Sep 09

Four month wait for records is too long

It must be prisoner FOI week over at the Law Tribune, because we have a second inmate records request decision in this week’s issue.  In fact, it is the same inmate.   In this request, the inmate wanted questions answered about a policy that forbids prisoners from wearing boots.  He also wanted a copy of the policy, which he was given four months after his request.

So what did the FOIC have to say about this frequent fliers appeal?

First the bad news for the DOC.  The four month delay did not comply with the FOIA’s promptness provisions of General Statutes §§ 1-210(a) and 1-212(a). But what about the good news? They don’t have to answer questions about the policy.  The FOIA does not force the DOC to answer the inmates questions.  That would require creation of new records and the Freedom of Information Act only applies to records that have already been created.

The case was Elliot v. McGill, Doc. No. FIC 2008-601.  You can read it here.

Sep 09

FOI on the 4th of July!

This week’s Law Tribune has a case summary of Elliott v. Warden, Doc. No.  FIC 2008-627 (July 1, 2009).  The case involves Connecticut General Statutes § 1-210(b)(18) and the public safety exception for Department of Corrections’ records. Elliot, an inmate, wanted records for July 4, 2008, when he claimed to have been placed in lock down during a staff cookout. The Commission said that the “safety risk” exception applied. You can read the full Final Decision on the FOIC website.

Sep 09

How not to use your city email address

pdaThis week’s freedom of information tip should be pretty obvious, but maybe not obvious enough.

Here it is: don’t use your government email address to send racy emails to your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Why do I bring this up? Well, a Washington official did just that and it cost his town $5,000 for an independent investigation.  Worse yet,  Bob Sternoff, the guilty Kirkland City Council member, sent some of the emails while the city council was in session.

Maybe playing solitaire during sessions isn’t quite as bad after all…

[h/t: Open Government Blog]

May 09

Record retention another concern 4 txts

text_messageI’ve written before about text messages as public records. We know that text messages are — at least in some circumstances — public records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act and that the same logic would apply under Connecticut law.

Now it looks like the issue is spreading South, where a the city of Deltona, Florida has banned text messaging during public meetings because of concern about FOI laws and records retention.  The FOI Advocate points out that this concern has some merit, since sometimes the only way to obtain text messages — even for a municipality — is by issuing a subpoena to the service provider.  Since some text messages are deleted automatically within a few days, that means that records could be gone before a city could even obtain a copy.

Apr 09

Federal courts vote to provide more information on PACER about sealed cases


pacerAbout a month ago, I wrote about Senator Lieberman’s efforts to eliminate the 8¢ per page fees for downloading records from PACER, the federal courts public record system.  There haven’t been any changes in fees yet, but the federal courts have made one change relevant to Connecticut.   Thanks to a recent vote of the federal Judicial Conference,  it will be easier to find out about sealed cases.

Here’s what the federal court systems’ blog has to say about the rule change:

The Conference, acting at its March 17 meeting, voted to have Internet lists of civil and criminal cases in district courts include a case number and generic name, such as “Sealed vs. Sealed,” for each sealed case.

Such lists for each of the 94 district courts are generated by the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files system and are accessible through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system.

Currently, PACER lists of sequentially numbered district court cases skip the sealed cases, but a member of the public could query the missing case number directly and would see a message stating that the case “is under seal.”

The Conference in 2007 strongly encouraged district courts to change the message that PACER users receive when querying a sealed case-from “this case does not exist” to “this case is under seal.” The latest Conference action is consistent with and further implements the 2007 Conference policy by providing the public with information to confirm the existence of a sealed case.

The Conference left it up to the individual district courts to determine what additional information about sealed cases, such as the initials of the assigned judge or the date of filing, should be available to the public.