Exemption for professors dies a quiet death in Maryland…

A bill introduced in the General Assembly to shield professors at state universities from politics-driven public record requests has been withdrawn after its House sponsor concluded no new law was needed.

The Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association, which had opposed the bill at public hearings, hailed the decision by Del. Sandy Rosenberg as “good news.”

Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, had introduced a bill that would have broadened the categories of information that universities could deny in response to requests under the state’s Public Information Act.

He said the legislation was prompted in part by a case in Wisconsin where the state Republican Party sought the emails of aUniversity of Wisconsin history professor in an attempt to show he had misused his position to intervene in a nationally watched dispute in that state over the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Once released, the emails failed to support the GOP’s suspicions, but some academics said such requests could have a chilling effect on professors who wanted to weigh in on public issues. Rosenberg said the purpose of his bill was to protect academic freedom from “requests that appear very political in nature.”

John J. Murphy, executive director of the press association, said his group — which represents media outlets including The Baltimore Sun — thought the bill went too far.

“We thought the current law as it now stands protects academics from harassment,” he said.

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FOI At Work: E-mails document Sherrod reaction in White House

A new trove of emails acquired by Judicial Watch show that the White House was intimately involved in managing the fallout from the Shirley Sherrod story, in which the USDA employee was forced to resign after Andrew Breitbart posted a fragmented video of one of her speeches to his website, Big Government.

At the time, then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs blamed Sherrod’s firing onAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and said the White House had been informed but not “consulted” about the firing. In fact, the White House was involved almost from the moment the story broke, and USDA officials understood some of the larger context of her statements before they forced her resignation.

The emails, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the White House both knew about the story from the beginning and signed off on the wording of Vilsack’s statement explaining his acceptance of Sherrod’s resignation the evening it happened.

Some of this timeline was already revealed through an August 2010 Associated Press story, based on interviews with White House and USDA officials, that found “a greater level of White House involvement in the incident than officials initially let on.”

But the emails provide a newly detailed portrait of the panic that beset the USDA and White House as the story gathered steam – panic driven in part by fear of what Fox News would do with it. The emails also show how that panic pushed USDA officials to rush past the partial context that was already embedded in the original video out of worries over how the story would play.

The White House learned there was a problem in the middle of the afternoon of Monday, July 19, 2010. That morning, Breitbart posted a clip of Sherrod giving a speech to an NAACP audience in Georgia in which she recounted a story about not giving a white farmer the “full force of what I could do” back in 1986, writing that it was a “racist tale.”

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.

FOI At Work: D.C. Unrivaled in Parking Ticket Revenue

The cost of gasoline may be gnawing a hole in many wallets, but the cost of going nowhere in the District cost people who failed to mind the parking meter a record $92.6 million last year.

That amount for fiscal 2011 was more than $12 million higher than the previous year, according to data that the American Automobile Association obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“When it comes to the sheer number of parking tickets written each day and the overall amount of parking ticket fines collected, the District of Columbia is the envy of cities large and small around the country,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA.

Townsend calculated that the District takes in an average of $370,000 in parking fines every working day of the year.

“If the city were to stack the amount of parking fines collected in single dollar bills, it would nearly reach to the average altitude that a commercial airliner flies above the surface of the Earth,” Townsend said.

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Climategate Stops at the Virginia Supreme Court

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s quest to obtain records from a noted climate scientist has been halted by state’s Supreme Court.

The court ruled that Cuccinelli did not have the authority to subpoena records from Michael Mann, one of climatologists who put together the “hockey stick graph,” which came under attack during the “climategate” scandal. Mann used to work at the University of Virginia, but now teaches at Penn State.

As we reported last May, the school already released a large cache of emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request brought by a conservative climate organization.

The records Cuccinelli is looking for, however, are grant applications. The AP reports he is trying to prove that Mann “defrauded taxpayers by using manipulated data to obtain government grants.”

Mann has been vindicated by a variety of investigations, which sifted through the leaked emails and found Mann had not manipulated data in order to make the case in favor of climate change.

More coverage here

English: Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cucc...

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Three Federal FOIA Wins in One Week?

A huge week for federal FOIA, and the federal judiciary getting it right….

The U.S. Justice Department has lost three significant court rulings over records sought by the public under the Freedom of Information Act, including a rare order to release a classified document.

English: Internal CIA memo, released under the...

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The rulings have been issued recently by judges in federal district court in Washington. Two of the judges have ruled that protecting the privacy of congressmen is not enough reason to withhold records about corruption investigations of the lawmakers.

The third ruling, from U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts, said the U.S. Trade Representative must turn over a position paper prepared during negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, conducted in the 1990s and 2000s, which never resulted in a deal. The Justice Department had argued that disclosure of the document would damage foreign relations since it agreed with other nations that documents produced during the negotiations would not be released to the public.

On Wednesday, Roberts sided with the Center for International Environmental Law in finding there were no plausible or logical explanations to justify the secrecy. He cited the member nations’ agreement that all documents produced during negotiations would be publicly available at the end of next year unless a country objects to the release of one of its own documents. He said that was evidence that the confidentiality was meant to give the participating nations a way to release their own materials, rather than keep other countries from releasing theirs.

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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.”