Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Civic group in rift over closed meetings

In Great Barrington, Mass., discord within the ranks of the grassroots, nonprofit group Housatonic the Beautiful over its meeting policy has led to confusion and friction within and without the organization, the Berkshire Eagle reports.
"Questions have arisen over whether the board of directors of the nonprofit group, which is leading an effort to revitalize the village, should open its meetings to the public after a reporter was told at the Jan. 13 meeting that the meetings are closed.

"A testy exchange followed, and the Berkshire Record reporter left, according to board members.

"President Benjamin Koldys said Monday that a meeting set for tomorrow evening at 5 at the Housatonic fire station also will be closed. But some board members and residents say it will be open, and a request has reportedly been made to open the meeting to public participation."

Microsoft, Massachusetts agree to keep public records accessible

In a Center for Digital Government Web conference this afternoon, Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn said that the commonwealth and Microsoft have reached agreement on making public records created with Microsoft Office 2003 readable by any reader, including open-source or GPL-based software, according to Public CIO Magazine.

The heart of the agreement, the magazine said, concerns opening access to Office 2003's patented XML extensions. "That was a great concern to us," Quinn told the magazine. "We were going to create things that would only be accessed by a specific vendor's reader. We've actually worked through that ... Microsoft was very amenable to the conversation, we're very excited about where we hope this is going to take us all as we go forward, yet at the same time it preserved their intellectual property and rights."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Tune in today to Harvard conference on blogging, journalism and ethics

Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society is host today and tomorrow to Blogging, Journalism & Credibility, an invitation-only conference of bloggers, reporters and academics focusing on ethics and credibility in blogging. The program is being webcast, supposedly, although it is not working for me just now. Alternatively, you can follow a transcription via IRC. Here are the schedule and a list of participants. And here is what the Wall Street Journal has to say about the conference.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Newspaper appeals to state records chief

The Providence Journal reported yesterday that it filed an appeal with the Massachusetts public records supervisor, arguing that officials in Seekonk, Mass., cannot withhold the details of a settlement agreement that paved the way for the departure of the town's former administrator. The town contends that the agreement cannot be disclosed because both parties agreed to keep it secret.

The Massachusetts public records supervisor, Alan N. Cote, declined the newspaper's request to discuss the case until he had reviewed it, but told a reporter that, in general a public official does not have the power to seal a public document by making an agreement to keep the information secret.

Jury selection starts in Herald case

In Boston, jury selection began yesterday in Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy's high-profile libel suit against the Boston Herald in Suffolk Superior Court, the Boston Globe reports.

Murphy sued the Herald over a series of reports that began with a Feb. 13, 2002, front-page story describing his sentencing practices as overly lenient. The Herald maintains that its lead reporter worked hard to check the accuracy of the information he was given, and the paper says it stands behind his reporting.

Opening statements heard in editor's trial

In Cambridge, Mass., yesterday, a lawyer for a Stoneham attorney told a Middlesex County jury that a 1999 Boston Globe story libeled his client by falsely suggesting that the man used political connections to get a house built for him for free by vocational high school students, the Boston Globe reports. The report continues:
"Stephen H. Columbus's lawyer said in his opening statement that the front-page Sunday story by Walter V. Robinson, now the editor of the Globe's Spotlight Team, represented a 'big myth' and 'twisted facts.' ... But a lawyer defending the Globe in the lawsuit, Jonathan M. Albano, denied that the article defamed Columbus, 43, and said the substance of the story was true."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

New rule eases access to Tenn. court records

A rule adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court Jan. 6 will make it harder for parties to shroud civil case records in secrecy, even in certain cases that are settled out of court, according to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

New Rule 1A of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure says courts records are presumed open and may be sealed only in limited circumstances. Under the rule, the person seeking to block access to court records must show "a specific, serious and substantial interest" that clearly outweighs both the presumption of openness, and any likely adverse impact that sealing will have on public health or safety. In addition, there must be no less restrictive method besides sealing that will "adequately and effectively protect" the interest asserted.

According to the court's announcement, the rule says that it is "the public policy of this state that the public interests are best served by open courts and an independent judiciary."

DA finds town committee again violated meetings law

For the second time, the Norfolk County district attorney has found that a Norton, Mass., subcommittee negotiating to open a YMCA has broken the state Open Meeting Law by going into closed session, the Daily News Transcript reports. Norfolk Assistant District Attorney James Reidy ruled that the YMCA Negotiating Subcommittee violated the law by meeting in secret Dec. 9.

Reidy said the committee must release its meeting minutes immediately, adding, "This office is prepared to initiate action in Superior Court to remedy any further violations of the Open Meeting Law by the Negotiating Subcommittee or the Rink/Due Diligence Committee." This is the DA's second ruling against the subcommittee, the Daily News Transcript says. On Nov. 9, the DA ruled that the subcommittee broke the Open Meeting Law by entering into closed sessions on July 21, Aug. 12, Sept. 14 and Sept. 28.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

DA: Williamstown board violated open meeting law

In Williamstown, Mass., Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless has found that four members of the Williamstown Planning Board violated the Massachusetts open meeting law by issuing a press release last November, the North Adams Transcript reports. The four members drafted the press release, in which they took a position on a public issue, through a series of phone calls and e-mails.

The district attorney "strongly admonished the board members not to conduct public business in private" and encouraged them to attend open meeting law training sessions hosted by his office this year "so they may better serve the interests of the community."

Monday, January 10, 2005

New Orleans paper calls for shield law

"The public is ill served if the press is hampered in its role as government watchdog, and most Americans clearly understand that," says this editorial in today's Times-Picayune. "Unfortunately, not everyone in government does."

Apple suit tests First Amendment

Apple Computer's lawsuit against a Web site that published details of forthcoming Mac products raises troubling First Amendment questions, media experts say.

DA won't appeal lifting of ban on naming priest's alleged victims

In Cambridge, Mass., Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said today she will not appeal a judge's ruling that freed the media to identify alleged victims in the child rape case against defrocked priest Paul Shanley, Associated Press reports. Coakley said in a statement that the next week would be better spent preparing for Shanley's criminal trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 18.

Acting on a request from Coakley's office, a judge last week ordered the media not to identify Shanley's accusers. Prosecutors said they feared continuing to name the alleged victims would make them unwilling to testify. The Associated Press, the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe challenged the order, and on Friday, Judge Stephen Neel overturned it, agreeing it was an unconstitutional "prior restraint."

Media distrust may be critical factor in libel case

In Sunday's Boston Globe, media writer Mark Jurkowitz offers a preview of the upcoming libel trial pitting Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy against the Boston Herald. Jurkowitz focuses on how public distrust of the media may be a key factor in the trial's outcome. He writes:
In a trial expected to take several weeks, jurors will hear arguments about disputed quotations, confidential sources, and reporting techniques. Yet Murphy's case could also hinge on something more basic: how ordinary citizens on the jury feel about the motives and methods of journalists in an era of widespread public skepticism about the news media.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Arizona supreme court to rule on lawsuit against newspaper over Iraq letter

The Associated Press reports that the Arizona Supreme Court said today it will decide whether a newspaper can be sued for publishing a letter that suggested American soldiers in Iraq respond to attacks on them by killing Muslims at nearby mosques. "The Supreme Court agreed without comment to hear the Tucson Citizen's appeal of a Pima County Superior Court judge's decision to hold a trial in a lawsuit that alleges the newspaper caused distress to local residents by its decision to print the letter," the report says. [via How Appealing, which includes a link to the court's order.]

Judge bars media from disclosing names of priest's alleged victims

A judge in Boston yesterday issued an order barring the news media from disseminating the names of the alleged victims in the upcoming child rape trial of defrocked priest Paul Shanley, the Associated Press reports via the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Superior Court Judge Charles Spurlock's order bars the publication of the names of Shanley's accusers, one of whom is expected to testify at his trial on child rape charges later this month and has spoken publicly in the past about his allegations. The AP report says that the man's name has been published repeatedly by news organizations since 2002, when he filed a civil lawsuit against Shanley and gave numerous newspaper and television interviews.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Town will seek to exempt job interviews from open meeting law

The town of Arlington, Mass., will file legislation to exempt municipal job interviews from the Massachusetts' open meeting law, the Boston Globe reports. The move follows a recent rulingby the Middelex district attorney that Arlington selectmen violated the open meeting law when they interviewed semifinalists for the town manager job behind closed doors.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Indiana paper calls for enforcement of open-records law

In an editorial today, the Indianapolis Star says, It's time to enforce the state's open records law.

Tennessee legislature exempt from open records law

Tennessee's Public Records Law does not apply to the state legislature, a court has ruled.

Ex-HealthSouth CEO subpoenas Mike Wallace

Set to go on trial in Birmingham, Ala., this week on a 58-count indictment, Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth Corp., has subpoenaed Mike Wallace and CBS producer Robert Anderson as witnesses to discuss their "60 Minutes" segment about the HealthSouth debacle, AP reports. Wallace and Anderson have asked U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre to throw out the subpoena, citing the First Amendment.

Sen. Dodd makes case for shield law

Writing in the Washington Post, U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) makes the case for a federal reporters' shield law.
"The possibility of reporters being sent to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources is not merely an issue of concern to journalists. It should send shivers down the spine of every American."

Newspaper violated HIPAA, federal complaint alleges

A group of physicians and community leaders have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco alleging that the Los Angeles Times and the county health department violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, by revealing confidential patient information in stories about alleged lapses in care at a hospital, according to an AP report at the First Amendment Center. The Times’ five-part series, published last month, profiled dozens of patients and their family members who alleged mistreatment and lapses in patient care at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Los Angeles.

Chicago Tribune moves closer to unsealing Pritzker records

An Illinois appeals court last week ruled that a Cook County circuit judge abused his discretion when he sealed all records of a case involving the Pritzker family's plan to break up its $15 billion business empire, the Chicago Tribune reports. The ruling is a victory for the Tribune in its legal efforts to open the records. Finding little confidential material in the court records, the First District Appellate Court directed a new judge to review the records and determine if any documents should remain sealed. The Pritzkers are heirs to a fortune that includes the Hyatt Hotel chain, casinos, the TransUnion credit-checking company and the Marmon Group, a global association of manufacturing and service companies.