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The NEFAC Report 
         New England's monthly right-to-know dispatch

      October  2012    
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  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Follow NEFAC's ongoing First Amendment conversation as it develops across New England   Follow us on Twitter

Institute Polishes FOI, Investigative Skills

By Rosanna Cavanagh

   What helps protect our children from predators, support our religious freedom, ensure the integrity of our police forces and keep campuses and schools safe? Time and again, it's dogged journalists using freedom of information laws and investigative reporting techniques.
   That was the unstated but undeniable lesson of the second annual New England First Amendment Institute, which drew 27 journalists into workshops, panel discussions and case studies led by masters of the law and the reporting craft.
   The Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 program at the New England Newspaper and Press Association  in Dedham, Mass., was a  collaboration of  NEFAC and the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University's School of Journalism.  Read more


 The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., gained access to a search affidavit in the rape case against developer William O'Connell. 
(see the September Report.)
Follows by Jack Encarnacao:
  Girl says she told O'Connell she was 14.

  Ruling may make it harder in the future to justify closing such documents.    
Miffed NH House Speaker Cuts Contact with the Concord Monitor 
By Annmarie Timmins  

   CONCORD N.H.  -  There's a troubling, perhaps illegal, new press policy within the New Hampshire State House: Everyone's welcome in the House

Timmins, Annmarie

speaker's office except the Concord Monitor.

   We are not allowed to attend any press conference held in his office. We cannot get the press releases sent to other news outlets, and neither Bill O'Brien nor his staff will respond to questions for our stories.

   What we don't know is why, exactly, because O'Brien won't take our calls or emails. And his reasoning seems to evolve each time another media outlet asks him to explain his new policy.

   First O'Brien said he was unhappy with a Monitor editorial cartoon likening his authoritarian style to Hitler's. Lately, he's said he won't engage with "Democratic propagandists."  Read more  


(Closed-door videos: Timmins' viewpoint;  from inside speaker's office)  

Facts Mundane, but U.S. Supreme Court's Ruling on FOI Case Could Have Profound Effects
By Steven Brown  
   PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Privileges and Immunities Clause is not a constitutional provision that journalists and open government advocates likely know or care much about. But its interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court in an upcoming case could have a profound effect on the ability of open records advocates to obtain public information from far-flung sources.
    The case the court has recently agreed to hear involves a Virginia Freedom of Information Act provision that limits its use to Virginia residents only.
   The case's lead plaintiff, Mark McBurney, is a Rhode Island resident. Like so many momentous cases, his involves a mundane set of facts. Suffice it to say that a Virginia agency denied an open records request he filed on the grounds that he was not a Virginia resident.  Read more        
Judge Rules Against Maine Political Operative's Claim to Journalist Privilege
By Ann S. Kim    

   PORTLAND, Maine - Once a journalist, always a journalist.  

Kim, Ann

 That's what lawyers for a well-known political operative asserted in defending an anonymous political website he created during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

   Dennis Bailey was the creator of the Cutler Files, a now-defunct website critical of independent candidate Eliot Cutler that claimed to be the work of a "group of researchers, writers and journalists."    

   The state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices fined Bailey $200 for failing to disclose who paid for the website and whether it was authorized by any gubernatorial candidate.  Read more  

After Stonewalling, New London Releases Pension, Salary Figures 
By David Collins
   NEW LONDON, Conn. - Avner Gregory, a former member of the city's school board and a critic of city spending, first submitted a Freedom of
Collins, David
Information request asking for a list of pension payments to retired city employees in June.
    By September, with a looming referendum on the city's proposed new budget, with its tax increase of 7.5 percent, Gregory had still not received a list of the pension payments.
   Tired of what he called a runaround, Gregory decided to go public with the city's stonewalling  and called me up. I wrote a column that was published Sept. 14.
   Gregory told his story about his many visits to City Hall and the many times he was told he might get the list of pension payments, in time.
Read more
   We welcome contributions to The NEFAC Report from journalists, lawyers, adademics or other advocates of government transparency.
   If you have something to add to the conversation, please let me know. Your  stories, experiences and commentaries have broad appeal and value. - - Larry Laughlin, NEFAC Report editor. ([email protected]).