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In South Dakota, a recent court order forcing a student newspaper to turn over unpublished photographs is fueling support for federal and state shield law efforts, the Argus Leader reports.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.

Monday, March 13, 2006

More of Sunshine Week coverage in Mass.

More Sunshine Week coverage from Massachusetts newspapers:
See also: Sunshine Week coverage in Mass.

Texas tries again for shield law

From AP via the Laredo Morning Times:
"AUSTIN - Texas media organizations are planning to again work for passage of a law protecting news reporters from having to disclose secret sources and other information in court.

"That legislation, known as a shield law, failed in the state's 2005 legislative session amid opposition from district attorneys. But news industry groups will push a similar measure in the 2007 session."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunshine Week coverage in Mass.

Today marks the start of Sunshine Week and several Massachusetts newspapers marked the day with reporting and opinion:

Shield laws uncertain in Mass., Conn.

Associated Press reporter Brooke Donald provides an update on shield law efforts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. She writes:
"An effort to pass a reporter shield law in Massachusetts is gaining steam, but may end up being set aside while the Legislature deals with other issues, such as expanding health care for thousands of uninsured residents.

"A similar effort is underway in Connecticut, where a bill that died last year has been tweaked and brought up again."

Court OKs search of paper's hard drives

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors may search a newspaper's hard drives to seek evidence in a grand jury investigation into whether reporters were improperly given access to a restricted law enforcement Web site, AP reports. The court issued a one-page order that allows the Attorney General's Office to examine four Lancaster Newspapers Inc. computers.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Analysis: States steadily restricting info

As Sunshine Week kicks off, an Associated Press 50-state survey finds that states have steadily limited the public's access to government information since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. State legislatures have passed more than 1,000 laws changing access to information, approving more than twice as many measures that restrict information as laws that open government books, the survey finds.

Overall, the AP found that states passed 616 laws that restricted access to government records, databases, meetings and more, and 284 laws that loosened access. Another 123 laws had either a neutral or mixed effect, the AP found.

(Note: I provided assistance to the Massachusetts AP bureau in researching laws here.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Florida court dismisses Web defamation suit

A Florida trial court has dismissed for lack of jurisdiction a builder's defamation lawsuit against the owner of a Web site critical of its work. The owner, Peter Siskind, created the site,, after his relationship deteriorated with the builder he had hired to construct a Florida home. The site -- which the court labels a "gripe site" -- describes itself as dedicated to "all the consumers who have had bad experiences using Lexington Builders (west coast of Florida)." Siskind spells out his complaints with Lexington and invites others to add their stories.

The builder, Lexington Homes Inc., sued Siskind in Florida's Sixth Judicial Circuit. Siskind, not a Florida resident, asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court granted the request, finding that the nature and quality of Siskind's activity in maintaining the site did not support the minimum contacts required for the exercise of personal jurisdiction. It said:
"Under these facts, this court cannot find that the defendant 'purposefully directed' its activities at residents of the forum state. Mere maintenance of a website accessible in Florida is not enough to create jurisdiction, and the contacts that tie the defendant to Florida must be particular and specific and not merely contacts that link the defendant with equal strength to all states. … Websites accessibIe in the state of Florida do not create jurisdiction absent some sort of active solicitation of activity in the State of Florida."
This is not an appellate case, but it is noteworthy. The court declined to find jurisdiction even though the Web site grew out of deal gone bad in Florida and targeted a Florida company's business practices. The court made the right call, in my opinion.

The decision, issued Nov. 2, 2005, is not available at the court's Web site, as far as I could determine, so I have posted the PDF version here.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention to Marc John Randazza of Weston, Garrou, DeWitt & Walters, Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Podcast examines soaring law firm salaries

This week on the legal news podcast Coast to Coast, we discuss soaring associate salaries. After a few years of relative stagnation, salaries for first year law associates suddenly are exploding. Starting pay is an incredible $145,000 at some large firms and I heard today of one that hit $150,000. What is going on here? Joining us to discuss this are Carey Bertolet, managing director of BCG Attorney Search in New York City, Melissa Lennon, senior director of the Temple Law School Office of Career Planning, and Michel J. Ayer, a law student at the University of Iowa College of Law.

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.