San Francisco DA First in California to Post Prosecution Data Online

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has become the first DA in California to post prosecution statistics on a publicly available website.  The DA Stat site hosts three dashboards - arrests presented, incoming caseload and trials - containing statistical information on both felony and misdemeanor matters presented to and acted on by Gascón’s office. Data on the DA Stat site goes back to 2011 and is updated monthly. 

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Naomi Wolf and A Lesson in Usage and Context

The key to any analysis of public records is understanding the proper context of the records, which speak the language and impart the meaning contemporaneous with the time in which they were created. If the context under which the records were created is misunderstood, then the analysis can be misconfigured and lead to erroneous conclusions. In this blog, we discuss how the controversy surrounding major errors discovered in author Naomi Wolf latest book, “Outrages” Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love,” provides a cautionary tale of misunderstood language leading to a misconfigured context. The lesson for researchers:  be very careful about your understanding of terms and always remember that the understanding is contemporary to the usage, not to the present time.

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A Guide to Civil Grand Juries in California

In California, civil grand juries provide valuable records of civilian oversight of government activity, which can allow for an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of local government.  Civil grand juries are primarily tasked with being government watchdogs, as part of the judicial branch – as such, each civil grand juror is a judicial officer. Civil grand juries are selected by a presiding judge and Jury Commissioner and work together to publish publicly viewable reports that investigate local elected officials, cities, and more agencies within the county’s purview.  In this entry, we will discuss how civil grand juries operate in California, including the scope of their work and how to locate the reports that they issue upon completion of their work. 

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Over 13 Million Newly Available Records of Nazi War Crimes Indexed and Posted Online by Arsolen Archives

The Arsolen Archives, International Center on Nazi Persecution recently uploaded more than 13 million documents to a new online archive.  Working with the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem, the archive has created a database that contains concentration camp prisoner cards and death notices among many additional types of documents.  In total, the recently uploaded documents feature information on over 2.2 million people persecuted by the Nazis. 

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Researching International Companies

It has become much easier to research international corporations thanks to the OpenCorporates database, which is the largest open database of companies in the world with over 169 million companies and over 223 million officers indexed from 131 jurisdictions.  When approaching large corporate entities with an international reach, OpenCorporates provides a useful starting point and is especially helpful in narrowing the list of jurisdictions where companies are registered and in obtaining online corporate registration filings. 

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Judicial Oversight Process

When considering the background of a judge, there’s a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to the jurist – after all, if an individual has worked all the way up to being a judge, surely they’ve been investigated at multiple stages along the way, right?  But, what exactly does that vetting consist of?  Where would you check to see if there have been any prior issues?  In this blog, we look closer at the judicial oversight process in California.

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Ensuring Transparent Procurement

In most cities, the procurement of goods or services follows similar steps – the process starts with the city agency in need of the services writing a bid solicitation or Request for Proposal (RFP), which is then released publicly.  Bid solicitations have traditionally been published in an official city newspaper, though many cities have also begun to list open RFPs online.  New York City, for example, publishes a city newspaper called The City Record that lists all open contracts, as well as public hearings, property auctions and personnel changes within departments. Researchers interested in the public contracting process should familiarize themselves with the exact process in the locale in which they are working and also probe for the existence of resources like The City Record.

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Inmate Welfare Fund or Discretionary Account?

In the U.S., each county uses the proceeds from the county’s portion of phone and commissary payments to maintain an inmate welfare fund, which is typically overseen by the County Sheriff’s office and designed to improve the quality of life of inmates. However, the San Diego Union-Tribune recently obtained a full accounting of how that county’s inmate welfare fund has been administered and found that millions of dollars from the fund have been used to pay for county jail staff and operations, including on out-of-county travel and staff cell phones.  The Union-Tribune’s analysis is a good reminder to be on the lookout for discretionary accounts controlled by research subjects that are outside of the normal budgeting process, even if they are ostensibly allocated for other purposes.

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National Security Archive – 35 years of Working to Declassify U.S. Records, Ensuring Transparency

A fascinating story in last week’s New York Times discusses the release of years old CIA cables and reports that are being put to use in Argentina as prosecutors pursue cases related to that country’s “Dirty War.” The release of the records illustrates the unique role that the National Security Archive plays in using the FOIA to force the release and declassification of government records. The National Security Archive has filed over 60,000 FOIA requests - including numerous FOIA request related to the “Dirty War” beginning in 2002 - and forced the release of millions of pages of previously classified records in service of its mission to “check rising government secrecy.”

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Presumptive Nominee to Federal Reserve Board Faces Public Records Onslaught Threatening to Derail Nomination

President Trump’s presumptive nominee to the Federal Reserve Board, Stephen Moore, has faced a series of scandals related to the release of public records that threatens to derail his nomination.  Moore’s recent troubles illustrate the importance of properly vetting appointments before they are announced and exposed to public scrutiny.  There were proactive steps that Moore could have been taken in advance to mitigate damage to his reputation or protect his privacy, however he was forced to take reactionary steps because he was unprepared.

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Will FOIA set the Mueller Report free?

The rules and regulations regarding transparency in special counsel investigations have received heightened scrutiny in recent days.  The current federal regulations stipulate that special counsels are required to produce a full report to the attorney general at the end of an investigation, which is confidential, and the attorney general must then provide Congress with a brief report that explains the conclusions. Whether the full report is released publicly is at the discretion of the attorney general, however several FOIA lawsuits are seeking to compel disclosure of records related to the recent Mueller investigation.

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