Monday, March 29, 2010

Legislators Bury Bills That Would Expose them to Sunshine

Many in Massachusetts do not realize that the legislature has exempted itself from the open meeting law. While most state and local boards and committees are required by law to conduct their business in public, the legislature has no such requirement.

Two bills that would have changed that have effectively been killed. Both have been ordered to be sent to study committees, which generally means the bills will see no further action for the remainder of the legislative session.

The two bills were:
  • House 3496, filed by Rep. Jennifer M. Callahan, a Democrat who represents the 18th Worcester district. Her bill would have applied the open meeting law to the legislature and also would have required the legislature to publish advance notices of committee hearings in at least two newspapers.
  • House 1118, filed by Rep. Thomas M. Stanley, a Democrat who represents the 9th Middlesex district. His bill would have included the legislature within the provisions of the open meeting law.
It would seem that what's good for the goose is not so good for the gander. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Judiciary Committee Extends Review of Shield Bill

The Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary has extended to May 7 the date by which it must report for or against a shield bill that would protect journalists' confidential sources. March 17 was the deadline for the committee to issue a report on the bill, but an extension order gives the committee until May 7.

The bill, House Bill 1650, would prohibit courts and government agencies from forcing members of the news media to reveal their news sources. The bill would also protect reporters against the compelled disclosure of notes, outtakes, photographs and recordings.

For more on the bill, see my previous post.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Symposium: Legal Challenges in Digital Journalism

The Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center has put together a not-to-be-missed day-long symposium, Journalism's Digital Transition: Unique Legal Challenges and Opportunities. The April 9 program features a stellar array of speakers and panelists that includes leading lawyers, journalists and academics. They will cover such topics as anonymity, defamation and privacy; copyright fair use and news aggregation; and law and ethics in a changing media ecosystem.

If you register today, the cost of the conference is $225. After today, it goes up to $275. The price includes course materials and lunch. The seminar marks the CMLP's recent launch of the Online Media Legal Network.

Regrettably, I will miss this not-to-be-missed program, because I am scheduled to speak at a University of Connecticut School of Law program on how technology is changing the practice of law.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Roundtable: The Judiciary and the Media

The Supreme Judicial Court's Judiciary-Media Committee is sponsoring a half-day program on Friday, March 26, on the judiciary and the news media. The program takes place at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The schedule is as follows:
  • 8:30 a.m.: Registration.
  • 9 a.m.: Anatomy of a Criminal Case. (Hon. Kent Smith, Retired Justice, Appeals Court; Moderator: R.D. Sahl, New England Cable News).
  • 10:45 a.m.: Covering Children and the Juvenile Court. (Hon. Jay D. Blitzman, First Justice, Middlesex County Juvenile Court; Moderator: Ronald P. Corbett, Jr., Ed.D., Supreme Judicial Court).
  • 12:15 p.m.: Lunch break.
  • 1 p.m.: Judges and Journalists: A Dialogue. Jim Braude of NECN and WTTK Radio will moderate a roundtable discussion with Appeals Court Justice David A. Mills, WCVB-TV reporter Amalia Barreda, Leominster District Court Judge John Curran, Superior Court Judge Robert Kane, Probate and Family Court Judge James V. Menno and Boston Globe metro editor Jennifer Peter.
Members of the news media may register by contacting Jennifer Terminesi at the Flaschner Judicial Institute at

Proposed Ban on Reporting Minors' Names Appears Dead

A Massachusetts bill that would ban the news media from reporting the names of minors who appear in a broadcast or photograph appears unlikely to pass this session.

The bill, Senate 1669, would prohibit the media from using minors' names without first obtaining the express, written consent of the minor's parent or guardian. Last week, the legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary referred the bill to a study committee, which generally means the bill is unlikely to be resurrected during the current legislative session.

As you can imagine, such a law would severely inhibit the media's reporting on school sports and other such events. It would also be unconstitutional. On behalf of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, I had submitted testimony opposing this bill when it came up for a hearing last July.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Does a School Board 'Retreat' Violate the Open Meeting Law?

That is the question raised in this article in The Republican today. The Springfield School Committee is spending the weekend at a resort in the Berkshires for a training program led by a group called the Center for Reform of School Systems.

The district attorney gave the gathering a green light. Strictly speaking, the "retreat" would not violate the open meeting law, provided -- and this is an important proviso -- the group engages in no deliberations. The law defines "deliberation" as "a verbal exchange between a quorum of members of a governmental body attempting to arrive at a decision on any public business within its jurisdiction."

In my opinion, the school committee is treading on dangerous turf here. If they are huddled together over the course of a couple days, with a facilitator whose agenda is school reform, discussing this all day, sharing cocktails and meals in the evenings, it seems highly unlikely that they can avoid discussing school policy and business. If they cross that line, and discuss matters within their decision-making purview, then they have violated the law, in my opinion.

Friday, March 19, 2010

DA says Rockland Selectmen Violated Open Meeting Law

The Plymouth County district attorney's office has found that selectmen in Rockland, Mass., violated the open meeting law in the process of hiring a full-time accountant, The Patriot Ledger reports. A town accountant search committee also violated the law.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Under the Open Meeting Law, e-mail can be a double-edged sword

On Beacon Hill and in municipal buildings across the state, government officials are getting the message that e-mail can be a double-edged sword, writes State House reporter Dan Ring in The Republican of Springfield.

Towns prepare for substantial changes in Open Meeting Law

"The state's Open Meeting Law requires that meetings of governmental boards and committees be conducted in sessions open to the public, with few exceptions which are strictly limited. The goal of the law is to eliminate as much of the secrecy around discussions and decisions of public policy, by requiring that discussion to be done in a public meeting.

"Amendments to the Open Meeting Law have been made many times since it was first adopted in 1958, most recently last July when Gov. Deval Patrick signed the ethics, lobbying and campaign finance reform bill that included changes to the Open Meeting Law. The changes, some of which are substantial, are scheduled to go into effect July 1."

Read more: Towns prepare for substantial changes in Open Meeting Law |

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Boston Lawyer Wins Libel Case for Former V.I. Judge

A former Superior Court judge in the U.S. Virgin Islands won a $240,000 libel verdict this week against the Virgin Islands Daily News. The former judge, Leon Kendall, was represented in the lawsuit by Howard Cooper, the Boston lawyer who in 2005 won a $2.1 million verdict against The Boston Herald for former Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy.

According to a report today in The Daily News, the jury on St. Thomas returned the verdict Tuesday. Jurors found that the newspaper and one of its reporters damaged Kendall's reputation through a series of 16 news stories and an editorial published from 2005 to 2009.

The stories related to Kendall's work as a judge and bail rulings he made. The editorial called for his resignation. Kendall retired from the bench last year.

The Daily News says it will appeal the verdict.