By Brent Curtis
RUTLAND, Vt. – The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the public’s right to access to the criminal and internal investigations of two Rutland police officers who viewed pornography on work computers.
More than three years after the Rutland Herald’s initial request for the records was denied by the city, the court’s five justices on Oct. 11 unanimously affirmed a Rutland civil court decision. The lower court had found the public interest in the activities and identities of officers who accessed pornography at work outweighed any privacy rights of those city employees. The city appealed that ruling.
By Sigmund D. Schutz
AUGUSTA, Maine – As of Oct.1 newspapers lost their sales tax exemption in Maine. The sale of fuel to burn blueberry fields, lobster bait, ships stores, and dozens of other preferred groups and activities retained their sales tax exemptions.
The Governor’s Office of Tax Policy gave as reason for the new tax that “generally” sales tax exemptions are for the “necessities of life,” suggesting that newspapers do not reach that threshold.
Since when are newspapers no longer necessary? I get it that lobsters and blueberries are important parts of Maine’s economy, but do they deserve special treatment over free speech?
By Steven Brown
PROVIDENCE – After vigorously defending the indefensible for almost three years, the City of Providence this month agreed to pay $75,000 to settle an ACLU lawsuit involving the violation of the free speech rights of a local resident who had been barred from peacefully leafleting in front of a building where then-Mayor David Cicilline was speaking.
Under the settlement agreement, the city acknowledged that police officers “unconstitutionally interfered” with Judith Reilly’s First Amendment rights in 2010 when they threatened to arrest her. At the time, she was distributing leaflets on a sidewalk adjacent to the auditorium where Cicilline was scheduled to give his annual “State of the City” address.
The fliers were critical of Cicilline’s reappointment of a City Plan Commission member.
By William J. Kole
BOSTON – It’s journalism’s dirty little secret: Just because we have information doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to use it.
When The Associated Press asked officials in Newtown, Conn., for the tapes of 911 calls made during last December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it touched off a debate pitting privacy rights against the public’s right to know.
Newtown’s police department denied the request, and the AP appealed to the state Freedom of Information Commission. On Sept. 25, the commission ruled in favor of AP and ordered the tapes’ release.
By Randy Billings
PORTLAND, Maine – When the city’s controversial health inspector quietly resigned and stopped returning my phone calls, I knew something was fishy.
It was unusual for the health inspector to be a voice in my stories, because the city had barred her from speaking with reporters.
But when I learned she had resigned, I thought it would be a great opportunity to debrief her about her two-year stint as Portland’s first health inspector dedicated to improving the city’s restaurant inspection program. I assumed she would have a lot to say.
By Zack Sampson
DEDHAM, Mass. – Though readers turn to newspapers for disparate reasons – arts, sports, politics, and more – it is investigative reporting that unites them, Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory told a select group of New England journalists Sunday.
“The one area of journalism that crosses these divides and brings people together is our investigative reporting,” he said.
McGrory kicked off the New England First Amendment Coalition’s third annual Institute with a keynote address that both hailed watchdog reporting and bluntly acknowledged the financial disarray of the news industry.
By Robert A. Bertsche
BOSTON – I attended the spirited hearing at the State House on the proposed Massachusetts shield bill, before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary. The bill is titled the “Free Flow of Information Act,” H.1553, described as “An Act providing against compelled disclosure of certain information by the news media.” Here’s a quick account of Wednesday’s proceedings.
Bottom line: Passage is far from assured, but the bill got its most thorough airing in years. Longtime Boston news anchor and reporter Susan Wornick spoke passionately in favor of the bill, backed up by three media lawyers (including my partner, media lawyer Jeffrey J. Pyle) and Rep. Josh S. Cutler (D-Duxbury), one of the bill’s sponsors. The Committee’s House Vice Chair, Rep. Christopher M. Markey (D-Dartmouth), was most outspoken in opposition.
By Michael Donoghue
BURLINGTON, Vt – The U.S. Marshals Service says the privacy rights of a man who pleaded guilty to the 2008 kidnap, rape and murder of his 12-year-old niece far outweigh the rights of taxpayers to see the man they will pay to keep behind bars for the rest of his life.
It is a head scratcher.
Michael Jacques was facing a potential death sentence until he struck a deal Aug. 9 with federal prosecutors that will spare his life. Under the plea bargain Jacques pleaded guilty to six charges on Aug. 27 and agreed to accept a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole in Brooke Bennett’s death. In return the government dropped its pursuit of the death penalty.
U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions III delayed the formal sentencing. No date has been set.
By Laura Krantz
HOPKINTON, Mass – A small rural Massachusetts town determined to ward off a casino in its backyard got stonewalled this year by a state commission and the secretary of state, but the fat lady hasn’t sung yet for Hopkinton.
After eight fruitless months battling the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for records, the town this month sued the commission for withholding records about the people who want to build a Las Vegas-style gaming complex nearby.
By Steven Brown
PROVIDENCE - For the third time in less than two months, the ACLU of Rhode Island has taken legal action against the state Board of Education for violating open government laws. They all involve the board’s persistent refusal to publicly address a controversial “high stakes testing” requirement that takes effect this school year for high school seniors.
Parents, students, teachers, community advocates, the General Assembly, and just about everybody else with an interest in the education of the state’s children have been engaged in a vigorous public discussion and debate on this issue for the past six months in light of its looming implementation. The only group we know of that has not publicly debated the issue – and refused to do so repeatedly despite numerous public requests – is the Board of Education. Even worse, the board has been willing to repeatedly violate the law to avoid that discussion.