This and That of Recent Interest

Workshop for Journalists on Getting and Using Public Records — David Cuillier, national Freedom of Information trainer for the Society of Professional Journalists, will conduct a workshop for reporters and other news and opinion writers on Tuesday, June 26, at the KQED offices in San Francisco. Admission is free for SPJ members and $10 for non-members. More

Bill to Make Secret Property Records of Criminal Justice Officials StallsAB 2299 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) failed to get even a motion in the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance Wednesday, despite a platoon of law enforcement lobbyists on hand to register their support.  The committee consultant’s analysis of the bill gives a good sense of what it sought to do and why it stalled.

Ambitious Sunshine Ordinance on the November Ballot in Dixon — Residents of this small (18,000 plus) Solano County city will have the chance to go well beyond the Brown Act and Public Records Act in mandating open and accessible government for their community.  For example, one rule would provide that the taxpayer would no longer pay the attorneys fees of those winning lawsuits brought to enforce the sunshine laws.  That obligation would fall on the city attorney if his or her advice led to the violation, or the city official(s) who got good advice from the city attorney but disregarded it. More

Disclosing Classified Information Usually Doesn’t Break the Law — “It ain’t so much what we don’t know that gets us into trouble. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.” Variously attributed to Mark Twain, Will Rogers and perhaps others, this observation applies to political and legal facts everybody knows that, awkwardly, don’t square with reality.  National secrecy-watcher Steven Aftergood points out, for example, that disclosing classified information may get a government employee fired, but it’s usually not a crime for either the employee or those who pass the information on. More

Latest Media Access to Prisons Bill Nears Finish

While the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1974 that  journalists had no First Amendment right to schedule personal media interviews with prison inmates, for the next two decades the actual policy of the California Department of Corrections was to honor media requests for interviews with willing prisoners.  But in 1996, after reports about inhumane conditions at Pelican Bay made the Wilson Administration uncomfortable, the department used “emergency” regulations to cut off the customary access, and over the years since then six bills passed by the legislature to restore it have been vetoed by Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger.

The latest effort, AB 1270 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), has passed the Assembly and on Tuesday cleared the Senate’s policy hurdle, the Public Safety Committee, on a 4-2 vote.  It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for cost impact vetting, and if passed there it would go to its last vote on the Senate floor.

A report by a clearly partial organization (the press did not cover the hearing) nonethless conveys how the support base for media access to prisons has grown far beyond mere media urging. The main questions remaining: Will Governor Brown provide the seventh disingenuous veto message in the series?  And if he signes the bill, how many reporters do the shrinking newspapers have left to take advantage of the restored right to interview?

Journalists Get to Watch Idaho's Lethal Needlework

Our constitutional standards dictate that when the state punishes crime by killing the criminal, the act must be humane—not “cruel or unusual.”  Those states moving to lethal injection as a less brutal method of execution than, say, electrocution or gassing are thus left with only two real bases for legal challenge in this context. Do the injected chemicals themselves cause avoidable physiological torment once in the system, or does the search for an optimum blood vessel to inject involve needlessly hurtful trial and error?

The latter issue can be monitored by those the state permits to witness executions only if it is not hidden from them, but shrouding these preliminaries from observation has continued to be a practice in the State of Idaho until now, when journalists have convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that a decision it reached in a case involving a San Quentin injection in the 1990s should set the standard for an impending execution in Boise: let the whole process be watched by those who with the right to watch it at all. Rebecca Boone reports the result for the Associated Press.

Most interesting detail: “They used a blood pressure cuff to enlarge the veins in his elbows, starting with the right, then the left. They cleaned his arms repeatedly with alcohol wipes to prevent infection — in case the execution was called off at the last minute.”

The Difference between Leaks and Whistleblowing

A whistleblower is an insider who wants to right a wrong and usually tries going up the chain of command to do it before going public, which is often the only option when his or her career suffers. A leaker is an insider who wants to get political attention to a situation—to generate either praise or criticism for a policy or practice—by using a reporter as a publicity outlet, almost always without career risk. Justice often depends on whistleblowers; politics often depends on leaks. We should not forget these distinctions, says David Sirota in Salon.

Lawsuit Challenges Officials' Use of Private Email

Can public officials use their private email accounts to conduct public business without having them scrutinized by those requesting to see them under the California Public Records Act?  That’s the issue raised in a lawsuit just filed in Placer County Superior Court by a citizen curious about  which groups have been having what influence on Auburn city council members on such issues as the recently failed ballot proposal to convert to charter city status.  Sara Seyddin reports for the Auburn Journal.

L.A. Times, CalAware Demand Open Coliseum Deal Records

The Los Angeles Times and Californians Aware have separately demanded that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission open all records documenting its recent decision to lease the Coliseum to the University of Southern California for 42 years.  The records disclosure is demanded as a corrective for what the Times and CalAware say was a persistent practice of using closed sessions to discuss many deal points that the public should have had the opportunity to witness being deliberated.

If the disclosure demand, plus a withdrawal of the deal’s approval until the public has had a chance to review the records and an admission that the closed discussions violated the law, are not provided within 30 days, either or both challengers are poised to file suit under the Ralph M. Brown Act and ask the court to declare the deal null and void.