Briefs & Comments

  • August 17, 2015

    CEI submitted a FOIA request to the Office of Science and Technology Policy asking for email its director maintained in a non-government email account. The government argued, and the district court agreed, that it did not have jurisdiction over the FOIA claim because the agency was not "withholding" the email. On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C. Cir.) the Reporters Committee argued that the district court conflated two separate, distinct inquiries in dismissing the FOIA claim, by focusing on whether the information was an "agency record." Given the increasing use of personal emails by government employees, access to such email when it concerns public business is crucial if the public is to be kept informed about what their government is up to.

  • July 24, 2015

    Prosecutors sought a broad gag order against Matthew Clendennen, one of more than 100 motorcycle riders arrested after a May shootout outside a restaurant in Waco, Texas, in which 9 people were killed and 18 injured. The court granted an order preventing all attorneys, their staff, law enforcement, and witnesses who have given statements to law enforcement from talking to the media about Clendennen's case. Clendennen appealed, and an amicus coalition led by the Reporters Committee argued that the gag order violated both the First Amendment and the Texas constitution because it was overbroad and vague. The trial court had made no findings that the news coverage of the incident was inflammatory or prejudicial, focusing instead on the quantity of news coverage.

  • July 22, 2015

    Abdur-Rashid filed a FOIL request with the New York Police Department after the Associated Press reported that the department was conducting surveillance of Muslim communities. The NYPD refused to confirm or deny whether responsive records existed -- which under federal FOIA is known as a "Glomar" response. The trial court accepted the department's argument. The Reporters Committee argued to the N.Y. Supreme Court Appellate Division (1st Dept.) that judicial incorporation of the Glomar doctrine into FOIL would work a profound change to this State's statutory open records regime that was not contemplated or adopted by the Legislature. Allowing state and local agencies to issue Glomar responses will make it more difficult for the press to keep citizens informed about the activities of their government, as journalists routinely rely on FOIL to gain access to important information.

  • June 19, 2015

    The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sought Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) data from the City and County of Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act. The City and County contended that all such data was exempt from disclosure as law enforcement records. The City and County prevailed at the trial and appellate court; ACLU and EFF filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of California. We argued that the breadth of the law enforcement exemption, as interpreted by the court of appeal, violated the constitutional obligation to construe exemptions from disclosure narrowly. Broad law enforcement exemptions shield too many records from public disclosure, and construing the Public Records Act to exempt these documents would significantly impair the ability of the press to inform the public about law enforcement activity.

  • June 16, 2015

    The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) solicited public comments regarding the counterterrorism programs conducted by the Intelligence Community pursuant to Executive Order 12333.The Reporters Committee argued that PCLOB should make public more information about the programs that are in place under E.O. 12333, both because uncertainty regarding surveillance results in an unconstitutional chilling effect on journalists and reporters, and because the surveillance programs themselves may infringe on constitutional rights.

  • June 15, 2015

    The Washington Post sought access to a sealed summary judgment motion and a sealed opinion granting summary judgment in a civil case in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The civil case was filed by a couple whose children were removed from their home on suspicion of child abuse. A family court later found no reason to suspect abuse, and the children were returned to the home. The Caplans later sued the Family Services Agency for negligent and malicious conduct, and the court denied public access to the case. The Post appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

  • June 4, 2015

    The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus brief arguing that the trial court had misapplied the "actual malice" standard and not required proof that the reporter knew a statement was false or recklessly disregarded the truth.

  • May 12, 2015

    The Reporters Committee and 28 other media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of an appeal of the denial of access to information from the Eric Garner grand jury investigation in Long Island, N.Y. The New York Post, along with a coalition of public interest groups that included the NYCLU, Legal Aid Society, the NYC Public Advocate and the Staten Island branch of the NAACP, petitioned for release of documents, transcripts, videos, photos, and other materials from the grand jury. Garner was killed when NYPD officers used a chokehold on him on July 17, 2014. The New York trial court ruled that none of the petitioners had articulated a "compelling and particularized need" for the material. On appeal, the Reporters Committee amicus brief argued that the public interest was best served by disclosing the grand jury materials in this case.

  • May 7, 2015

    This testimony was submitted to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public roundtable on the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The Reporters Committee's testimony argues that BWC videos are public records that should be treated the same as any other record under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. Additional information is provided regarding available technology that can be used to redact the videos for privacy and law enforcement concerns.

  • April 23, 2015

    Nevada Senate Bill 444, introduced in the Legislature with the support of casino owner Steve Wynn, aimed to scale back the protections of the state's anti-SLAPP law. The bill quickly passed the Senate and was under consideration by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary when the Reporters Committee wrote its letter.

    The Reporters Committee argued that, by making it easier for plaintiffs seeking to stifle public debate by embroiling speakers in meritless, protracted litigation, SB444 would chill speech on matters of interest and importance to the public. Nevada's anti-SLAPP law is strong in its protection of speech and special interests should not be able to weaken it to serve their own ends.

  • April 16, 2015

    The New Richmond News sought certain police reports under the Wisconsin open records law. The City redacted certain information from the reports, claiming that it was not allowed to provide it pursuant to the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). The amicus brief of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Reporters Committee argues that the requested records were not controlled by the DPPA, and even if they were, they fell under one of its permissible use exemptions. The brief also argues that the City's interpretation of the DPPA is not supported by other federal and state authorities, and the City's position would pose enormous burdens on records custodians and requesters, leading to a deprivation of public information.

  • April 1, 2015

    Photographer Paul Raef was prosecuted under California Vehicle Code 40008, basically an anti-paparazzi law that imposes additional penalties on violators of generally applicable reckless driving laws when those violators are driving with the intent to gather news for commercial purposes. After Raef appealed the Court of Appeals\' refusal to hear his case, the California Supreme Court returned the case to the Appellate Court. The Reporters Committee then filed another brief in the case, this time on the merits.

  • March 27, 2015

    The Washington Post sought access to completed jury questionnaires in the criminal trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The district court released the completed questionnaires, but with names and juror numbers redacted, making it impossible for the public to know which questionnaires corresponded with empaneled jurors. The Washington Post filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Fourth Circuit, seeking an order directing the district court to identify which questionnaires were completed by seated jurors. The Reporters Committee and 22 media organizations filed an amicus brief, arguing that the First Amendment provides a presumptive right of access to juror questionnaires, which are merely a written form of oral voir dire, which is presumptively open to the public. The brief argues that the right of access includes the right to identify which questionnaires match with seated jurors.

  • March 26, 2015

    In October 2014, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the Pasadena Police Officers Association (PPOA) to release a redacted copy of a report produced by the Office of Independent Review Group for the City of Pasadena that reviewed police department policies in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed teenager. In January, the L.A. Times filed a petition for writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in California for release of the report. The PPOA quoted from the report liberally in its reply brief, which was filed publicly without redaction, and the brief was distributed to the parties. Nine days later, PPOA sought to replace the unredacted copy of the brief with a redacted version, to file the unredacted version under seal, and to have the parties return their copy of the unredacted brief to the court. The Court of Appeal issued the order. The L.A.

  • March 18, 2015

    Nick Merrill is suing the FBI to lift a ten-year-old gag order preventing him from disclosing key details related to a National Security Letter (NSL) he received in 2004. NSLs are a secretive form of administrative subpoena frequently accompanied by a nondisclosure order. Merrill was the first person to challenge the constitutionality of NSLs. In 2010, the gag order preventing Merrill from speaking about the NSL he received was partially lifted, but the FBI continued to bar Merrill from disclosing the categories of information they sought in the 2004 NSL. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus brief in support of Merrill arguing that the press and the public have a constitutional right to hear information that Merrill wishes to disclose. We also argued that information regarding how FBI uses NSLs to obtain communication records has significant statutory and constitutional implications.