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.]