The Estate of Denial (remember when most blogs had great names like that?) points to this article documenting a change that began in 2006 in the Colorado courts regarding access to court documents.
Court reporter Alan Prendergast describes the effect on his own court reporting of these changes:
Often what results from this is not a total shutdown of records but a process of slow torture that amounts to effective denial. On a recent visit to the Arapahoe County courts, I humbly submitted my request for several criminal records. I was told each of the records would have to be redacted, page by page, by a court clerk to eliminate any personal information. No problem, I’d dealt with this before, was prepared for a slight delay, and knew there was slim chance any such information would be found in these files. They’d have to be read just the same, the clerk explained, and also reviewed by “our criminal team.” That was a new wrinkle, but okay. Except after some further checking, she announced this was all going to take several days, and one file was so voluminous it was doubtful that I would get to see it before the next Olympics.
Prendergast also mentions the privacy rights of sexual assault victims:
For years, hand-wringers in the judicial system have fretted over largely hypothetical “privacy issues” involving court files. State courts now routinely redact the names of sexual assault victims in court records, for example — even though newspapers have voluntary but mightily consistent policies of not publishing such names.
In 2009, how much does it matter that newspapers have a voluntary policy of not publishing these names? What about bloggers, who have a proven tendency not to take seriously the policies of newspapers?
If society wants to help rape victims make the difficult decision to report what happened to law enforcement, it needs to protect their privacy. If the only thing standing between the names of rape victims being made public is the voluntary discretion of an increasingly small part of the publishing world, I can see why Colorado’s courts would have made the decision to exempt those names from public disclosure.
Colorado transparency headlines.
The Associated Press has discovered through a Colorado Open Records Request that the state’s Department of Natural Resources told a state legislative committee in 2007 that a proposed set of regulations would cost $6,840 every year to monitor. That was Plan B.
Meanwhile the same agency had in hand their own Plan A, suggesting that proposal would cost $1.2 million every year.
Excuse me while I call my husband to tell him that I’ve found a deluxe two-week Caribbean vacation package for 17 cents.
Lawmakers withheld budget figure.
Who supports school spending transparency in Colorado?
Some determined citizens.
Free and fair elections? In Orange County, not so much.
Salaries of public employees should be kept secret because…um, because…
The downside of putting government spending online? People look at it.
DuPage County auditor puts spending online.
The Michigan Education Association appears to be competing for the Fact Blocker of the Year Award.
Sometimes all you can say is “Good luck with that”.
County commish can’t find anti-Michelle e-mails; records request declined.
And if that doesn’t work, sue them. With a bunch of your friends.
Jon Corzine, NJ gov, doesn’t have to give the public his e-mails with former girlfriend and labor leader Carla Katz and not everyone is happy about that.
Bucks County is advised to put the checkbook register online. It saves scarce money in the long run. And less whining?
South Carolina public schools rank in the bottom five compared to other states in terms of educational achievement. So people would like to know how they spend their money. Good luck with that.
Mike Easley got some of that ol’ time FOIA religion. As he left office.
What a rip. Apparently in Texas, state senators can do “outside work” like charging a school district $3.8 million for “legal fees”. I’m sure it’s all for the kids.
“The websites do not serve to provide information to the general public, therefore we find that you are not a representative of the news media.” So you can’t have reduced FOIA fees.
Randy Kettner is spotlighting the open government activism of Natalie Menten.
Menten is mostly requesting records having to do with spending and then making the information available in a searchable database.
The case of Denver Post v. Ritter was decided on Tuesday by Denver district judge Morris Hoffman.
Gov. Ritter carries a private cell phone with him and sometimes uses it to make calls about government business. The newspaper wanted access to the records of that private cell phone about any calls made on it that had to do with government business.
Judge Hoffman dismissed their lawsuit; the paper is considering an appeal.
This reminds me of a discussion I had with a real live statewide constitutional officer for one of our great 50 states several months ago. We fell into a discussion of public records and email; he said that he tells his staff to text sensitive material rather than send it in an email because public records can’t be used to get text messages.
So, I’d have to say that this judicial ruling sent a bad message; namely, “Want folks not to know about the phone calls you and those lobbyists for (Big Labor/Big Oil; take your pick) are always on? Here’s a tip…run down to U.S. Cellular and buy a private cell phone and make all the calls you don’t want people to know about on that phone.”
Allow me to introduce you to Bill Hugenberg, this week’s highly deserving Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week.
Mr. Hugenberg lives in Mesa County, Colorado.
Some of Mr. Hugenberg’s accomplishments:
60% of requests in the county under the Colorado Open Records Act are filed by him.
A county commission meeting was abruptly ended when Hugenberg challenged the commission on whether it was leaving the county open to litigation over its policy of having the commissioners pray at the start of each meeting.
He has been called “selfish and narcissistic”.
According to Hugenberg, the county commission has taken the position that “any idea I come up with is necessarily a bad idea.”
Clearly, he is a troublemaker. (Read more here.)
If he sent around the country his recipe for causing county commission meetings to end prematurely, he’d be a very popular STOTW, wouldn’t he?
Mr. Hugenberg, keep that county on its toes and welcome to gadfly central.
The City of San Jose wants to require its police force to release more documents to the public than the state’s sunshine law requires. As they pursue this objective, a county district attorney has argued that the city can’t go further than state law.
The editorial staff of the Rocky Mountain News argues against a bill proposed in the Colorado house, HB 1082, that would seal from public view criminal records that are ten years old, as long as the perp has maintained a clean record during that time: Don’t Seal Those Records.
The city of Jackson, Florida, must pay $41,000 in legal fees to the Jackson Sun. The Jackson Sun was forced to go to court to obtain public records that the city willfully and illegally (as determined by a judge) withheld. Pity the taxpayers.
In Hoboken, New Jersey, activist and city council member Beth Mason lost an appeal last week of a judicial ruling that her open records requests were too broad. Mason says that this ruling means that unless a citizen knows the exact title and date of a document, they won’t be able to get it. Mason had sought information about the city’s park plans. The mayor of Hoboken is under the impression that Mason is wasting taxpayer dollars with her requests. Possibly Mason believes that she is attempting to save taxpayer dollars by finding out how the city makes its decisions about parks.
So says Colorado legislator Rep. Rosemary Marshall (D), according to the Rocky Mountain News.
Still, Rep. Marshall is trying to make things more private by sponsoring legislation in her state that would exempt from public disclosure any memos, letters and e-mails penned by state legislators, their staff, or any of their favorite lobbyist interlocutors “if they include discussions of a proposed bill.”
The Rocky Mountain News also notes that Rep. Marshall is “embroiled in a legal battle with a Republican website”, Face the State.
I don’t know which is worse…not being able to learn what a lobbyist has to say about a bill while it is still in the proposed stage, or being embroiled in a legal dispute with a website.
Can’t an honest newspaper file an open records request without a city attorney writing a plaintive letter saying “Why is the newspaper so mad at the city?”
I’m going to give you a clue, Attorney Wells, about why the newspaper is so mad at Fort Morgan.
I am guessing it is because:
“…the records The Times originally asked for were destroyed.”
I know that would make me angry. And then I would be even angrier if instead of getting the public records I had asked for, I got treated to your puzzled quasi-therapeutic non-responsive response.
In this case, the city is also expressing concern that taxpayer dollars will have to be used because of the lawsuit the newspaper (the Fort Morgan Times) is threatening.
Here’s another clue: If you are withholding (or destroying) public documents, and cause the newspaper to have to sue you to get those public documents, it is entirely your own responsibility if taxpayer resources are wasted unsuccessfully defending your non-right to withhold public documents.