Happy Birthday C-SPAN

C-SPAN turned 40 today. The network is an invaluable resource for researchers, with almost 250,000 hours of video content.  Video content is indexed by a number of different factors including speaker name, type of event (forum, debate, task force, etc.), as well as any number of user-selected search terms and modifiers.  Content searches can also be limited by date.

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Celebrating Sunshine Week

This week is Sunshine Week, which calls attention to the importance of open government, under the premise that government functions best when it operates in the open.  Sunshine Week is celebrated every year in mid-March, scheduled to coincide with James Madison's birthday on March 16th, which is also National Freedom of Information Day.  The American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press host a website – sunshineweek.org – that includes a toolkit of free resources, a vault with resources from prior years and a FOI in Action page that includes FOIA resources.   

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Expert Witness Vetting

When assessing an expert witness, including one with a background in academia, it is important to ensure that they are credible experts in their field. In this blog we cover several ways to determine the legitimacy of an expert witness, including verifying their professional license or credentials, determining the legitimacy of academic journals the experts have published in and vetting the conferences they’ve chosen to attend.  These methods can be used to both to vet prospective experts or to raise questions about opposing experts. 

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California Law Now Ensures Charter Schools Covered by Open Records Laws

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a measure this week that required California Charter schools and the entities that manage them to comply with the California Public Records Act and required them to ensure that members of the public can access their board meetings. The legislation also requires Charter school board members to be bound by the same ethical responsibilities and rules governing conflicts of interest as public school board members.

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Navigating State Open Records Laws with the Reporter's Committee Open Government Guide

The Open Government Guide , published annually by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, is a free online guide that provides a state-by-state breakdown of open records laws. The summaries, written by in-state legal experts, provide users with a history of open records law in the state, as well as up-to-date statutory and case law governing access to public records and meetings. The Guide can help researchers submit informed records requests by clarifying who can request records, what records are subject to disclosure and the procedures for obtaining records. The Guide also walks users through the logistics of handling delivery delays, as well as options for compelling disclosure through appeals. 

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Accessing & Searching Presidential Libraries

Presidential libraries have developed into an invaluable resource since President Franklin Roosevelt began the Presidential Library system in 1939 by donating his personal and Presidential papers to the Federal Government.  The 14 presidential libraries are maintained with public funds and the public is allowed access to these records under the Freedom of Information Act.  For researchers, the most immediately useful aspect of Presidential libraries are that they contain files created by and about employees of past administrations.  Our new blog includes tips on accessing and searching the Presidential library archives.

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Free PACER Access Coming Soon?

Federal Court records are organized and made available through the PACER (Public Access to Court Records) system, which requires users to sign up for an account and charges ten-cents-per-page for electronic access to records.  The federal courts are allowed to charge for this access under the E-Government Act that permits courts to recoup costs “only to the extent necessary” to pay for “services rendered.”  PACER has been accused of charging higher than necessary fees in a class action lawsuit filed by the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumers Law Center, and the Alliance for Justice. The case could lead to refunds for PACER users and changes in the way users are charged for PACER access.

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How Much Diligence Is Enough? Determining Vetting Needs

The controversy around Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s appearance in a racist photo published in his medical school yearbook has prompted a series of articles urging backgrounding on executive level hires and celebrities. The professionals quoted in these articles offer general advice to “be prepared,” but don’t specify the exact level of diligence that should be exercised by a company hiring a new CEO or looking for a new celebrity partner. We explore the answer - it varies depending on context - in our new blog, which also includes questions to help guide the process.

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California Public Records Act Ombudsman Proposed

A California State Assemblyman is slated to propose a measure that would require the state to employ a public records ombudsman, who would be responsible for reviewing denials under the California Public Records Act (CPRA).  As currently drafted, the CPRA provides a court challenge option for records denials, but leaves the decision on whether a requested record should be released up to the agency.  A model for how this could work is available at the federal level where requestors have the right to administratively appeal agency denials.  The measure being considered in California is slightly different than the federal process as, on the federal level, the agency that issued the denial handles the appeal (albeit at a higher level internally than the department that issued the first denial), while the California law under consideration would create a new government position empowered to review denials government-wide. 

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FOIAing the FOIAs -- Log Review, "Tailgating," and "FOIA Traps"

When drafting public records requests, it is a good idea to get a log of what has already been requested from the agency you are querying.  FOIA logs show what has been asked for by prior recipients and provide insight on how best to request it.  Furthermore, researchers can get an actual copy of the FOIA request and the materials released in response, which is known as FOIA “tailgating." Another variation on this is known as a "FOIA trap," which is a standing request with an agency to be copied on requests and attachments fitting a certain description or received from a certain party. 

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State-by-State Guide to DMV Records

Sometimes, what would seem like or seem like it ought to be a public record may not actually be so.  Driving records are one such instance of this.  The accessibility to these records varies wildly state-to-state, making it less of a dependable source record and more of an intriguing auxiliary item.  In this entry we go over what makes these records unique and where to look for them.  

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Should Residency Dictate Access to Public Records? Louisiana Court to Decide

A trial in Louisiana district court has the potential to shape the way public records law is interpreted in the state.  On one side of the fight is Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.  On the other, an Indianapolis-based public records researcher named Scarlett Martin.  At the heart of the dispute is whether Martin was entitled to sue Landry’s office for failure to comply with the Louisiana Public Records Law.  Landry’s office has asserted that Martin is not entitled to file suit because she isn’t from Louisiana.  Martin’s counsel contends that there is no such carve out specified in the law.

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