Month: December 2009

Likely Rules Open Up Some Court Admin Files

PUBLIC INFORMATION — The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is recommending a set of rules that for the first time both provide and limit access to the "back office" administrative and business records of the state's courts and of the AOC headquarters itself—everything but civil and criminal case files, which are already presumed to be public. The California Judicial Council is set to adopt the rules at its meeting next Tuesday, with an effective date of January 1.  As previously conceded here, the fact of this general transparency initiative is highly praiseworthy—perhaps unique among court systems in the nation.  But some of the most potentially significant records will remain secret. The proposed rules are by and large borowed—sometimes with substantial modifications—from the law providing public access to records of the executive branch of state government and of local government agencies: the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Many of the differences showing up in an earlier draft of the proposed rules have been analyzed here in a series of comments between October 12 and 16. The following comments in reaction to the final proposals will be most understandable to those who have followed development of the rules and/or who are familiar with the CPRA, but suffice it to say that compared with the CPRA, which operates on state and local government, these rules operating on state and local courts...

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California's Most Courageous Newspaperman

FREE PRESS — Tim Crews, editor and publisher of a small community newspaper in Glenn County and a member of the board of directors of Californians Aware, was named the California Press Association's Newspaper Executive of the Year at an awards dinner at the Marines Memorial in San Francisco this past Friday.  Recipients are publishers, editors-in-chief or equivalents who have involved themselves in the directions of the editorial and news side of their newspapers by showing exceptional editorial achievement. In Crews' case, the award was for his journalism in creating and maintaining "California's most courageous newspaper." As reported in the CNPA Bulletin of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the presentation read: Tim Crews, editor and publisher of the twice weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror, continues, at 65 years old, to edit and publish California's most courageous newspaper. Whether they know him or not, he is clearly owed a great debt of gratitude by his publishing peers, all of whom benefit greatly in our state from his unremitting insistence on transparency of government activities. He backs up that eternal vigilance with a willingness to pursue through every legal means the public's access to records, opening doors to government meetings, and the firm resistance to revealing confidential sources even if it means going to jail for his beliefs. His newspaper, which covers a multi-county area of the north Sacramento valley's rural heartland,...

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White House Edict Puts Premium on Interpreters

OPEN GOVERNMENT — The White House this morning released a long-awaited Open Government Directive that follows up on the president's promise—memorialized on his first full day of office—to usher in a new era of transparent, participatory governance. says Peter M Shane, the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law at the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, writing in the Huffington Post.  But what's needed like never before among both old- and new-style journalists, he says, are technically adept translators of exposed data into facts that tell news stories. The Directive, issued over the signature of OMB Director Peter Orszag, explains: "Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions." What is arguably most impressive about the Directive, as highlighted in a public briefing by CIO Vivek Kundra and and CTO Aneesh Chopra, is its specificity and focus on execution. Some examples: Agencies get 45 days to "identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets." Agencies get...

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Is Academic Freedom a First Amendment Right?

FREE SPEECH — As federal courts read the First Amendment, public college and university teachers have no free speech right to talk about gay issues in the classroom and can be let go for such behavior—in Mississippi, that is.  But not in California, where the contrary is the case. Should the interpretation given to a bedrock item in the Bill of Rights depend on whether a federal court sits in a red or a blue state? New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard says the U.S. Supreme Court's pointed avoidance of addressing whether academic freedom is a First Amendment right for public higher education faculty has left some serious confusion. . . . June Sheldon . . . was teaching a class on heredity at San Jose/Evergreen Community College. A classroom discussion of genetics led to a student question about whether homosexuality was a genetically-determined trait. Ms. Sheldon and the students differ about her responses, but some students found what she had to say objectionable. One student complained to the dean that Prof. Sheldon had stated that there "aren’t any real lesbians" and that "there are hardly any gay men in the Middle East because the women are treated very nicely." Although Sheldon, an adjunct professor on a term contract, had already been offered and accepted teaching assignments for the next semester, the dean sent her a letter...

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Book: T. Roosevelt Quietly OKd Japan's Expansion

OPEN GOVERNMENT — "Sixty-eight years ago tomorrow, Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor," writes historian James Bradley in yesterday's New York Times. "In the brutal Pacific war that would follow, millions of soldiers and civilians were killed. My father — one of the famous flag raisers on Iwo Jima — was among the young men who went off to the Pacific to fight for his country. So the war naturally fascinated me. But I always wondered, why did we fight in the Pacific? Yes, there was Pearl Harbor, but why did the Japanese attack us in the first place? Bradley's new book, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, recounts how a secret diplomatic signal sent by Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago set the stage for Japan's imperial expansion into mainland Asia—and for the tragedies that followed. In a secret presidential cable to Tokyo, in July 1905, Roosevelt approved the Japanese annexation of Korea and agreed to an “understanding or alliance” among Japan, the United States and Britain “as if the United States were under treaty obligations.” The “as if” was key: Congress was much less interested in North Asia than Roosevelt was, so he came to his agreement with Japan in secret, an unconstitutional act. To signal his commitment to Tokyo, Roosevelt cut off relations with Korea, turned the American...

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