In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Alito, the U.S. Supreme Court today turned away a constitutional challenge to residency requirement of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. As we previously reported, the Court granted certiorari in a case brought by non-Virginians challenging that requirement under the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court's decision today affirmed a ruling by Fourth Circuit.
all public records shall be open to inspection and ...
The North Carolina Supreme Court last week split 3-3 on an appeal presenting important questions concerning the state’s Public Records Act, apparently leaving it for the General Assembly to close a gap in the law concerning the applicability of the records statute to campus police departments.
The case, Ochsner v. Elon University and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, presented, among other things, the question whether the campus police department of a private university is subject to the Public Records Act, where that department was certified and authorized pursuant ... Read More
Last week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear an important case involving Virginia's public records law. The case, McBurney v. Young, involves a challenge to a provision of the state law that says that "public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth . . . " (emphasis added). In other words, citizens of another state need not apply.
A challenge to this provision limiting the availability of public records to Virginia citizens was brought by, among other plaintiffs, a citizen of Rhode Island who used to live in Virginia and had his ... Read More
North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard Manning recently ruled on the scope of protection for documents related to the highly-publicized investigation of irregularities in the University of North Carolina football program. The Court held that the majority of communications among attorneys are protected from disclosure, but that other categories of investigative documents must be disclosed as public records of a public agency. The Court also ruled that portions of former UNC football coach Butch Davis’ personal cell phone records must be disclosed. The Court's rulings ... Read More
The Charlotte Observer was recently on the receiving end of a wave of criticism in response to public records requests it made to local government bodies in the Charlotte area. The criticism did not stem from what it asked for per se, but rather who did the asking and why.
As reported by Julie Rose of WFAE in Charlotte, the newspaper compiled tens of thousands of private email addresses by making public record requests of the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and other localities, seeking the addresses of those who had signed up for local government email updates. Such email updates ... Read More
A bill introduced this week in the North Carolina General Assembly would enshrine the value of government transparency into North Carolina's Constitution. North Carolina, like many states, provides citizens with a statutory basis for inspecting government records through its Public Records Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. 132-1 and for attending official meetings of public bodies through its Open Meetings Law, N.C. Gen. Stat. 143-318.9. However, the commitment to public access embodied in these laws is undermined by their numerous exceptions, such as exceptions in the Public ... Read More
As the 2011 session of North Carolina's General Assembly kicks off this week, we see the first (and likely not the last) salvo seeking to curtail access to public records in North Carolina. Representatives of the Durham Police Department have persuaded the N.C. Association of County Commissioners to lobby the legislature to revise North Carolina's Public Records Act so that it no longer provides unfettered access to 911 tapes. Instead, police departments would have to provide only written transcripts of recordings or recordings that obscure or distort the caller's voice.
As ... Read More
A number of media outlets instituted legal action yesterday against the University of North Carolina under North Carolina's Public Records Act, seeking several categories of records relating to the much-publicized investigation into UNC's football program this fall. The plaintiffs' complaint, which is available here, names several individual defendants, including UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, Athletic Director Dick Baddour, and head football coach Butch Davis.
The lawsuit presents an interesting collision between the openness obligations of a public institution and the ... Read More
In the early morning hours of July 10, the North Carolina General Assembly closed the 2009 session by passing a bill that adopts two important changes to North Carolina's Public Records Act. Both represent positive developments for government transparency in North Carolina. These changes begin with Section 18.(a) of House Bill 961.
The first set of changes expands an exception to the "personnel file" exception to the Public Records Act. The "personnel file" exception shields from public view certain documents relating to public employees in North Carolina. By ... Read More
In a case we first flagged back in October of 2009, the Supreme Court last week handed down its decision in Doe v. Reed, a case involving a First Amendment challenge to Washington state's public records act. The case presented an interesting collision of interests for the media, but the Court held 8-1 that the First Amendment did not prevent the disclosure, pursuant to the PRA, of the identities of those citizens who signed a petition seeking to place a referendum on the ballot.
When the Court granted cert in January, we described the case as follows:
The dispute in Doe v. Reed involves the ...
A committee of the Florida legislature this week approved on a party-line vote a bill that would require a court order to access 911 call recordings. This development follows on the heels of efforts in several other states to curtail access to 911 calls under state sunshine laws, a trend on which we previously reported.
On Wednesday, the Government Affairs Policy Committee of the Florida House of Representatives approved by an 8-5 vote proposed committee bill 10-03a, with all Republicans on the committee voting for it and all Democrats voting against. The bill would exempt "Any ... Read More
The New York Times ran an interesting report on how the bad economy has impacted newspapers' decisions on whether to litigate public record and access issues. The bottom line, according to the Times -- while smaller, regional news organizations are scaling back their legal efforts, large national outlets "have been quietly ramping up."
The Times cited in particular Hearst and the Associated Press as two organizations that have been as aggressive as ever in pushing state and federal officials on public record and access issues. According to the story, both are dealing with tighter ... Read More
The Associated Press reported this week of efforts underway in several states to limit access to 911 calls under state sunshine laws. According to the report, legislatures in Alabama, Ohio, and Wisconsin are considering bills that would pull back from the traditional availability of 911 recordings. Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wyoming currently exempt 911 calls from the operation of public records statutes.
In Alabama, HB 159 passed the Alabama House earlier this month. The bill, if enacted, would prevent the disclosure of 911 calls to the public without a prior order ... Read More
January has been a prolific month on the U.S. Supreme Court docket for cases raising First Amendment or other media issues. In addition to the Citizens United and Presley decisions addressing limits on corporate political speech and access to jury voir dire proceedings, the Supreme Court earlier this month agreed to hear a case out of the Ninth Circuit involving public access to the petitions that put in place a controversial Washington ballot initiative. The petitions were sought under a state sunshine law in an effort to learn the identities of those who ... Read More
The North Carolina Court of Appeals earlier this week affirmed in a 2-1 decision the dismissal of a public records action brought by the State Employees Association of North Carolina ("SEANC") against the North Carolina Department of the State Treasurer ("Treasury Department"). The decision, which held that SEANC failed to state a claim under the North Carolina Public Records Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. s. 132-1, et seq., is troubling in how the court approached both the substantive and procedural issues presented in the case.
The long-brewing dispute traces back to ... Read More
The U.S. Supreme Court took action today in a high-profile public records dispute, issuing a stay of a Ninth Circuit ruling that requires the release of the names of those who petitioned to include a referendum on the ballot in the State of Washington this November. The dispute relates to Referendum 71, a ballot initiative that would overturn a Washington law, passed this year, granting legal rights to domestic partners equivalent to those enjoyed by married couples. The initiative was launched by a conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage.
In order to appear on the ... Read More
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed a bill last week that would have allowed certain documents used in the legislative process to remain confidential.
House Bill 104 would have, among other provisions, made legislative "drafting requests," "information requests," and certain other documents submitted in connection with such requests confidential as a matter of state law -- the bill expressly exempted such materials from the state pubic records statute. Documents prepared by legislative employees at the request of lawmakers would also have been deemed ... Read More
In a closely watched case, a Leon County, Florida trial court judge held last week that records concerning an NCAA investigation into possible academic cheating by athletes at Florida State University were public records subject to disclosure. A coalition of media organizations had filed suit under Florida's public records law, seeking the release of transcripts from a 2008 NCAA hearing in which school and NCAA officials discussed the allegations of cheating.
The factual wrinkle that made this case unique was that University officials never actually received a paper copy of the ... Read More
Last week the North Carolina House passed H. 1134, a bill that would make it easier for private citizens and media organizations who prevail in public records disputes with government agencies to recover their legal fees. Although the bill is still up for consideration in the North Carolina Senate, having been received and referred to the Judiciary I committee, passage of H. 1134 in the House represents a significant breakthrough. Past efforts to strengthen the fee recovery provision of North Carolina's Public Records Act foundered in the House.
The bill, co-sponsored by ... Read More
January 2009 marks the start of a new year, with a new President in the White House and new Governors in a number of states, including North Carolina and Missouri. Two outgoing governors, North Carolina Governor Michael Easley and Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, faced intense conflict with the media during 2008 over the issue of retention of and public access to government e-mail messages under relevant public records laws. The conflicts were often heated but were ultimately resolved in anti-climatic fashion in the final days of their respective administrations.
In ... Read More
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