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.
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.
Plaintiff Milner sought info from the Department of Defense under FOIA for records relating to the construction of an explosives handling wharf at a naval base. The department cited, among other exemptions, 10 U.S.C. § 130e, a statute that allows an exemption for "critical infrastructure" information but requires that a public interest balancing test. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus letter to the district court for the Western District of Washington in support of Mr. Milner, arguing that based on the legislative history and text of the statute, as well as the department's own interpretation, it is important that there be an opportunity for the public to provide input on the importance of public access to the information that the government wishes to exempt under the statute.
Independent journalist Johnny Dwyer sued to unseal case documents in a criminal proceeding against a John Doe defendant who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges. The Eastern District of New York granted a motion to close the courtroom and to seal all case documents. The sealing order was itself sealed. Dwyer intervened and sought to unseal the record. The district court denied the motion to unseal. Dwyer appealed to the Second Circuit.
Members of news media made records requests to the Nashville police department for records regarding an alleged rape on the Vanderbilt campus. The trial court granted access to certain categories of records, but the Court of Appeals later held that the records should be exempt. Before the state high court, the Reporters Committee and others submitted an amicus brief arguing that the records act mandates maximum access to government records, including information created by third parties and received by law enforcement agencies, and that the records are not exempt under rule used by the appellate court because it does not bar access to third party records that do not constitute work product. The brief also argued that the state's Victims Bill of Rights does not create an exemption to the act, and that allowing a broad law enforcement exception would have a devastating effect on the ability of the press to report on issues that are of utmost public concern.
Donald Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards and securities fraud, among other things, stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010, which killed 29 people. Immediately following the indictment, a federal judge ordered the parties, attorneys, witnesses, families of victims and others from making any statements to the media, and restricted all access to filings in the case. A coalition of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, National Public Radio, and the Charleston Gazette, intervened to overturn the restrictive orders, but the judge denied the request and found that news coverage was sufficiently likely to prejudice Blankenship’s right to a fair trial. The media intervenors appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
Twitter is suing the Department of Justice in the Northern District of California, contending that restrictions on disclosing the number of FISA requests and national security letters it receives are unconstitutional prior restraints on its speech. Five U.S. communications providers filed motions in 2013 to allow them to publish aggregate data about FISA orders and national security letters they had received. These five companies — Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo!, and LinkedIn — entered into a settlement with the Department of Justice allowing for limited disclosures. Twitter took issue with the fact that providers who have never received a NSL or FISA order are apparently forbidden to reveal that fact. The government argued that the district court should dismiss the case, contending that the FISA Court is a more appropriate venue.
Media plaintiffs, prisoners' rights groups, and prisoners sued the State of Pennsylvania Attorney General in the Middle District of Pennsylvania over the constitutionality of the Revictimization Relief Act, a law that put restraints on the conduct and speech of convicted prisoners that caused "mental anguish" in the minds of their victims and those close to the victims. Plaintiffs sued for a preliminary injunction, arguing that the law was unconstitutional. The Reporters Committee and three other amici filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. The brief argued that the Act's restriction on speech is an unconstitutionally vague prior restraint on a limitless range of speech, including matters of public interest.
The Reporters Committee filed comments regarding the proposed amendment to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 concerning "remote access" searches of electronic media. The proposed amendment to Rule 41 offers insufficient safeguards for newsgathering and other First Amendment-protected activity. Remote-access searches of journalists’ computers can reveal a variety of confidential information, including lists of contacts, work product, and reporter-source communications. These searches would violate the Privacy Protection Act and the First and Fourth Amendments. The proposed amendment offers insufficient protection to journalists who use encryption and anonymity tools.
The Virginia Legislature is considering a bill that would exempt information on the drugs used in executions, as well as the pharmacies that produce them and any investigations into those pharmacies, from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The Reporters Committee argued that this information should not be kept from the public, especially in light of the concerns that have been raised with regards to the sources of execution drugs and the numerous recent botched executions around the nation.
The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, city and county of Los Angeles, and the L.A. Police Department for release of automatic license plate recognition system records. The trial court determined that all such records are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act as investigatory records. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief arguing that the trial court's reading of the investigatory records exemption was overbroad and erroneous and emphasized the importance to the press of access to police records.
In connection with a civil lawsuit filed after an accident at a veteran's parade, the Atlanta FOX 5 television station broadcast a series of news reports detailing the police investigation and indictment of the plaintiff, Shane Lardner, for lying about having a Purple Heart. Ladner sued for defamation, and FOX 5 attempted to use the Georgia anti-SLAPP law to have the suit dismissed. The trial court ruled that the anti-SLAPP law was inapplicable because the news reports did not qualify as statements "made in connection with" an official proceeding and because they were "sensationalistic." The Reporters Committee wrote an amicus brief supporting FOX 5's petition for review to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court applied an unduly narrow interpretation of the anti-SLAPP statute, which should cover media reports discussing lawsuits.
In response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act for use-of-force policies, the City of Victoria, Texas, asked the Attorney General whether it must disclose the records or whether they are exempt because they would interfere with law enforcement activities. The City’s reasoning is not only insufficient to warrant withholding the requested records, but also relies on the incorrect assertion that their release would impede law enforcement activity. The citizens of Texas have a paramount interest in information concerning the use of force, including deadly force, by law enforcement officers.
Civil Beat, published by Peer News LLC, is an investigative and watchdog journalism outlet focused on public affairs reporting in Hawaii. Civil Beat was denied a request for the names and disciplinary information of 12 Honolulu Police Department officers who were allegedly suspended but not discharged. When Peer News went to court, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) intervened in the suit in support of the HPD. The trial court ordered that the records be released. In an appeal brought by SHOPO, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief arguing that state law recognizes that the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public's interests is to open up government records to scrutiny.
The Detroit Free Press sued the DOJ for the release of mugshots taken by the U.S. Marshals Service under the Freedom of Information Act. The trial court held for DFP, and the government appealed to the 6th Circuit. Our brief argues that neither constitutional nor common law recognizes a privacy interest in photographs of persons who have been arrested and indicted, and appeared in open court, specifically noting that mugshots are open or presumably open to the public under the laws of at least 40 states. The brief also argues that even if there is a privacy interest in mugshots, it is outweighed by the public interest in their disclosure.