FOI At Work: There is a “Callin’ the Hogs” Line Somewhere, But I’m Gonna Let It Go…..

The man has suffered plenty, and then along came this…

Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and his mistress exchanged more than 4,300 text messages and nearly 300 phone calls over the past seven months — on game days, before dawn and even as the police report that hastened his downfall was being released to the public, according to a review of his business cellphone records by The Associated Press.

The messages, among some 300 pages of records released under a Freedom of Information Act request, appear to include picture and video files, though there was no way to verify the content. But the records clearly show a married father of four in frequent contact with Jessica Dorrell, a 25-year-old former Razorbacks volleyball player.

Petrino was fired Tuesday night for failing to disclose his relationship with Dorrell, whom he hired last month without disclosing his conflict of interest or the fact he had once paid her $20,000. Athletic director Jeff Long said he had determined their relationship had been ongoing for a “significant” amount of time, but he did not say for how long.

The phone records show that Petrino remained in close contact with Dorrell following the April 1 motorcycle accident in which Petrino suffered four broken ribs, a cracked neck vertebra and scrapes and bruises

That day, Petrino and Dorrell went for a motorcycle ride on a two-lane highway southeast of Fayetteville and skidded off the road. Petrino and Dorrell talked for 16 minutes earlier that day before the crash at 6:45 p.m., and they also had a 22-minute conversation the following day — while Petrino was apparently still in the hospital recovering.

The traditional "running hog" image ...

The traditional "running hog" image is once again the official logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Well, I’m Glad We Worked That Out. Too Bad It Took A State Supreme Court…

Is it just me, or did you think we had kind of already settled this point of law a decade ago?

Accident reports compiled by troopers and maintained in a state database should be treated as public records available by request, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Justices said in their 7-2 decision that the Washington State Patrol improperly withheld files from a person seeking location-specific records. He was asked to sign a document vowing that he would not use the records to sue the state.

The state had argued that a federal statute shielded the records because the documents were located in an electronic database that the Department of Transportation utilized for a federal hazard elimination program.

“Until 2003, citizens have been able to request and receive copies of accident reports specific to a location,” Justice Mary E. Fairhurst said in the majority opinion. “The state now asks us to place Washington citizens in a worse position than they would have been before (the federal statute). The state’s argument is rejected.”

The court also awarded plaintiff Michael Gendler an unspecified amount of attorney’s fees for the case. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Rob McKenna says attorneys are reviewing the decision to see what options they might have.

Gendler was paralyzed from the neck down in an October 2007 bike crash after his tire got caught in a grate on the Montlake Bridge in Seattle. He sued the state, claiming a gap between steel panels was more than a half-inch wide – enough to catch a bike tire.

Hey, You Know Those Dash Cams We Said Would Bring Needed Transparency? You Can’t See ‘Em

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 30:  A Seattle Police Depar...

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 30: A Seattle Police Department spokesman Jeff Keppel addresses the media following a search for a suspect in the killing of four police officers November 30, 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Police are still searching for Maurice Clemmons, a suspect who allegedly shot and killed four police officers at a coffee shop November 29. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

KOMO, in Seattle, won a major victory — with an ironic twist, and one that will keep them waiting up to three years to see police dashboard cam videos. The irony? When they asked for millions of dollars to buy the cameras, openness was one of the major selling points…

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers sued the Seattle Police Department for withholding dash-cam videos — videos that have proven to be damning, even incriminating, for the department.

A King County judge has fined the department for not giving KOMO 4 database information about the videos, but he still says Seattle police can withhold dash-cam video from the public for three years.

Those dash-cam videos can supply potentially critical evidence. They’re also public records.

That’s why KOMO sued the police department for not releasing the public records, which the media and the public has the right to see.

“The public should have access to these videos,” said KOMO attorney Judith Endejan.

KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder spent more than a year investigating the department and fighting for access to the police videos recorded on the dashboard of their patrol cars.

“These videos are clearly public record and the thing that’s ironic is when the system was purchased several years ago by the city, the police chief the mayor, they all touted the fact that we were spending several millions of dollars to improve public accountability,” Endejan said.

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The Vermont Legislature has some work to do…

As this decision makes clear, Vermont FOI law provides no right of access to law enforcement investigative records — even after the case is closed! That’s a wee problem, folks…

The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday granted a partial victory to the Rutland Herald in the newspaper’s effort to get access to records concerning allegations that Rutland city employees viewed pornography at work.

The justices issued the second decision in as many weeks in the Herald’s access-to-records fights. It said the paper can get access to disciplinary records stemming from the investigation of city public works employees, but the names of the workers will be blacked out.

But it barred similar access to a probe of city police department employees. The court ruled those records were exempt from disclosure because they were linked to the detection and investigation of crimes.

At the same time, the court suggested the Legislature re-examine the exemptions from disclosure under the Vermont public records law to see whether some criteria could be set up to make police investigative records public.

Robert Hemley, a Burlington-based lawyer who frequently works on First Amendment cases and represented the Herald, said the court re-emphasized that under Vermont law as currently written, there is no public access to records relating to police investigations of specific crimes — even when the case is over.

Maine rejects terrible FOI exemption…

The Maine House of Representatives decisively rejected an attempt to create a dangerous exemption to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which guarantees access to public records. From the ACLU:

LD 1805, “An Act to Implement Recommendations of the Right to Know Advisory Committee Concerning a Public Records Exception for Proposed Legislation, Reports and Working Papers of the Governor,” would have allowed the governor to hide from public scrutiny records relating to the decision-making process within his office.

“Transparency is fundamental to a healthy democracy. This bill would have created a significant exemption in Maine’s freedom of access laws and shielded the governor’s office from appropriate scrutiny,” said Shenna Bellows, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “We are grateful that the House has voted to reject this new and unnecessary exemption. The public has a legitimate right to access records, whether they are held in the governor’s office or any other part of state government.”

The House voted 98-47 against the bill.

“Today, lawmakers from all parties affirmed the importance of open government,” said Alysia Melnick, Public Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Maine. “With a governor’s broad authority to set the legislative agenda, introduce bills, create public policy and implement laws, it’s critical that information about executive operations and decision making be subject to public review.”

A Great New FOI Classroom!

Passing along this wonderful post from Sunlight on a fabulous new FOI classroom project! Love to see this kind of stuff!

On April 11, 2012 ten University of Utah Honors students will launch a state-wide public initiative which, if successful, will forever change how Utah citizens interact with their local governments.  The initiative, called the Utah Local Government Transparency Project, (the “Transparency Project”) is the end result of eight months of study by the students in an Honors College Think Tank on Transparency and Privacy.  The Think Tank explored the often competing paradigms of privacy and transparency and heard from leading local and national experts in the area of open government and privacy  (including Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation)  to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities, nuances and challenges of balancing and reconciling these two competing interests.  We learned many things, including the fact that local governments in Utah, with some notable exceptions, lagged behind many of their counterparts around the nation in terms of transparency.  A study of 16 selected Utah local governments conducted as part of the Project demonstrated a wide disparity in government transparency practices and identified many transparency deficiencies.  From this in-depth study the Transparency Project was born.  As explained in greater detail below, the centerpiece of the Project is five transparency “best practices” for local governments to adopt.

Go, Utes! Go!

FOI At Work: the punishments for docs who wrote sick notes for Wisconsin protesters…

An interesting nugget, courtesy of FOI:

The state medical school disciplined 20 doctors and fined 11 of them up to $4,000 for handing out sick notes to demonstrators at last year’s labor protests, newly released records show.

The records, requested by the Journal Sentinel last year under the state’s open records law, show for the first time the extent of the discipline given to those doctors by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

In several cases, doctors in more senior positions within the school also had to step away from those roles for a period of four months over one year. All the doctors were warned that further actions could result in them being fired.

“In the future, you are expected to adhere to the appropriate standards of doctor/patient interaction,” the letters sent to doctors in May and June of last year read.

The discipline records show that the physicians disciplined in most cases insisted they had acted correctly even when accepting the discipline, saying they believed they were helping public employees under stress rather than writing fake sick notes to allow demonstrators to skip work and keep protesting.