NEFAC logo 11-11The NEFAC Report
New England's monthly right-to-know dispatch
Prepared by the New England First Amendment Coalition in partnership with Northeastern University                                   April 2012
   The monthly NEFAC Report monitors print and online coverage of public access issues in the six-state region.  Visit our Website  for the NEFAC blog, media updates from around New England, guides to the states' right-to-know laws, legal contacts and more.
Fatal NH shooting raises questions of what to report, when
   Every breaking news situation, like the coverage of Thursday night's shooting in Greenland, brings the challenge of what to report and when. How do you balance the public's right to know with the safety of law enforcement and respect for the families of those killed or wounded? Also, in the absence of official information being released due to legal issues, the chaos of the scene, and conflicting information from sources, which information do you report? Thursday night in Greenland we had all of those scenarios.

 WMUR-TV, Manchester, N.H.


ME senate kills proposal to shield governor's papers
   AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to postpone indefinitely a measure that sought to exempt from Maine's Freedom of Access Act any "working papers" created by the governor or members of his staff.
   Sen. David Hastings, R-Fryeburg, who supported the bill when it passed the Judiciary Committee, made the motion to postpone indefinitely LD 1805. Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, then requested a roll call so that the vote would be recorded.
   All 34 senators in the chamber on Wednesday voted to postpone, which effectively kills the measure.  
Read more            

- Eric Russell, Bangor (Maine) Daily News


Related: Governor checked, balanced by ME Senate, Kennebec Journal, Augusta   

Want to know what they're texting? Just ask.
   NASHUA, N.H. - If you want to know what aldermen text about during their meetings, all you've got to do is ask.
   That's the legal opinion city attorney Stephen Bennett sent aldermen last month through a memorandum on the interplay between the Right to Know Law and the use of cell phones and personal laptops during public meetings.
   The memo addresses technology use between board members during meetings, which, for some, is a question of open government.  Read more                

- Maryalice Gill, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.


Herald gains partial win on city employee porn records
   MONTPELIER, Vt. - The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday granted a partial victory to the Rutland Herald in the newspaper's effort to get access to records concerning allegations that Rutland city employees viewed pornography at work.
   The justices issued the second decision in as many weeks in the Herald's access-to-records fights. It said the paper can get access to disciplinary records stemming from the investigation of city public works employees but the names of the workers will be blocked out.
   But it barred similar access to a probe of city police department employees. The court ruled those records were exempt from disclosure because they were linked to the detection and investigation of crimes.
Read more

- The Associated Press


... but loses on bid for academy probe results  

   The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that records of an investigation at the Vermont State Police Academy will remain confidential.

   Charges were never brought in the investigation as its principal subject, Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council employee David McMullen, committed suicide after police said they discovered suspicious material on his work computer.

   The Rutland Herald sued for the records, which the state argued were covered by a blanket exemption to the Vermont public records law.  Read more  

- Rutland Herald



Decision bad news for VT transparency advocates, writes ACLU's Allen Gilbert.

Legislature to blame for "stinker" of a decision 

- The Burlington Free Press


Reporting annulment of charges in NH a crime no longer
   Sometimes a clear and cogent argument for open government can get lost in the weeds.
   Trying to editorially discuss the importance of posting a school board meeting correctly or why police logs along with court records should be readily available to the public is nigh on impossible.
   It is with great relish then that we draw readers' attention to the case of Dennis Fleming and a headline which appeared in the April 3 edition of Foster's Daily Democrat: "Fleming gets a clean slate - Man's arrest after firing warning shot to stop burglar has been annulled."    Read more                      


- Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.


MA transparency panel begins its work - in secret
   A group of lawmakers responsible for developing legislation to enhance accountability and transparency in state government began its work Tuesday with a counterintuitive move - they met behind closed doors.
   Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, told reporters that meeting in open session might "inhibit frank negotiations" among the six members of the conference committee.
   It's hard to believe there's much danger of that.   Read more                         

- The Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.



Open sessions would inhibit frank discussion, says chairman - Michael Norton, State House News Service 

Judge releases sex case records to author McGinnis
   NORTHAMPTON - Ruling that the public has a First Amendment right to the information, a judge has released 71 pages of previously impounded documents on the David Fried Oppenheim case to writer Joe McGinniss.
   McGinniss, who is including the trial in his book "15 Gothic Street," said the information will let him add texture to his narrative.   Read more                        

- Fred Contrada, The  Republican, Springfield, Mass.


Boston judge doesn't want to answer questions in bias probe
   Judge Raymond G. Dougan, under investigation after being accused of bias in favor of defendants during 21 years on the bench, is asking the state's highest court to prevent investigators from questioning him about how he reached individual decisions, asserting that judges should not have to reveal their inner thoughts about cases to anyone.
   It is believed to be the first time in the 34-year history of the Commission on Judicial Conduct that a judge under investigation has challenged the agency's authority, raising fears among advocates of open government and hopes among judges who believe the Dougan investigation threatens the independence of all judges.
   If Dougan prevails, it could hamper future investigations into whether a Massachusetts judge is impartial on the bench.  Read more                          

- Andrea Estes, The Boston Globe  


Maneuvering clouds override on NH redistricting veto
    You may have heard the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Wednesday overrode Gov. John Lynch's veto of House Bill 592, which restructures voting districts for House members. This is a process the Legislature must undertake every 10 years under federal law.
   What you may not have heard about, however, is the machinations the House went through - some legal and, as Democrats and even several Republicans claim, some not - to get that vote.  Read more

- Shir Haberman, Portsmouth (NH) Herald    


Court blocks plan to aggregate, sell digitized ME records
  PORTLAND, Maine - A Cumberland business owner said he is unsure if will try again to establish a statewide, commercial provider of county records after the state's highest court reversed a lower court decision in his favor.
   Six Maine counties asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overturn last year's Maine Superior Court decision in favor of MacImage of Maine.
    Company owner John Simpson intended to provide online public access to registry of deeds documents at a lower cost than the counties charge. His website,, only had Hancock County records, but Simpson wanted to add deeds, liens and mortgage records from all Maine counties.
   The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition supported the company's cause. MacImage argued last December that state law makes registries of deeds' records public, and that the public is permitted to copy and inspect those documents at a reasonable price.  Read more

-  Alex Lear, The Forecaster, Falmouth, Maine    


Civil liberties concerns aside, police say scanners effective
  BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Despite concerns expressed by a civil liberties group, local police departments say the use of license plate scanners is a more effective way of doing standard police work that saves hundreds of man hours.
   The Fairfield Police Department has been using license plate scanners since 2010 while the Bridgeport Police Department began using them this past September. The scanners cost about $10,000.
   "It (the scanner) has resulted in quite a few arrests for different motor vehicle violations, we picked up some stolen cars and we had two robbery arrests as a direct result of the plate reader in kind of a convoluted fashion," Deputy Fairfield Police Chief Christopher Lyddy said.   Read more

- Daniel Tepfer, Greenwich (Conn.) Time    


Advocates win partial victory on military harassment case
   NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A federal judge has handed a partial victory to civil rights advocates seeking information about sexual harassment complaints against the U.S. military.
   U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz, in New Haven, ruled Friday that several U.S. agencies failed to respond sufficiently to a Freedom of Information request. But he also said the government was right to not respond to requests made of all Pentagon agencies.
   The government should submit supplemental affidavits "where useful to demonstrate that an adequate search was conducted," he said.   Read more                                

- The Associated Press    


Cops held back revealing details on RI lawmaker's arrest
  BARRINGTON, R.I. -- When they released a report of Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio's arrest on a drunken driving charge on Wednesday, the Barrington Police also had in hand a supplementary police report asserting that a North Providence state senator threatened police officers with legislative retribution.
   Michael Ursillo, the town of Barrington's lawyer, said Friday that both reports were created Wednesday. But, he said, they did not release the report of Patrolman Michael J. Gregorzek then because state open records law required them only to release the report of Patrolman Walter C. Larson, who made the arrest. 
Read more                         

- The Providence Journal 


State senator threatened cop during colleague's arrest,  Providence Journal
Collins trying to break through NOAA silence on abuses
  Questioning its "accountability and integrity," U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has launched an effort to break through a wall of silence erected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration surrounding the abuses of its authority while overseeing the nation's fishing industry.
   Collins has requested a meeting at the staff level between the administration and Senate and House Appropriations and Oversight committees in an effort to crack the silence she said has been erected via the misuse of the Privacy Act.  Read more

-  Richard Gaines, Gloucester (Mass.) Times   


A MA primer on fine art of fumbling your info requests
  Over the years, Massachusetts' bureaucracy has developed increasingly "creative" interpretations of transparency, saving the public the trouble of having to study the issues by ensuring that government data leaks out only sporadically and as uselessly as possible.
   While we're impressed by the state's dedication to ensuring the public doesn't have to bother with double-checking their work, we thought that compiling "best practices" we've observed over the years might help others emulate Massachusetts' success.  Read more

- Steve Poftak, Boston Magazine  


Data show servicemen improperly diagnosed, discharged  
   NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Department of Defense has illegally discharged hundreds of veterans in the past decade by not following their own protocols when making a diagnosis of personality disorder, which denies them certain medical benefits and carries a stigma that hurts re-entry to civilian life.
   That conclusion is based on data collected from the Department of Defense as the result of two Freedom of Information suits filed by the Veterans Services Clinic at Yale Law School on behalf of its clients, Vietnam Veterans of America.
   The VVA and the Yale clinic Thursday released their report: "Casting Troops Aside: The United States Military's Illegal Personality Disorder Discharge Problem."
   A person let go from military service with a diagnosis of personality disorder cannot access retirement disability benefits or severance disability payments and they may not qualify for monthly service connected compensation and timely health care from Veterans Affairs.  Read more

- Mary E. O'Leary, Milford-Orange (Conn.) Bulletin. 


Lawmaker wants to put bite in MA open meeting law   
   If you get caught parking illegally, you get a ticket. If you forget to return a library book on time, you have to pay a fine.
   But if you're an elected official caught violating the Open Meeting Law, in most cases all you get is a strongly worded letter.
   "There are no consequences," said Robert Ambrogi, an attorney and executive director of the Massachusetts Newspapers Publishers Association. "It's a slap on the knuckles at most."
   Despite efforts to improve government transparency by beefing up an aging and, at times, antiquated Open Meeting Law, some feel it lacks teeth. State Rep. Anthony Cabral is looking to change that.  Read more

- Chris Camire, Sentinel and Enterprise, Fitchburg, Mass.  



Maine pulls an "F" grade on transparency survey
   Maine has earned an "F" from a national organization's first-in-the-nation assessment of accountability and transparency across the 50 states.
   Maine ranked 46th in the State Integrity Investigation by three nonpartisan, national and international journalism and good government groups.
    The score was based on research into 330 indicators on both the laws and practices in 14 categories, from procurement to campaign disclosure to lobbying.
   No state got an A, leading the groups to conclude "statehouses remain ripe for self dealing and corruption."
   A leader of the study said a low score means Maine lacks the laws, regulation and enforcement to ensure residents are "getting the performance they hoped to see" from state government.  Read more 

-Naomi Shalit, Lance Tapley, John Christie: Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

Morning Sentinel, Augusta, Maine 



Related editorial: Maine investigative group helping the state, Journal Tribune, Biddeford, Maine 


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