Nevada attorney general complies with order to release records

Wednesday, April 5, 2000

A roundup of recent court cases, legislation and disputes involving public records.

CARSON CITY — The Nevada attorney general’s office
complied yesterday with a judge’s order and released about 1,000 pages of
documents amassed in a probe of a former key Gaming Control Board staffer
imprisoned for an elaborate slot-cheating scam. The documents had been ordered
released by Clark County District Judge James Mahan last month in a related
case involving claims that the attorney general’s office expanded its probe to
include top casino regulators and not just the former staffer, Ron Harris.
Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa said she disagreed with the court order
because the documents included names of many innocent people who faced
unfounded allegations, and also included names of various informants. But Del
Papa said she didn’t appeal to the state Supreme Court because she hoped the papers
and six videotapes would help disprove claims that she ran an illegal
intelligence probe. Mike Anzalone, a former attorney general’s investigator,
says he was forced to resign because he wouldn’t participate in the probe. Del
Papa says the documents prove that Anzalone lied when he said he was told to
get banking and phone records of then-Gaming Control Board Chairman Bill Bible
without first getting proper subpoenas. Anzalone has filed suit against Del
Papa, and Judge Mahan is handling the civil case. The Las Vegas Sun and
KLAS Channel 8 in Las Vegas had pressed for the release of the documents and
videotapes. Also, five former casino regulators signed sworn affidavits urging
Mahan to unseal the documents. Associated Press

New Jersey: Newspaper wins lawsuit to make charges against school super

TRENTON — When a school board votes to terminate a tenured
employee, the charges become a public record, a state appellate panel has
ruled. Overturning a 1998 ruling, a three-judge panel of the state Appellate
Division said the text of charges brought against former Atlantic City Schools
Superintendent H. Benjamin Williams became a record that the Board of Education
had to maintain and that, therefore, must be made available for public review.
Williams’ attorney, Gregory G. Johnson, had argued that the charges against
Williams were a personnel matter and as such were exempt from sunshine laws.
But The Press of Atlantic City, which unsuccessfully sought their
release before Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee in 1998, appealed the ruling.
The newspaper’s attorney argued that such charges were similar to grand jury
indictments in that the proceedings were confidential but that the results
should be public. The charges against Williams, which included fiscal mismanagement,
became public after Higbee’s ruling anyway when the newspaper obtained them
from another source. But the newspaper pursued the appeal saying similar cases
were likely to occur in the future. Williams served just over a year as
superintendent before accepting a $260,000 buyout. The charges against him were
never formally heard. Associated Press

Mississippi: Bill to re-open records of 911 calls moving through state

JACKSON — The state Senate Judiciary Committee approved
yesterday a bill that would open some information about 911 calls to the
public. Before 1998, information from 911 agencies was available under the
public-records law. The state Legislature changed the law that year, however,
and court orders are now required to obtain the information. House
Bill 932 would allow people to request records of calls. Supporters of the
bill contend there is no accountability to ensure 911 calls are quickly
responded to unless the records are accessible. Under the bill, tapes would not
be provided, but 911 operators would have to maintain certain records and
provide those records when asked under the state’s Open Records Law. The bill
as passed last month in the House would have required information to be
released if the person who called 911 and the victim of any crime agreed. If
the victim died in the incident, their survivors would have to give approval
first. A Senate judiciary subcommittee amended the bill, adding that no
identifying information would be made public. The subcommittee also put into
the bill that 911 agencies would keep records that showed the date of the call,
the time the call came in and the time the emergency unit arrived on the scene.
The bill now awaits full Senate approval. Among those lobbying to re-open the
records are the Mississippi Press Association and Common Cause Mississippi, an
open-government advocacy group. Associated Press/The Clarion Ledger:p>

Ohio: Cincinnati teachers union sues charter schools for access to records
CINCINNATI — The city teachers union yesterday sued four
of the five publicly funded charter schools in Cincinnati, accusing them of
breaking the law by failing to provide public records. The Cincinnati
Federation of Teachers requested the documents to find out how the schools are
using the taxpayers’ money, union President Tom Mooney said. The union sought
records on admissions practices, student and teacher attrition, teacher
qualifications, salaries and curriculum. The union asked the Hamilton County
Common Pleas Court to order the schools to make the records available as the
law requires. Charter schools are called community schools in Ohio and operate
free of most state and local regulations. Of the five in Cincinnati, only Oak
Tree Montessori released the records, Mooney said. Mooney said Cincinnati
College Preparatory Academy and Greater Cincinnati Community Academy have not
responded to the union’s request. A lawyer for Harmony Community School said
the information would be provided in time. Riverside Academy provided only some
of the information, Mooney said. Officials at the schools could not be reached
to comment on the lawsuit. The schools do not have listed telephone numbers.
Lisa Hamm, director of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, told The
Cincinnati Post
that she never received the union’s request and if she had,
she would have complied. State Board of Education spokeswoman Monica Zarichny
said all charter schools must comply with the public-records laws. Associated

Arizona: City must keep company’s records private, commission rules
BISBEE — The city of Bisbee may not make public any
documents provided to it by U S West Communications as part of the city and the
company’s ongoing legal dispute, a utility regulatory hearing officer has
ruled. Bisbee officials wanted to treat as public records any documents that
were provided to the city as part of the discovery phase of its legal claim
against the telecommunications company. Bisbee City Attorney Jim Conlogue
contended that public-records laws require any documents in the city’s
possession to be available to the public. But Jane L. Rodda, Arizona
Corporation Commission hearing officer, accepted U S West’s position that all
documents are proprietary, that disclosure would harm its financial interests,
and that they should remain private. The city, Cochise County and the city of
Douglas are trying to force U S West to redress what they consider to be
inequities in the quality of Bisbee phone services before U S West sells the
local exchange. U S West wants to sell 39 local telephone exchanges in Arizona,
including those in Bisbee, Douglas and Tombstone, to Citizens Communications
Inc. of Stamford, Conn. Associated Press

Nebraska: Legislature approves public-records bill
The state’s unicameral Legislature has approved a bill
that would require copies of public records to be provided within four days of
a request. Lawmakers voted 43-2 yesterday to approve Legislative
Bill 628. The bill is supported by Nebraska news media organizations,
including the Omaha World-Herald and the Outstate Daily Publishers
Association. Under the bill, public officials would have to notify the person
making the request if the records requested could not be provided in the
four-day limit. The bill also requires that the cost of providing the copies be
reasonably calculated. That means if one agency charges $2 per page while
others are charging 15 cents, the higher cost would have to be justified.
Lieutenant Governor Dave Maurstad, who serves as president of the Legislature,
signed the bill yesterday. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.
Associated Press

Illinois: State attorney general’s rewrite of FOI law stalled in Senate
SPRINGFIELD — Supporters of a plan to strengthen the
state’s Freedom of Information Act are already pinning their hopes on the next
legislative session. State Attorney General Jim Ryan’s proposal to help people
gain access to public records has stalled in the Illinois Senate, and sponsors
have all but declared it dead. ‘If it doesn’t get out of (the Senate), we’ll
come back with a good bill again next session,’ said Ryan spokesman Jerry
Owens. Senate leadership has not even allowed a hearing on House
Bill 3469, and Senate President James ‘Pate’ Philip has shown no sign of
changing his mind. ‘Most of the mail I’ve been getting from local governments
says, ‘Don’t do it,’ ‘ Philip said last week. Ryan’s proposal was inspired by a
statewide investigation that found local officials often withheld public
documents. Under the proposal, people denied access to records could go to the
attorney general’s office, which would arrange for the release of the records
if they were found to be public information. If government officials still
withheld the information, they could be sued and possibly ordered to pay
damages and attorney fees. People who filed frivolous lawsuits might be ordered
to pay the government’s legal costs. David Bennett, executive director of the
Illinois Press Association, said he was not surprised the Senate didn’t embrace
the bill, which did win House approval. This bill ‘was almost doomed from the
beginning because this General Assembly just does not want to strengthen
Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act,’ Bennett said. Bennett criticized the
bill, however, saying it would have made limited improvements to an already
weak law. Associated Press

Kentucky: Police department’s internal affairs documents open to public
COVINGTON — Like any police department, Covington’s force
has had its share of dubious incidents involving officer misconduct. But unlike
many police forces, this northern Kentucky city allows citizens to examine such
incidents and make judgments for themselves. All internal investigations by
Covington police become public records when they are completed and can be
accessed by anyone with a simple written request. That openness sets
Covington’s police apart from most other Kentucky police agencies, whose
lawyers and chiefs closely guard details of internal affairs investigations.
Some state police officials say they simply don’t like the idea of full public
disclosure and that making files public would discourage witnesses from
stepping forward. Kentucky law requires police to disclose only two documents
from internal investigations — the formal complaint against an officer and the
final document showing the outcome of the case. Those two items, along with any
‘attachments’ to the closing document, are all that the state attorney
general’s office believes are required to be released, according to Corey
Bellamy, a spokesman for the office. But Lt. Col. William C. Dorsey, an assistant
chief of the 111-officer Covington department who oversees its internal
affairs, said police forces have an obligation to share information with the
public. ‘The spirit of the (state open-records) law is that we in government
don’t operate in the dark,’ he said. Dorsey thinks his department’s policy has
been the same throughout his 28 years on the force. Some Louisville officials
would like to see a similar policy enacted in the state’s largest city. The
Louisville-Jefferson County Human Relations Commission recently recommended
that the city department’s internal affairs investigations be as open as
possible. Openness, the commission’s report said, is ‘a key factor in building
public confidence in the police department.’ Associated Press