Friday, December 29, 2006

Meeting closed to discuss open meetings

This is priceless: As the Worcester Telegram reports, when selectmen in Lunenburg, Mass., met to discuss a complaint alleging that several of them had violated the state Open Meeting Law, they did so in closed session. After meeting in executive session for 1.5 hours, they announced they had "come to no conclusion."

In fairness, the Open Meeting Law does permit closed meetings to discuss litigation strategy, but only when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the board's litigating position. A lawsuit is pending in this matter, filed by one Lunenburg selectman against three others. But boards tend to use the litigation exception broadly to close their doors whenever lawyers are involved. Given that the complainant here could have attended the meeting (but chose not to), and given that the reason for maintaining secrecy about one's litigation strategy is to keep it from your opponent, what possible justification did the selectmen have for closing this meeting? The only answer, of course, is to keep it out of the eyes of the public.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

N.H. court eases access to police records

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has issued a ruling that eases access to police investigatory records under the state's Right-to-Know Law. In the Dec. 20 opinion, Murray v. New Hampshire Division of State Police, Special Investigation Unit, the court held that the state police force had failed to meet its burden of showing that release of the requested records would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

The records request came from a Massachusetts man, Frederick J. Murray, whose daughter disappeared three years ago after her car was involved in a one-car accident in New Hampshire. Murray requested numerous records pertaining to the state's investigation of her disappearance, all of which were denied, save for a single, minor exception.

The Supreme Court said that the Right-to-Know Law should be interpreted "with a view to providing the utmost information." The law does not explicitly address police investigative files, so the court said that access should be decided using the six-prong test applied under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The trial court relied on the first prong of this test -- that production of the records "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings" -- but the Supreme Court found that the state had failed to show this. It therefore remanded the case to the trial court with instructions that the state present more specific information on how disclosure of each record would meet this test.

Foster's Online has this report on the decision.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Newspapers adopt Creative Commons licenses

The Town Online group of Massachusetts newspapers, purchased earlier this year by GateHouse Media, recently rolled out redesigned, more blog-like Web pages, and with them, Creative Commons licenses allowing sharing of content for non-commercial uses.

In an article posted at PressThink, Lisa Williams, editor of, writes that this is the first newspaper chain or major newspaper to release content under Creative Commons, a more flexible alternative to traditional copyright. She quotes media critic and blogger Dan Kennedy:
"For newspapers to give up copyright is a remarkable step," says Dan Kennedy, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University and is a longtime watcher of the Boston media scene. "We all understand that it's okay to link to them, but this seems to say that it’s also okay to copy and paste entire articles. Is that what they want?"
Williams seems to think so. She writes:
"Sharing content, letting non-professionals submit content, and connecting with a global network of open-source tinkerers reveal a picture of a firm that’s open to the wide world of the web. That doesn’t sound like your average media company."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Our interview with JAG officer in Iraq

We have a particularly special edition this week of our legal-affairs podcast, Coast to Coast: We interview JAG Major John A. Engels, who speaks to us from his station in Iraq. Major Engels is serving in Iraq as command judge advocate of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division. He supervises an office of five attorneys, 12 paralegals and an interpreter. He is also partner in the Minnesota law firm Petersen & Engels. Engels discusses his work as a lawyer in Iraq and the impact of his tour of duty on his practice back home.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lawyers' magazine features 'Coast to Coast'

In the December ABA Journal article, Top Ten in Tech, writer Jason Krause surveys "the trends, programs and gadgets that add punch to your practice." As an example of Web 2.0's impact on law practice, he features Coast to Coast, the legal-affairs podcast I co-host with California lawyer J. Craig Williams. Krause writes:
Robert Ambrogi from Rockport, Mass., and J. Craig Williams from Newport Beach, Calif., have become nationally known legal experts through their Web logs and Coast to Coast, a free podcast (an audio program the attorneys post on the Internet).
Krause's complete article is here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shield bill filed in Texas

A bill filed today in Texas would protect reporters against being forced to reveal confidential sources. The bill, HB 382, was filed by Rep. Aaron Pena of Edinburg. The text of the so-called Free Flow of Information Act is not yet available on the Texas legislature's Web site, but Associated Press reports that it would allow judges to require reporters to reveal privileged information only in certain circumstances. The Texas House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for tomorrow, AP says.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More on Patrick and shield law

As I noted here yesterday, Massachusetts Gov.-elect Deval Patrick, in a speech to the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association (of which I serve as executive director), expressed his support for a shield law in the state. Today, the Boston Herald has an editorial on the news, Let the Honeymoon Begin:
Trying his best not to make real news, Gov.-elect Deval Patrick still managed to offer an encouraging word to the state’s newspaper publishers on the future of a shield law for journalists.
"I think a shield law is very important," Patrick told a meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers’ Association. "I’m very concerned about the jailing of reporters ."
[Read more.]

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gov-elect Patrick supports shield bill

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Deval Patrick, speaking today at the annual luncheon of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, expressed support for a law to protect reporters from disclosing their sources. But he said such a law would impose a concomitant responsibility on news organizations not to abuse the privilege. A bill to create a Massachusetts shield law is pending in the state legislature, but is unlikely to see action before the current session ends this month.

Patrick also expressed support for openness in government, while emphasizing his belief that some government business needs to take place behind closed doors.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Calif. Court Issues Broad Libel Protection

The California Supreme Court today issue a decision affirming sweeping protection against online defamation under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. In today's decision, Barrett v. Rosenthal, the court said that the common law distinction between "publishers" and "distributors" makes no difference under the CDA -- both have broad immunity against liability for defamatory materials published online. The court further held that the CDA protects providers and users of online computer services equally, without regard to whether the user is "active" or "passive."
"We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republications on the Internet has some troubling consequences. Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement."
The ruling overturns a decision of the California Court of Appeal, which held that the CDA did not protect a "distributor" who republished an allegedly defamatory statement with notice of its defamatory character.

The case pitted the operator of a Web site devoted to exposing health frauds, Dr. Stephen J. Barrett, against the operator of an Internet discussion group, Ilena Rosenthal. Rosenthal received a copy of an article that made various allegations concerning Barrett's character and competence. When she posted the article to two news groups, Barrett sued. The trial court ruled that her republication of the article was protected under the CDA, but the Court of Appeal reversed -- a move the Supreme Court characterized as "swimming against the jurisprudential tide."

The case had drawn friend-of-the-court briefs from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and a who's who of technology and media companies.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

1st Amendment protects boxing, but not smoking

Could the protection lines of the First Amendment be any blurrier? Consider these two examples:
  • In Albuquerque, N.M., a federal judge has ruled that five police officers and one firefighter have a First Amendment right to fight in a charity boxing tournament that will include excessive drinking and "scantily clad ring girls," Associated Press reports via the First Amendment Center. Although the fight may offend some city officials, the judge said, "the fundamental right of all citizens to form their own sensibilities is really the essence of the First Amendment."
  • In Denver, Colo., a judge held that actors have no First Amendment right to smoke on stage despite a statewide smoking ban, the Daily Camera reports. "[P]laintiffs have failed to demonstrate that smoking in the theater constitutes expressive conduct," the judge said. The theater's artistic director maintained that smoking was "fundamental to the audience's understanding."
Clear now? You have a constitutional right to box and cavort on stage, just don't light up afterwards.

Judge orders town to open lawyer search

Finding that the town of Westborough, Mass., violated the open meeting law when it brought forth only one candidate from a field of 24 to be the new town attorney, a judge ordered the town to consider three finalists in an open meeting.

Reporter Sarah Menesale writes in the MetroWest Daily News that Worcester Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Locke ruled that selectman must consider the three finalist candidates in an open meeting and make public the minutes of a Sept. 7 meeting at which the candidates were discussed.

The open meeting law exempts meetings for preliminary screening of job applicants. In winnowing the pool from 24 candidates to one finalist, Judge Locke found, the town went to far. "Preliminary implies there will be a final selection process among those who have survived the earlier review," he concluded, according to Menesale's report.

Worcester District Attorney John Conte filed the lawsuit Sept. 29 after receiving a complaint filed by MetroWest Daily News Editor Richard Lodge.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Web site, blog, cover legal-affairs reporting

A program designed to prepare future journalists to cover legal affairs has launched a Web site and companion blog. The Carnegie Legal Reporting Program @ Newhouse is a program launched this year with a grant from the Carnegie Journalism Initiative. The program is based at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Companion to the new Web site is a blog, LawBeat, written by Mark Obbie, director of the program and former executive editor of The American Lawyer. The blog, Obbie says, "watches the journalists who watch the law. It is meant to start a conversation — here and in the classroom — about the quality of journalism focusing on the justice system, lawyers and the law."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Election Day Bloggers' Legal Guide

If you are a blogger planning to cover the Nov. 7 elections, you may have questions about how election laws may restrict your reporting. Stanford University Law School's Center for Internet and Society and the Center for Citizen Media at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society are soliciting bloggers' legal questions about election-day coverage to compile into an election day legal guide. Submit your question on this page. Answers will be posted before election day.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pied Piper of Citizen Journalism

In the latest issue of Commonwealth magazine, media critic Dan Kennedy has a profile of Dan Gillmor, former technology reporter and the San Jose Mercury News and now head of the Center for Citizen Media at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. A snippet:
Gillmor sketches out a scenario whereby journalists and citizens would work together every step of the way, from pre-publication to well beyond. At the beginning, a reporter—instead of relying entirely on a Rolodex that may or may not lead him to the right sources—might post a message on his blog or on his news organization’s Web site. “Say, ‘Here’s what I’m working on,’ in a very public way,” says Gillmor. “And then, ‘Who should I talk to?’” After publication, Gillmor says, the reporter could keep revising his story as new information becomes available. Ideally, this would be done in a way that would allow readers to see precisely what was changed, deleted, and added over time.

Friday, October 20, 2006

First posting online starts libel clock ticking

A federal judge has ruled that the one-year statute of limitations for bringing libel lawsuits in Texas also applies to articles posted on the Interent, Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey ruled that the one-year clock begins ticking when the article first appears online, even if the article remains online beyond the one-year period.

Russell F. Coleman, vice president and general counsel of Belo Corp., a defendant in the case, told AP:
"The ruling is important because it allows Internet publishers - not limited to newspapers - to engage in the free exchange of ideas without being exposed to defamation claims based on articles viewable in the present but first posted to the Internet years earlier."
This is the second ruling by a federal judge applying Texas libel limits to online media. The suit was brought by Nationwide Bi-Weekly Administration Inc. against The Dallas Morning News, personal finance columnist Scott Burns and parent company Belo.

The decision is not available from Judge Godbey's opinions page. If anyone knows of a copy I can post to, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Podcast: Military chaplains and the First Amendment

Earlier this month, Congress removed a controversial provision in a military bill that would have permitted military chaplains to offer sectarian prayer at mandatory nondenominational events. But the issue remains alive, as conservative Christian groups say they will refile the bill in January.

We consider the First Amendment issues at play here on this week's legal-affairs podcast, Coast to Coast. Joining my cohost J. Craig Williams and me are three experts on the First Amendment and religious freedom:
Download or listen to the show in MP3 format or Windows Media stream.

Friday, October 13, 2006

U.K. Libel Ruling a 'Resounding Victory'

I write today at's Legal Blog Watch about yesterday's House of Lords ruling easing British libel law.

Schwarzenegger vetoes open records law

Media and open-government organizations in California are expressing disappointment after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill (AB 2927) that would have facilitated public records requests on the Internet and empowered the attorney general's office to mediate records disputes. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports:
The law would have required the state attorney general to review an agency’s denial of a public record request and provide a written opinion on the validity of the denial within 20 days of being asked by the requester. Open government advocates had pushed for the measure as an alternative to costly litigation. ... The attorney general would also have been required to publish the opinions in an annual volume and to make them available on the Internet.
The California Newspaper Publishers Association was among the organizations that supported the bill.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

$11.3M award for Internet defamation

A Florida woman who sued over defamatory postings on an Internet bulletin board has won a jury verdict of $11.3 million, including $5 million in punitive damages, reports the Daily Business Review. The woman, Susan Scheff, sued after she and her company were accused of being "crooks," "con artists" and "frauds."

Scheff, who describes herself as an educational consultant, was hired by Carey Bock to help get Bock's two sons out of a school for troubled teens in Costa Rica. Scheff was successful, but Bock later posted the accusations on a bulletin board for parents of troubled teens.

USA Today reports that Scheff pursued the case even though she knew Bock would be unable to pay an award. Bock could not afford an attorney and did not appear at the trial. Scheff told USA Today that she wanted to make a point to those who unfairly criticize others on the Internet. "I'm sure [Bock] doesn't have $1 million, let alone $11 million, but the message is strong and clear. People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."

Killing a journalist is like killing a judge

So says UK law professor Gary Slapper in the Law Weblog of The Times of London, commenting on the killing of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya:
"Historically, in Britain, killing a judge was a form of treason because the judiciary stands between the people and the Crown. To attack a judge is to use violence against a personification of social order. Using that sort of criterion, assassinating a journalist in the modern world is a similar type of aggravated homicide."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Podcast: Lawyers' book debunks baseball

It's that time of year, when many a lawyer's thoughts turn to baseball playoffs. But for two lawyers in particular, baseball is almost an obsession, one defined by debunking common myths and legends about America's past time. They are Howard M. Bloom and Michael Kun, authors of the book, The Baseball Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated, Myth-Busting Guide to the Great American Game. They are our guests this week on the legal affairs podcast Coast to Coast. To listen to the program or download the MP3 file, follow this link.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

International Right to Know Day

Today is the fourth annual International Right to Know Day. Go to FOIANet to track related conferences and activities throughout the world.

Police IA probe public, court says

Police department records of an internal affairs investigation of alleged cheating on a police promotional exam are public, a Superior Court judge in Boston has ruled. The ruling reversed a decision by the state supervisor of public records, who concluded that the records were personnel files and therefore exempt from disclosure under M.G.L. c. 4, s. 7(26)(c). Superior Court Judge Mitchell J. Sikora Jr. wrote:
The Supervisor and the Department appear to argue that the present subject of alleged cheating on a promotional exam constitutes an intramural departmental matter and not a public one. The competence and integrity of a police force are intrinsically public concerns. That concern endures without regard to the identity of a complainant or inquisitor as either a member of the force or a member of the citizenry. Both groups are entitled to know that the police possess the competence and integrity to police themselves.
The decision is Leeman v. Cote, Docket No. 05-5387-A, decided Sept. 18, 2006.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

DA says town violated meeting law

The Worcester, Mass., district attorney's office has ruled that a search committee for a new Westborough town counsel violated the state open meeting law when it narrowed a field of 24 applicants to just one, who was then recommended to the Board of Selectmen and hired, the MetroWest Daily News reports today. Assistant DAs Patricia C. Smith and Robert Bender sent a letter to the selectmen saying:
"It is the opinion of the District Attorney's Office that the Search Committee narrowed the field of candidates in executive session beyond what is permitted as preliminary screening. Passing over all but a single candidate in executive session is not 'preliminary screening' and is prohibited."
MetroWest Daily News reporter Sarah Menesale first reported about the closed search process on Sept. 15. (Her article quotes me as saying the search process violated the law.) At the time, the paper's editor-in-chief, Richard K. Lodge, wrote to Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte to register a formal complaint about the search process. Lodge wrote, in part:
"Our complaint stems from our belief that Open Meeting Law was violated when the search committee evaded the requirement they settle on a number of finalists, who would then be publicly identified and interviewed in an open session. The search committee went from 24 applicants in secret to a single finalist in public, thereby shutting out any public access to the process or the qualifications of a pool of finalists."
With the DA's ruling, the search committee will now be required to go back and recommend at least three candidates to the Board of Selectman to be publicly considered in an open session, Menesale reports.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Judiciary OKs OPEN Government Act

The Sunshine in Government Initiative is reporting that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the OPEN Government Act (S. 394) this morning. The bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would bring significant reform to the federal Freedom of Information Act. The bill is backed by a broad array of media organizations. The bill would set new deadlines for FOIA responses, require agencies to create FOIA hotlines and tracking systems, create an independent neutral to help resolve FOIA disputes, makes it easier for requesters to recover attorneys' fees if litigation is necessary, and penalizes agencies for delaying responses.

Podcast: The Backdating Backlash

Since it emerged earlier this year that the backdating of stock options was widespread within the high-techology industry, the scandal has grown larger by the day. The SEC said last week that it has more than 100 active investigations into backdating practices, criminal charges have been filed against one company and the U.S. attorney in Northern California has formed a special task force devoted to the practice.

On this week's legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast, we explore this issue in depth with our guest Steven R. Barth, partner with Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee and chair of the firm's 2006 National Directors Institute on corporate governance issues.

Listen to or download this week's program at Legal Talk Network.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Reminder: MCLE Seminar Tomorrow

As I've mentioned here before, I am on the faculty of a Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education seminar, Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, which is tomorrow, Sept. 21, 9 a.m. to noon, at the MCLE conference center, 10 Winter Place, Boston.

Chair of the seminar is Kimberly Keyes, a lawyer at Prince, Lobel, Glovsky & Tye. Other faculty members are Loretta M. Lillios, assistant Middlesex County district attorney responsible for open meeting enforcement; Susan M. Prosnitz, general counsel to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety; Jeffrey J. Pyle, also with Prince Lobel; and David S. Tobin, of Tobin, Sullivan, Fay & Grunebaum.

Further details can be found in the brochure.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Podcast: Vioxx trials update

With the next federal Vioxx trial set to begin today, the legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast discusses the latest in Vioxx litigation. Our guests are two prominent lawyers representing plaintiffs in these cases, Thomas V. Girardi of Girardi Keese in Los Angeles and J. Paul Sizemore from the firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala. Two Merck defense attorneys agreed to be on the show but then withdrew before we recorded the program.

Listen to the program, download the MP3 or subscribe to the program's RSS feed, all at the Legal Talk Network.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

CLE on Public Records, Open Meetings

I will be on the faculty of an upcoming Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education seminar, Public Records and Open Meeting Laws. The seminar is Thursday, Sept. 21, 9 a.m. to noon, at the MCLE conference center, 10 Winter Place, Boston.

Chair of the seminar is Kimberly Keyes, a lawyer at Prince, Lobel, Glovsky & Tye. Other faculty members are Loretta M. Lillios, assistant Middlesex County district attorney responsible for open meeting enforcement; Susan M. Prosnitz, general counsel to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety; Jeffrey J. Pyle, also with Prince Lobel; and David S. Tobin, of Tobin, Sullivan, Fay & Grunebaum.

Further details can be found in the brochure.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Our one-year pod-iversary!

It's our pod-iversary! The weekly legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast, which J. Craig Williams and I co-host, turned one last week. To mark the occasion, we recorded a unique Coast to Coast anniversary show in which we turned the mikes on ourselves, along with three special guests, to discuss the lessons we've learned so far about podcasting.

Joining us for this program are two pioneers of legal podcasting: Evan Schaeffer of Evan Schaeffer's Legal Underground and the Legal Underground podcast, and Denise Howell of Bag and Baggage and multiple podcaster at the Bag and Baggage podcast, Sound Policy and the soon-to-debut This Week in Law. Also joining us is someone who is behind the scenes of every episode of Coast to Coast, Lu Ann Reeb, co-founder of the Legal Talk Network and an Emmy-winning producer with more than two decades of experience in TV news.

You can listen to or download our anniversary show here. Keep up with future shows by subscribing to our podcast feed or by subscribing via iTunes.

[Also posted at Legal Blog Watch.]

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sunshine Week: Now open for business

Three announcements today about this year's Sunshine Week, the national initiative to encourage open government.

First, the date is set for March 11-17.

Second, six leading journalists have signed on to serve as regional coordinators:
  • New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT): Thomas E. Heslin, managing editor for new media, The Providence (RI) Journal.
  • Mid-Atlantic (DE, MD, DC, NJ, NY, PA): Tim Franklin, editor and senior vice president, The Baltimore (MD) Sun.
  • South (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV): Mark Tomasik, editor, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Stuart, FL.
  • Midwest (IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WS): Tom O’Hara, managing editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
  • West (CO, ID, MT, NM, ND, OK, SD, TX, UT, WY): Fred Zipp, managing editor, Austin (TX) American-Statesman.
  • Far West (AK, AZ, CA, HI, NV, OR, WA): Maureen West, senior editor, Arizona Republic, Phoenix.
Third, merchandise bearing the Sunshine Week logo can now be purchased at the Cafe Press Sunshine Week store. Buy shirts, hats, mugs, bags and more, with all proceeds going to support Sunshine Week programs.

Today's announcement is here. Sunshine Week is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and supported by a number of media organizations.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Injunction blocks online columnist

The new owner of a small Marin County, Calif., newspaper has won a preliminary injunction blocking the paper's Pulitzer-prize-winning former publisher from writing a column for a Web site that covers news in neighboring Sonoma County, according to a report in the Marin Independent Journal.

Robert Plotkin, who bought the 4,000-circulation Point Reyes Light in November, obtained the injunction blocking Dave Mitchell from posting his column on the site of the Bodega Bay Navigator. Plotkin, a lawyer who formerly worked as a Monterey County prosecutor, claimed that Mitchell's column violated his non-competition agreement. But Mitchell says the ban is an unconstitutional violation of his free speech and that his agreement barred him only from writing for another newspaper within Marin County. The IJ report says that Plotkin and Mitchell have been feuding since a falling-out in February over a news story.

Friday, August 25, 2006

NY man arrested for broadcasting Hizbollah TV is reporting:
"U.S. authorities have arrested a New York man for broadcasting Hizbollah television station al-Manar, which has been designated a terrorist entity by the U.S. Treasury Department, prosecutors said on Thursday.

"Javed Iqbal, 42, was arrested on Wednesday because his Brooklyn-based company HDTV Ltd. was providing New York-area customers with the Hizbollah-operated channel, federal prosecutors said in a statement."

First Amendment 'podcasts'

The First Amendment Center has introduced a series of podcasts covering First Amendment topics. Recordings include interviews, panel discussions and remarks by journalists, educators and others speaking about the First Amendment, a free press and freedom of information.

(Note to First Amendment Center: Without an RSS feed or subscription mechanism, these really are not "podcasts.")

Monday, August 21, 2006

Podcast: Asia as lawyers' new frontier

Is Asia the next frontier for U.S. lawyers? On this week's legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast, my cohost J. Craig Williams and I discuss doing business in Asia with two lawyers who have first-hand experience:
Listen to or download this week's program here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Supreme Court asked to open TSA directive

SCOTUSblog reports on a petition to the Supreme Court asking it to require the Transportation Security Agency to make public the directive it follows to screen airline passengers. Filed on behalf of plaintiff John Gilmore, the case strikes me as unique for its reliance on due process as a grounds for opening government information. Gilmore filed suit after he was asked to show ID while boarding a domestic flight. TSA refused to provide him with the directive under which it screens passengers, even though it acknowledges the directive's existence and contents. Gilmore's petition claims that it is a violation of due process to impose a legal requirement on an individual and acknowledge the source of the requirement, but withhold its disclosure.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

1st Circuit vacates $1M libel verdict

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a $1 million award to a former Maryland assistant state's attorney who claimed he was libeled by The Boston Phoenix newspaper. In Mandel v. The Boston Phoenix, the ciruit court held that the trial court had insufficient evidence when it ruled before trial that the plaintiff was not a public figure.
"We ... vacate the judgment due to the court's premature pretrial decision on the linchpin public-official issue. Summary judgment is proper only when it is appropriately timed — and, given the lack of factual development in the summary judgment record, the timing here was inauspicious."
The 1st Circuit sent the case back to the district court for a new trial.

The case grew out of a 2003 Phoenix report on child-custody disputes involving accusations of child abuse. It included a report on a Maryland custody battle in which Mandel's former wife accused him of being a child molester. On summary judgment, the district court ruled that Mandel was not a public figure. The case went to trial and the jury awarded Mandel $950,000.

[Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.]

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Podcast wraps up Supreme Court term

The most recent installment of the legal affairs podcast Coast to Coast reviews the just-completed Supreme Court term. We have two veteran court watchers as guests: Tony Mauro, Supreme Court reporter for Legal Times and American Lawyer Media, and Rex S. Heinke, head of the national appellate and litigation strategy group of Akin Gump Straus Hauer and Feld. I have more details in my post at Legal Blog Watch.

To listen to this podcast:

Friday, July 07, 2006

Court e-filing: Podcast discusses new survey

On this week's legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast, we discuss emerging issues in electronic filing of court documents. The program features a sneak preview of findings from the ABA's soon-to-be-released 2006 Legal Technology Survey Report presented by Laura Ikens, senior research specialist the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Center. Also joining us to discuss current trends in e-filing is Tom Mighell, senior counsel and litigation technology support coordinator at Cowles & Thompson in Dallas.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

An award for my Web column

I am proud to report that my "Web Watch" column in Law Technology News has won the 2006 Silver Tabbie Award for best regular column from Trade Association Business Publications International. I've posted more details at my other blog, LawSites.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Podcast: The fun side of lawyers

Lawyers who moonlight as Elvis impersonators? Lawyers who run dating services? Lawyers who carry surfboards instead of briefcases?

This week on the legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast, we look at the fun side of lawyers -- lawyers who have lives outside law offices and courtrooms. My cohost J. Craig Williams and I interview:
  • Noley Bice, general counsel at the Baylor University Law School by day and an Elvis Presley impersonator by night.
  • Elena Albamonte, a Justice Department lawyer who founded the dating service for lawyers, Lawyers in Love.
  • Grant Hardacre, a lawyer with Blum, Propper & Hardacre and president of the Association of Surfing Lawyers.
  • Paul Kenney, a trial lawyer and partner at Kenney & Conley, who is also a book author, musician, composer and screenwriter.
Click the play button (or choose another way to listen).

>>Play in Windows Media Player

>>Download the MP3 (free registration required - right click, "save target as")

Friday, June 23, 2006

Podcast: Investigate jurors' backgrounds?

Jurors who lie or conceal information on their jury questionnaires are causing problems in the courts. Should jurors' backgrounds be checked more carefully? Would deeper checks benefit lawyers? Would they discourage potential jurors? Join my co-host J. Craig Williams and me on the legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast as we discuss these questions with:
Click the play button (or choose another way to listen).

>>Play in Windows Media Player

>>Download the MP3 (registration required - right click, "save target as")

To subscribe to the program feed, use the Coast to Coast RSS feed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

State records law trumps HIPAA

HIPAA's privacy provisions do not preempt the Texas open records law, the Texas Court of Appeals has ruled in ordering the release of statistics about alleged sexual assaults at state mental hospitals. More on the ruling is available from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

NJ media ban -- Nevermind

No sooner did I report here about New Jersey's controversial five-month-old ban on media interviews with prison inmates than I learned that it rescinded the ban last week. The state returned to its former policy of evaluating interview requests on a case-by-case basis.

[Thanks to Eric P. Robinson at the Media Law Resource Center for the heads up.]

Monday, June 19, 2006

NJ bans media from prisons

New Jersey has instituted a complete ban on news media interviews with prison inmates, The Star-Ledger reports. "The press still has the option of writing to inmates if they have questions," a prison spokesman said.

Star-Ledger reporter William Kleinknecht writes:
"For decades, the jailhouse interview has been a staple of American journalism, the fodder for books like 'In Cold Blood' and 'The Executioner's Song' and movies like 'The Thin Blue Line.'

"Inmates have long used such interviews to protest their innocence, decry prison conditions or just tell their life stories, not always a welcome prospect for law enforcement officials and victims of crime."
The New Jersey Press Association said it would seek to have the policy overturned.

Newsroom Staff Blocked from Web Sites

According to this report in The New York Times, blocking software at the Los Angeles Times keeps reporters from accessing certain Web sites, among them and, according to some reports,

False ID as sex offender not libelous

A Texas man wrongly identified as a sex offender by a newspaper and TV station has had his libel suit thrown out by a Texas state appeals court, Associated Press reports. The news organizations based their reports on a police department press release listing two men arrested in connection with a sex offender registration compliance sweep. The appeals court said the "fair report privilege" protected the news organizations in relying on the press release.

Podcast: Tivo v. Echostar and lawyer-client privilege

This week's edition of the legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast explores the many complex issues involved in the patent litigation between Tivo and Echostar, and in particular the Federal Circuit's recent order, In re EchoStar Communications, involving attorney-client privilege and the discoverability of attorney work product in patent litigation. Joining my cohost J. Craig Williams and me to discuss this issue are two legal experts, Blair Jacobs, partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP , and Christine W.S. Byrd, a litigation partner with Irell & Manella LLP and a member of Tivo's legal team.

Click the play button (or choose another way to listen).

>>Play in Windows Media Player

>>Download the MP3 (free registration required - right click, "save target as")

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Web site sues N.H. over real-estate rules

A Massachusetts-based Web site that lists homes for sale by their owners today sued the state of New Hampshire, claiming that the state's requirement that it become a licensed real estate broker violates its free speech rights, Associated Press reports. Ed Williams, founder of, said the site is an advertising service that should be treated no differently than newspapers that publish real estate ads.

Podcast: Humor in the courtroom

The courtroom is a very serious place, but once in a while, it becomes a theater for human comedy as the search for justice unfolds. On this week's Coast to Coast legal-affairs podcast, you'll hear the classic humor of real-life courtroom stories from special guest, Judge Jerry Buchmeyer, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Dallas. Since 1980, Judge Buchmeyer has documented funny courtroom moments in his "et cetera" column in the Texas Bar Journal and now through the Say What?! blog on the State Bar of Texas Web site. Join my co-host J. Craig Williams and me as Judge Buchmeyer shares his humorous stories.

Click the play button (or choose another way to listen).

>>Play in Windows Media Player

>>Download the MP3 (Legal Talk Network free registration required - right click, "save target as")

Monday, June 12, 2006

Is this lawyer the media's worst nightmare?

At a recent gathering of Massachusetts media lawyers, the question came up whether there is a plaintiffs' libel bar among lawyers in this state. "Yes," someone remarked, "and its name is Howard Cooper."

Boston Phoenix media writer Mark Jurkowitz profiles Cooper this week as Boston's go-to guy for libel: The media's worst nightmare? While calling Cooper "an unpopular figure in some local newsrooms," Jurkowitz paints a picture of a lawyer who is idealistic, passionate and tenacious.

Cooper spoke on a libel panel in December for the Mass. Newspaper Publishers Association (of which I am executive director). When I invited him, I joked that for him to come to a meeting of publishers and editors would be like entering the lions' den. By the end of the panel, he may not have tamed the lions in the room, but he certainly earned their respect. He honed in eloquently on a point that should be obvious: By adhering to generally accepted standards of professionalism in reporting, journalists can keep Cooper and his clients from knocking on the newsroom door.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Op-ed: No democracy in the dark

An op-ed I wrote on behalf of the Massachuetts Newspaper Publishers Association calling for open meeting reform appears in today's Boston Herald: No Democracy in the Dark.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Standard-Times calls for action on open meetings

An editorial in today's New Bedford Standard-Times calls for legislative action on a bill to reform the state's Open Meeting Law. The bill, crafted by Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, is based on a package of bills originally filed by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, of which I am executive director. The editorial says:
"The primary beneficiary of the Cabral bill is the ordinary citizen who relies on open government to be sure that taxpayer money is well spent by elected and appointed officials. Citizens who would like to see this reform bill become law should contact their local legislator and Rep. DeLeo, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to push for action this session."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Podcast considers blogging as scholarship

The recent Bloggership conference drew attention to the role of blogs in legal scholarship. On this week's legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast, we continue the discussion. Joining us to debate law professor blogs as legal scholarship are three highly regarded law professors and bloggers:
To listen to the podcast:You can subscribe to the Coast to Coast program feed here. You can also subscribe here via iTunes.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Blogger not liable for libelous comments

Federal law protects bloggers from libel lawsuits based on comments posted anonymously to their blogs, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled this week.

According to a report on, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell ruled that the Communications Decency Act protects blogger Tucker Max against a libel suit filed by Anthony DiMeo III, a Philadelphia publicist. DeMeo sued Max after anonymous posters used Max's site to criticize DiMeo when a party he organized ran into problems.

But Dalzell concluded that Section 230 of the CDA was enacted to provide immunity from libel suits for Internet providers -- including bloggers. This is so, Dalzell ruled, even if the blogger admits he excercises some editorial control over the anonymous postings.

Text of the opinion is here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Supreme Court's eBay ruling discussed

The recent Supreme Court ruling in eBay v. MercExchange, setting the standard for injunctive relief in patent cases, is the topic of this week's legal affairs podcast Coast to Coast. Joining my co-host J. Craig Williams and me are two prominent patent lawyers, Rachel Krevans, partner at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, and Dennis Crouch, patent attorney at the law firm of McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff in Chicago and author of the blog Patently-O.

Time must give Libby documents

AP reports that a federal judge today ruled that Time magazine must give I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby drafts of articles so that the former White House aide can use them to defend himself against charges in the CIA leak case.
"U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton limited the scope of subpoenas that Libby's lawyers had aimed at Time, NBC News and The New York Times for e-mails, notes, drafts of articles and other information.

"But in a 40-page ruling, Walton rejected the news organizations' argument that they have a broad right to refuse to provide such information in criminal cases."
The opinion is here.

Victory for bloggers in Apple v. Does

In a victory for bloggers as journalists, a California appeals court today issued a decision preventing Apple Computer from forcing the disclosure of unnamed individuals who allegedly leaked information about new Apple products to online news sites. In a 69-page opinion in O'Grady v. Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal said that the trial court erred in refusing to grant an order protecting against disclosure of their identities.
"We hold that this was error because (1) the subpoena to the email service provider cannot be enforced consistent with the plain terms of the federal Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2712); (2) any subpoenas seeking unpublished information from petitioners would be unenforceable through contempt proceedings in light of the California reporter’s shield (Cal. Const., art. I, § 2, subd (b); Evid. Code, § 1070); and (3) discovery of petitioners’ sources is also barred on this record by the conditional constitutional privilege against compulsory disclosure of confidential sources (see Mitchell v. Superior Court (1984) 37 Cal.3d 268 (Mitchell)). Accordingly, we will issue a writ of mandate directing the trial court to grant the motion for a protective order."
Denise Howell has more analysis of the decision. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has background.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Immigration reform discussed in podcast

Sweeping proposals this week from Congress and the president to change U.S. immigration laws have been met with strong reactions from across the political spectrum. On this week's Coast to Coast legal-affairs podcast, my cohost J. Craig Williams and I discuss these proposed changes with immigration lawyers Gregory Siskind, founding partner of Siskind Susser in Memphis, Tenn., and Monica Guizar, employment policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Maine court rejects papers' bid for tribal records

AP reports (via Editor & Publisher) that Maine's highest court has rejected newspapers' request under the state Freedom of Access Act to obtain access to Passamaquoddy documents and meetings about a proposed $500 million liquefied natural gas terminal on tribal land. In its meetings to discuss the LNG terminal, the tribe was acting as a for-profit business rather than as a governmental body, the court said.

The full text of the opinion is here.

Podcast: Electronic Discovery

Somehow I neglected to mention my own podcast last week, in which we focused on e-discovery. We had two great guests and experts in the field, Eric Meyer from Dilworth Paxon in Philadelphia and Stephen Prignano from Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge in Providence, R.I.

Coast to Coast is the weekly legal affairs podcast cohosted by J. Craig Williams and me and produced by the Legal Talk Network. An archive of all past shows is available here. All shows are available to listen to in Windows Media format or to download in MP3 format. The show's RSS feed is available here.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Suit dropped against Maine blogger

The New York ad agency that sued Maine blogger Lance Dutson for libel today voluntarily dismissed the case. More details available from Dutson and from Media Bloggers Association.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Connecticut passes reporter shield law

The Connecticut legislature yesterday overwhelmingly voted to pass a shield law for reporters to protect their confidential sources. The bill was approved in the Senate by a vote of 36-0 and in the House by 136-11. The Connecticut Post reports that Gov. M. Jodi Rell will sign the bill, which will then take effect Oct. 1.

The bill creates a "qualified" shield, meaning that courts still can require disclosure of a source in certain circumstances. A court could compel disclosure in either a criminal or a civil case if it were shown by clear and convincing evidence that:
  • The information or the identity of the source of the information is critical or necessary to the investigation or prosecution of a crime or to a criminal defense, or to the maintenance of a party's claim, defense or proof of a material issue.
  • The information or the identity of the source of the information cannot be obtained from any alternative source.
  • There is an overriding public interest in the disclosure.
The law defines "news media" to include:
  • Any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book publisher, news agency, wire service, radio or television station or network, cable or satellite or other transmission system or carrier, or channel or programming service for such station, network, system or carrier, or audio or audiovisual production company that disseminates information to the public, whether by print, broadcast, photographic, mechanical, electronic or any other means or medium.
  • Any person who is or has been an employee, agent or independent contractor of any such entity and is or has been engaged in gathering, preparing or disseminating information to the public for such entity, or any other person supervising or assisting such person with gathering, preparing or disseminating information.
  • Any parent, subsidiary, division or affiliate of any such persons or entities.
It is not clear whether this definition would include bloggers. At first glance, it would appear to exclude bloggers who are not working for a media organization, but perhaps one could argue that a blog is a "periodical" or "other transmission system" and therefore covered.

Full information about the bill and its legislative history is available here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Podcast: America's top-grossing law firms

Today on the legal affairs podcast Coast to Coast, we discuss the Am Law 100, the annual ranking by The American Lawyer magazine of the nation's 100 highest grossing law firms. Joining us as our featured guest is the magazine's editor-in-chief, Aric Press.

Coast to Coast is the weekly legal affairs podcast cohosted by J. Craig Williams and me and produced by the Legal Talk Network. An archive of all past shows is available here. All shows are available to listen to in Windows Media format or to download in MP3 format. The show's RSS feed is available here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Maine blogger faces lawsuit

From today's Boston Globe:
"A coastal Maine blogger who criticized the state's tourism office has been hit with a lawsuit seeking potentially more than $1 million in damages for allegedly making false statements and posting on his website, Maine Web Report, images from proposed tourism advertisements a New York agency prepared for Maine officials.

"The case raises the issue of how free speech protection will be applied in the proliferating world of weblogs, or blogs, and underscores the growing influence of bloggers on business and government."
The blogger, Lance Dutson, has more on this as well as a list of other blogs that have written about the case.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shield law fails to protect NY Post

In a $40 million defamation case, a New York judge has granted former New York Knick Latrell Sprewell's motion to preclude the New York Post from relying on confidential sources in its motion for summary judgment and consequently denied the motion in part, according to a report in the New York Law Journal. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman wrote:
"The identity of the confidential sources is ... clearly material to this action as it bears directly on the issue of malice -- specifically, whether the confidential eyewitnesses were reliable sources for the articles or whether defendants' reliance upon them showed a reckless disregard for the truth. This court [finds] that defendants have put the [Shield Law's] privilege in issue, and that they may not rely on the confidential sources in support of their showing on their summary judgment motion that they did not act with malice."
Sprewell claims that the paper damaged his reputation by reporting that he had fractured his hand swinging at someone during a party on his boat. The newspaper invoked the state shield law in refusing to identify its source. To this, the judge replied:
"[W]hile the Shield Law exempts professional journalists from contempt for refusal to disclose confidential sources, 'the Legislature has never established an absolute right or granted journalists complete immunity from all legal consequences of refusing to disclose evidence relating to a news source.'"
The ruling means that the case may now proceed to trial.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Podcast: Report from ABA Techshow

This week's Coast to Coast podcast comes live from ABA Techshow. We interview Tom Mighell, blogger and member of the Techshow planning board, and David Snow, legal technology editor for

Coast to Coast is the weekly legal affairs podcast cohosted by J. Craig Williams and me and produced by the Legal Talk Network. An archive of all past shows is available here. All shows are available to listen to in Windows Media format or to download in MP3 format. The show's RSS feed is available here.
  • Download or listen to this week's show here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Law firm ruled public figure in defamation suit

A New York judge has ruled that a politically connected Long Island law firm is a public figure and must meet the actual malice standard in a defamation suit against a legislator who publicly accued the firm of over-billing and trying to cover up misconduct, reports. The judge noted that even though well-known lawyers representing famous clients are not generally held to be public figures, she found this firm to meet the standard because of its lawyers' prominence in local public affairs and steps the firm had taken to draw public attention to itself.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Podcast: Creating strong law firm Web sites

On the legal-affairs podcast Coast to Coast this week, we discuss the elements of an effective law firm Web site. Joining us are three of the nation's top experts in law firm Web sites:
  • Tim Stanley, CEO of the legal Web site company and former CEO and co-founder of FindLaw.
  • Pete Boyd, Florida attorney and president of PaperStreet Web design for attorneys.
  • Dennis Kennedy, lawyer and legal technology innovator.
Coast to Coast is the weekly legal news podcast cohosted by J. Craig Williams and me and produced by the Legal Talk Network. An archive of all past shows is available here. All shows are available to listen to in Windows Media format or to download in MP3 format. The show's RSS feed is available here.
  • Download or listen to this week's show here.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Podcast examines plight of public defenders

In Missouri, public defenders earn a starting salary of $37,800 but were expected to handle an average of 298 cases each last year. Throughout the United States, public defenders are in similar circumstances, earning low salaries, carrying heavy caseloads and handling some of the toughest cases our legal system sees. What dedication drives them to do it. What can be done to improve their pay and working conditions?

On this week's Coast to Coast, we discuss the plight of public defenders. Our guests for the program are:
  • Greg Apt, a public defender in Los Angeles County for 11 years.
  • Josh Hanye, a second-year public defender in the Boston Trial Unit of the Massachusettts Committee for Public Counsel Services.
  • Robert Spangenberg, president of the Spangenberg Group, a nationally recognized research and consulting firm specializing in improving justice programs.
Coast to Coast is the weekly legal news podcast cohosted by J. Craig Williams and me and produced by the Legal Talk Network. An archive of all past shows is available here. All shows are available to listen to in Windows Media format or to download in MP3 format. The show's RSS feed is available here.
  • Download or listen to this show here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Idaho Supreme Court says legislature may close meetings

From Media Law Prof Blog:
"The Idaho Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision that the Senate and House may close legislative committee meetings to the public. The Idaho Press Club had requested a declaratory judgment that closing such meetings violated Article III, section 12 of the Idaho Constitution."

S.D. case brings call for shield law

In South Dakota, a recent court order forcing a student newspaper to turn over unpublished photographs is fueling support for federal and state shield law efforts, the Argus Leader reports. South Dakota is among the minority of states that has no shield law and is also without substantial case law defining the scope of journalists privilege, the article says.

Shield bill advances in Connecticut

In Connecticut this week, the legislature's Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would shield reporters from revealing confidential sources, the Journal Inquirer reported. The bill now heads to the full House of Representatives.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

High court refuses to stop anthrax libel suit

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to stop a defamation suit against The New York Times brought by Dr. Steven Hatfill, the scientist labeled a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax-laced letters which killed five people, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports.
"The Times had appealed to the Supreme Court to throw out the case before pre-trial collection of evidence begins because it claimed that the stories could not reasonably have accused Hatfill of being the anthrax mailer. By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court allows Hatfill's libel case to continue to trial."

FEC exempts blogs from political limits

The Federal Election Commission yesterday, by a 6-0 vote, effectively granted media exemptions to bloggers that allow them to praise and criticize politicians in the same manner as newspapers can without fear of federal interference, The Washington Post reports.
"The rules 'totally exempt individuals who engage in political activity on the Internet from the restrictions of the campaign finance laws. The exemption for individual Internet activity in the final rules is categorical and unqualified,' said FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner. The regulation 'protects Internet activities by individuals in all forms, including e-mailing, linking, blogging, or hosting a Web site,' he said."
The document containing the FEC's final rules and their justification is here. Additional revisions and amendments are in this document.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Podcast: Gender gap in the legal profession

Our legal news podcast Coast to Coast this week looks at the gender gap in the legal profession. Joining us to discuss this issue are:
Coast to Coast is the weekly legal news podcast cohosted by J. Craig Williams and me and produced by the Legal Talk Network. An archive of all past shows is available here. All shows are available to listen to in Windows Media format or to download in MP3 format. The show's RSS feed is available here.
  • Download or listen to this show here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sunshine Week coverage continues in Mass.

More of Sunshine Week coverage by Massachusetts newspapers:
See also:

Folo: Court OKs search of paper's hard drives

I wrote last week about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling allowing prosecutors to search a newspaper's hard drives. Editor & Publisher has more on the search and reactions to it:
"The decision has alarmed free-press advocates as word of the seizure spreads. 'This is horrifying, an editor's worst nightmare,' Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. 'For the government to actually physically have those hard drives from a newsroom is amazing. I'm just flabbergasted to hear of this.'"

Few Mass. cities post key records online

Only 23 of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts post six essential public records on their Web sites, a survey by the Massachusetts Campaign for Open Government revealed this week. The survey examined the Internet presence of all Massachusetts cities and towns in during February and March. It found that of the 308 municipalities that have some presence on the Internet, just 23 post six essential public records: the governing body’s agenda; the governing body’s minutes; fiscal year 2006 budget information; the municipality’s bylaws, code or ordinances; and, if applicable, town meeting warrant and town meeting results.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mass. bill would reform open meeting law

Massachusetts state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford), chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, yesterday unveiled major legislation to reform Massachusetts' open meeting law. "Today, in an age of government spying, secret wiretapping and increasing government secrecy, we must renew our commitment to openness," Rep Cabral said.

The legislation is based on a package of bills proposed by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, of which I am executive director.

The reform legislation has five main initiatives:
  • It would strengthen the language of the open meeting law to include current communication technology. Real-time electronic communication between government bodies would be subject to the same rules as meetings held in person.
  • It would create an Open Meeting Law Board to oversee complaints and violations of the open meeting law and oversee a new Office of Government Accountability, housed in the Office of the Attorney General, to provide increased resources to investigating violations.
  • For the first time in this state, it would impose civil fines on individual members of boards who violate the law and allow citizens to recover attorneys' fees in actions to enforce the law.
  • Boards subject to the open meeting law would be required to post meeting agendas as part of required meeting notices.
  • It would close some exceptions to the current law which allow for closed executive sessions.
The bill, based on legislation filed last year by the MNPA, has not been assigned a number.