The Yale Law School Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic has announced the release of a new white paper, “Police Body Cam Footage: Just Another Public Record,” which advocates for public access to the footage collected by such cameras. The white paper
[D]etails the great public interest in disclosure of the images captured by police body cameras and comprehensively demonstrates that standards already well established in state open records laws are more than sufficient to protect privacy and prevent interference with on-going criminal investigations.
By releasing the paper, the clinic is aiming to highlight an issue it believes is frequently ignored in the criminal justice reform discussion. Without public access to body camera footage, the cameras cannot serve their purpose as public oversight tools, the white paper finds. The Clinic encourages state legislatures to preserve public access to body camera footage so that the press, watchdog organizations, and individuals affected by police encounters can collectively work to ensure institutional accountability.
[Disclosure: I am a supervising attorney for the clinic. I did not participate in the research or drafting of the white paper.]
Last week the state Supreme Court issued an important Freedom of Information Act decision involving records of alleged misconduct by public school and university teachers. Rejecting an argument that such records constituted “records of teacher performance and evaluation,” which are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA, a unanimous Supreme Court held that misconduct records must be disclosed to the public. Mark Pazniokas has an excellent story about the decision over at The CT Mirror.
I write to make two additional points. First, Justice Eveleigh wrote a clear, cogent and compelling decision for the court, a decision that reaffirms the long-settled proposition that exemptions to the FOIA must be construed narrowly, a proposition too many state and local agencies often forget–sometimes on purpose I think.
Second, the decision undercuts the argument, voiced by some of my friends in the open government community, that the Supreme Court is actively hostile to the FOIA. To be sure, the court occasionally disappoints me when it comes to FOIA decisions. In close cases, I would prefer that it err in favor of, rather than against, disclosure. (See, e.g., my post about a police records decision it released in July 2014.) But I don’t think it is fair to call the court hostile to our state sunshine law.
Oftentimes, the problem lies not with the court, but with the law that it is interpreting, a law that has been amended too many times since it was enacted in 1975. The best way to get consistently “better” FOIA decisions out of the Supreme Court is to persuade the legislature of the value of open government–just look at the mess in Chicago caused by hiding public records about police misconduct–and fix some of the weaknesses with the act. On that point I’m sure all of my open government friends agree.
The House and Senate Republicans released their own budget proposal today, called the “Blueprint for Prosperity.” As a lawyer with a strong interest in open government, page 21 of the report caught my eye. It contains a section entitled “Safeguarding Connecticut’s Watchdog Agencies.” The section states:
Kudos to Representative Ed Jutila (D-East Lyme) and eight other members of the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) committee for voting to send Raised Bill 6750 to the floor of the House for consideration. (Read CT News Junkie’s story about the vote.)
I’ve written about the importance of Raised Bill 6750 in a previous post; it would overrule a bad Connecticut Supreme Court decision that substantially curtailed public access to arrest-related records. The proposed bill would restore the Freedom of Information Commission’s longstanding interpretation of state law, which allowed greater access to such records, subject to important exemptions, including protecting the identity of witnesses and avoiding disclosures that would prejudice a prospective law enforcement action. The bill strikes the proper balance between the public’s right to know and law enforcement’s need to avoid premature disclosure of certain information in order to protect the integrity of investigations and potential prosecutions..
During oral argument today in an interesting Freedom of Information Act case involving historical records about Amy Archer Gilligan, the long-deceased murderer who inspired the play and movie “Arsenic and Old Lace,” Justice Andrew McDonald asked an interesting question about how a person becomes a public figure.
According to Hugh McQuaid’s story in ctnewsjunkie, Justice McDonald questioned the notion that a person can become a public figure (as that term is understood in the invasion of privacy exception to the FOIA) by having that status thrust upon them and whether that status, once acquired, can fade with the passage of time. He seemed skeptical of the first notion and supportive of the second.
The Connecticut Supreme Court will consider arguments tomorrow morning in a case concerning public access to historical records about Amy Archer Gilligan–the murderer who served as the inspiration for the 1944 movie (starring Cary Grant) and the 1941 play, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” It turns out that Gilligan, who used arsenic to poison a resident in her nursing home, spent the years 1924 through 1962 confined to a Connecticut state mental institution, now Connecticut Valley Hospital.
John Dankosky, host of WNPR’s “Where We Live,” has been a very good friend to freedom of information (FOI) in Connecticut, often using his show as a opportunity to educate the public about the importance of FOI. Last week he taped a show dedicated entirely to FOI at Quinnipiac University before a student audience. I was honored to be one of four persons invited to participate in the panel discussion. The show aired this morning. Click here for the link to the show.
UPDATE (5:00 pm): CT-N covered the panel discussion. Click here to watch the CT-N video. (Warning: Many readers may find simply listening to my voice more pleasant than looking at my face.)
UPDATE 2.0: I can’t believe I forgot to mention a silly song I wrote about the FOI a few years back. Click here for a musical history of the state Freedom of Information Act!
Last Friday, News12 Connecticut’s Tom Appleby interviewed me and Chris VanDeHoef, president of the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, about recent developments on the freedom of information front in Connecticut.
Whoever said the camera adds 10 lbs. to a person was lying; in my case it adds at least 20. 🙂
On Monday the Connecticut Supreme Court released its unanimous decision in an important Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) case, Comm’r of Public Safety v. FOIC, which involved a 2008 request for arrest records by the New Haven Register. The media and open government advocates, myself included, have expressed considerable disappointment with the decision, which holds that the police (both local and state) need only disclose the barest minimum of information about an arrest. (Disclosure: I supervised several students from the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, which wrote a fantastic amicus brief in the case on behalf of a multitude of media and open government organizations.) Read the rest of this entry »
(Used with permission of the CT Post)