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 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 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.
CONTACT Rosanna Cavanagh | 401.331.7209
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who’s done ground-breaking work on domestic spying and now faces legal peril for refusing to disclose the source for his account of a failed CIA operation in Iran, will receive the 2014 Stephen Hamblett Award from the New England First Amendment Coalition.
An investigative reporter for The New York Times, Risen was told by a divided 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to identify his source and testify in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who’s charged with leaking classified information to Risen in violation of the Espionage Act, a dusty law cited with new frequency by the administration in efforts to crack down on leakers. Risen, despite the threat of imprisonment, has refused.
CONTACT Rosanna Cavanagh | 401.331.7209
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Journalists from a variety of media and all six New England states will gather in Dedham, Mass., Sept. 29-Oct. 1 to learn the latest investigative and database reporting techniques and public records access skills.
The fellows chosen for this, the New England First Amendment Coalition’s third annual Institute, reflect today’s diverse news media and come from daily and weekly newspapers, television and radio stations and online publications.
By Rob Mitchell
MOUNT HOLLY, Vt. – An ongoing fracas over plans for a new town garage in Mount Holly, a town of 1,237 between Killington and Okemo mountains in Vermont, illustrates the challenge to the public process inherent with the attitude and relationships of small New England towns.
When the town needed a new fire station a few decades ago, townspeople brought their own tools and materials and built a new station under the supervision of a few contractors – a far different and much more informal process than was required when the need for a new town garage, and the attendant cost of at least $500,000, arose about five years ago.
By Todd Wallack
BOSTON – While writing a story recently about the Massachusetts state pharmacy board, I noticed something odd: Only half the board members showed up for a meeting last summer — too few for a quorum — but the board members went ahead with the meeting anyway and voted on one item after the next.
It turns out it was part of a much wider problem, raising questions about how frequently obscure boards comply with all the rules for public meetings throughout New England.
By Alex Friedmann
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – Increasingly, government agencies are contracting out their public duties, from garbage collection to courthouse security.
One area of privatization that has raised significant concerns is the operation of prisons, as this involves an essential governmental public safety function that deprives people of a fundamental right: their freedom.
Prison Legal News, a monthly publication of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Human Rights Defense Center, covers criminal justice issues on a national level and has been at the forefront of demanding public accountability when prison operations are privatized.
By Anne Galloway
MONTPELIER, Vt. – The press corps and the Vermont chapter of the ACLU scored a major victory in the Vermont Legislature last week. Lawmakers approved a change in the public records law that gives citizens access to records associated with police investigations of criminal activity. Gov. Peter Shumlin supported opening police records to public scrutiny, and he is expected to sign the legislation into law this month.
The change in legislation is the result of several high-profile media lawsuits against local law enforcement, including the Wayne Burwell case, and an advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Vermont ACLU that was supported by WCAX, VTDigger and other local news outlets.
By Mike Donoghue
Donoghue and media pass
BURLINGTON, Vt. – The federal courts in Vermont have taken the first step toward easing restrictions on journalists carrying computers, iPhones and other electronic newsgathering tools past security checkpoints at federal buildings.
The new rule, which took effect in mid-April, allows electronic devices in common areas outside a courtroom but still prohibits them from being used in court during hearings and trials. The new rule continues to prohibit the use of video and still cameras or audio recordings in federal courtrooms.