January 2014   
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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." 

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Last Call for NEFAC Luncheon Tickets
By NEFAC Staff
   Only a few days remain to reserve your seat at New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC)'s awards luncheon at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on February 7.
   Advocates of the public's right to know have an opportunity to demonstrate their support for a journalist who faces the possibility of going to jail for doing his job when NEFAC honors James Risen, an investigative reporter with The New York Times, with the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award. 
     NEFAC will also honor a mother who has fought for the rights of disabled students in Darien, Conn. and a Vermont newspaper and reporter who have waged a lengthy legal battle to uncover documents that reveal serious issues of wrongdoing and lack of accountability in the Rutland police department.
       Kit Savage will receive the inaugural Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award and NEFAC's Freedom of Information Award will be given to Brent Curtis and The Rutland Herald.
        The luncheon is sponsored by The Providence Journal Charitable Fund (Presenting Sponsor), The Boston Globe (Patriot Circle Sponsor), Bingham McCutchen, WBUR, PrinceLobel, and The New York Times (Liberty Circle Sponsors).

Keep up with First Amendment issues via NEFAC's blog
 It's a forum for citizens, journalists, students, public policy advocates and government officials to have their say on First Amendment issues.
   The blog is maintained by New England First Amendment Coalition's board of directors.
   Submit comments to Laura Crimaldi:

James Risen's Litigation: A Turning Point for Press Freedoms 

By Rosanna Cavanagh

   BOSTON - The subpoena of James Risen, an investigative reporter for The New York Times to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former
cavanagh,rose employee of the CIA, has been the subject of a two-year litigation, the resolution of which will either help spur an era of restoration of our cherished First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press, or forever change the playing field upon which investigative journalism is practiced, creating a wall of secrecy between government and journalist and necessarily a curtain of darkness over the workings of government to the average citizen.

    On Feb. 7, 250 New Englanders will gather in Boston to bestow the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award on James Risen. The significance of the event is much deeper, however. In the city that showed the world the importance of political symbolism with the Boston Tea Party, another act of symbolism will be performed. We will vote with our feet for the direction we wish to see our country go.                     Presently the petition for a writ of certiorari by James Risen sits with the Supreme Court of the United States. If the Supreme Court grants his petition and hears the case, it will rule on a fundamental question that U.S. Circuit Courts have been unable to decide consistently: should journalists have a privilege rooted in our First Amendment freedom of the press not to reveal sources, when those sources are under criminal prosecution (especially when more frequently and in the Risen case the crime being charged is leaking and conveying classified information). Read more

Reflections on an FOI Odyssey 

By Brent Curtis

   RUTLAND, Vt. - The legal odyssey that I and my newspaper engaged in for the last three years started not as a question about freedom of

information, but as a question of whether or not a police sergeant for the city of Rutland was being criminally investigated for downloading child pornography on his work computer. 

       It took a judge's ruling to get an answer to that question, as the only piece of evidence that I could find was a search warrant that had been inexplicably sealed by an out-of-county judge.  The contents of the warrant and the investigation it described against an acting member of the police force was news to a lot of people - including the members of the Police Commission which oversees the department. Neither they nor any city official outside the police department had been informed that the criminal inquiry was taking place. Read more


Exemption to APRA Blocks Access to Correspondence in Cranston Parking Ticket Debacle
By Steven Brown
     CRANSTON, R.I. - On November 15, immediately after the Cranston City Council narrowly defeated a proposed police union contract, the
Brown, Stevevwards of two Council members who voted against the contract were flooded with parking tickets. As Steven Stycos, one of the Council members, documented, 128 tickets were issued in those two wards in the two nights following the vote, while only nine tickets were issued in the entire rest of the city. The 128 tickets actually exceeded the number of parking tickets that police had issued in the entire city during the months of September and October combined.  

       This disturbing use of power by police to apparently retaliate against public officials raises serious issues. Just as serious is the question of how much information about the scandal will be shared with the public. That is because Rhode Island's Access to Public Records Act (APRA) contains overly-broad exemptions that may keep critical documents shielded from public view. Read more 

Ag Gag Laws: A National Epidemic Threatening the First Amendment   

By Bill Ketzer
   CONCORD, N.H.-  Introduced in January 2013, House Bill 110 in New Hampshire sought to impose mandatory reporting requirements on any person witnessing or recording an act of animal cruelty committed against livestock. These efforts are commonly referred to as "Ag Gag" bills, which seek primarily to criminalize the act of documenting animal cruelty, environmental and other violations on farmsA nationwide epidemic, Ag-Gag legislation has been proposed in 16 states, including New Hampshire, since last year.

        Criminalizing this investigative activity not only cripples the ability of investigators to successfully prosecute animal abuse - it is a serious affront to tenants of First Amendment jurisprudence protecting the Freedom of the Press. Fortunately, due to an outpouring of public opposition and the statewide efforts of animal protection, environmental, prosecutorial, civil liberties and other organizations, H.B. 110 was finally tabled two weeks ago. Read more

   We welcome contributions to The NEFAC Report from journalists, lawyers, academics 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. -Rose Cavanagh, Executive Director. [email protected].