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox said in a brief letter Tuesday that he didn’t see the need to temporarily halt the effect of his Oct. 4 ruling declaring that the criminal penalty of the state sunshine law was unconstitutional.

The judge also denied the attorney general’s request to intervene in the case so his office could formally defend the law in court.

“I conducted a trial in this case in which the issues were thoroughly presented after notice had been given to all interested parties,” Cox said in his letter. “I have been unable to discern any new information … which compels me to amend the final order which was entered in this case.”

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act has a possible criminal penalty, a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail, for violators of the law. When the city of Fort Smith was sued by a local attorney over several conversations between the former city administrator and board members, Fort Smith’s attorneys argued the law was too vague for the criminal penalty to be fair.

Cox agreed, saying in his decision that the state Supreme Court had erred in previous rulings on the law and the Arkansas Legislature needed to clarify whether sending emails, making phone calls or handing out material before a meeting could be considered a violation.

In Chesterfield, Missouri, Driving So Drunk You Pee Your Pants = Illegal Parking Citation

A Patch columnist spins a tale sure to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck:

I filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office about Chesterfield refusing to release a 2011 arrest report, incident and accident reports of ex-sports announcer Dan McLaughlin, as required by state law. McLaughlin was arrested DWI in Chesterfield, twice.

I hired a lawyer to represent me and possibly file suit in circuit court to force the Chesterfield police department to obey the state’s Sunshine Law. (This law upholds the public’s right to participate in the public’s business, and see its documents—without cost or hassle.)

I didn’t hire just any attorney, but one who for 30 years was a city attorney for a number of county municipalities. He also just retired after serving a quarter of a century as the city judge in Kirkwood.

Chesterfield is taking a somewhat odd stand here. I have requested similar reports of accidents and DWI arrests from neighboring Town and Country police for an online newsletter I write, and was immediately given the reports. I have spoken to two people at the state Attorney General’s Office and they have agreed that under the law, Chesterfield owes me some reports.

The real money graf:

I eventually got a copy of the court documents and quickly realized why the judge or the prosecutor probably didn’t want anyone to see the file.

On the night of his arrest in 2010, McLaughlin was falling down drunk, had slurred speech, offered a bribe to the officer to drive him home, refused to take a breath test and then refused to sign the citation.

On the DWI charge he was given a 2-year suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) with no conditions, such as doing community service, attending a driver improvement school, or attending a DWI Victim’s Impact Panel. McLaughlin was required to do nothing and got a probation that would keep his driving record clear of any hint of a DWI guilty plea.

The charge of Failure to Drive in a Lane (weaving) was reduced to ILLEGAL PARKING and he was fined $350 and $26.50 in court costs.




Obama Administration Issues WikiLeaks Executive Order….

By executive order, President Obama will instruct federal agencies today to better safeguard their classified secrets, to set up internal audit systems, and to make sure that reluctance to share critical intelligence in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks exposure does not hamper collaboration across agencies.

The so-called “WikiLeaks” executive order has been long awaited by the national security establishment and by the privacy and civil liberties communities. It was provided by the White House to National Journal. The order creates a government-wide steering committee to create and assess information sharing policies across the government, as well as a mechanism to determine whether internal auditing procedures work properly.

Connecticut’s High Court to Hear FOI Case Involving UConn Ticket Holder Info

Connecticut’s highest court will soon consider whether the University of Connecticut must release its season ticket holders’ names and some other lists under open records laws.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled an Oct. 21 hearing on the case, which stems from a Freedom of Information Commission decision in 2009.

That agency ordered UConn to provide the records to alumnus and former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto. He’d requested them to reach more people for a new advocacy and watchdog group.

New Mexico Group: Private Contractors Don’t Make Info Non-Public

Passing along from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government….

The government cannot shield public information by putting it in the hands of private contractors.

That’s the central argument made by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government in a legal brief filed Sept. 26 with the state Court of Appeals.

“The district court’s government contractor exception limits the public information available to citizens,” NMFOG attorney Randolph Barnhouse wrote. “The information withheld under the shield of this exception can be the most essential for citizens to obtain on important issues regarding outsourced governmental activities. This type of secrecy has a number of harmful effects on the power of citizens, disarming them of the information they need in order effectively to promote their interests.”

The case began when Truth or Consequences resident Deborah Toomey asked to review video recordings of past city-commission meetings. Video of the meetings had been broadcast on the city’s public-access cable channel, and it was recorded by a non-profit organization hired by the city to manage the channel and produce content.

Yet a district judge ruled in 2010 that Toomey had no right to review the recordings under the Inspection of Public Records Act, since the non-profit organization itself is not a public body.

NMFOG’s brief argues that this narrow interpretation of New Mexico’s sunshine law undermines the public’s ability to scrutinize government actions, and invites abuse by government officials seeking to shield public records from disclosure. Barnhouse points to four other states – Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Wisconsin – whose courts have concluded that contractor-held public records must be disclosed.

“We’re not saying that every contractor that does business with the government needs to open its books to the public,” NMFOG Executive Director Sarah Welsh said. “Far from it. We are saying that if it looks like a public record and it quacks like a public record, it’s a public record. The government can’t just bring in a middleman to make it private. The public’s right to know, and to scrutinize government, is too important to allow that kind of loophole.”