Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Sandusky’


FOI Daily Dose: Judge dismisses North Carolina public records lawsuit for confidential settlement; Pennsylvania considers changes to Right-to-Know law

Judge dismisses N.C. public records lawsuit against hospital chain for confidential settlement

A Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit a Charlotte attorney filed against one of the nation’s largest public hospital chains for violating the North Carolina public records law, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Superior Court Judge Robert Sumner ruled that the hospital chain, Carolinas HealthCare System, can legally keep a confidential settlement from its 2008 lawsuit against the former Wachovia Bank (see previous post).

Since the hospital chain’s board of directors made the settlement in a closed session and kept it confidential, attorney Gary Jackson filed a public records request to inspect it and ensure it’s fair.

In a hearing last week, attorneys for Carolinas HealthCare argued that the hospital chain can legally withhold the settlement because the state’s public records laws has many holes.

But Jackson said legislators never intended the law to allow confidential settlements in lawsuits involving government agencies, so he plans to appeal Sumner’s ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals, according to The Observer.

The Observer notes that former state Senator David Hoyle who sponsored most North Carolina public records laws, agrees with Jackson.

“The intent was that if it becomes a court case, the results of the settlement were to be made public,” Hoyle told The Observer.

Pennsylvania considers changes to Right-to-Know law

As Pennsylvania lawmakers weigh a series of potential changes to the state’s 5-year-old Right-to-Know law, the head of Pennsylvania’s open records agency is telling them to proceed with caution, according to NewsWorks.

The Senate is considering one piece of legislation to address problems with the state’s open records, and the House has at least 10 different proposals.

But Terry Mutchler, director of the Office of Open Records, told NewsWorks some of the changes proposed in the name of open government could deny certain populations, such as prison inmates, the right to access information and exempt information from public requests.

“While the intent is good, I have some concerns with the results,” Mutchler told NewsWorks.

But until the legislature decides to change Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law, a recent Commonwealth Court decision could mean more access to information from state-related universities, according to Watchdog News.

In the case of Ryan Bagwell v. Department of Education, Bagwell, a Penn State alumnus, requested information about the Jerry Sandusky investigation, including emails, letters, reports and memos sent to then-Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis. The Commonwealth Court decided since the records are part of the education secretary’s job dealing with state-related universities, they should be released, Watchdog News said.

Mutchler expects the decision to have a “domino effect” on similar cases, and she expects the state to expand the Right-to-Know law for state-related universities.

“I am grateful the Legislature took its time with deciding this question, because it has to be done right, and it has to be done well, and the implications of it have to be thought through,” Mutchler told Watchdog News.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

Jerry Sandusky investigation and University of Iowa sexual assault details kept secret

Open records could have expedited Jerry Sandusky’s recent conviction.

Recently, former FBI director Louis Freeh released findings from an investigation into the Jerry Sandusky-Penn State sex abuse story. The report issued several recommendations for preventing similar incidents in the future, but fell short of mentioning more robust open government laws in Pennsylvania, as Al Tompkins of Poynter noted.

Penn State is one of four universities exempt from the state’s open records laws.

Stronger open records laws may have allowed access to investigations into Sandusky’s behavior earlier than the decade plus it took for the the initial 1998 investigation to come to light, Tompkins wrote.

Read more on the potential impact of open records laws in the Sandusky case.

Iowa university retains documents under FERPA

In an incident involving similar restricted access to documents, the Iowa Supreme Court said even redacted sexual assault records would remain private.

The Iowa City Press Citizen requested relevant documents related to a 2007 case involving University of Iowa football players’ alleged sexual assault of a female student athlete.

The university released 18 of 3,000 documents and claimed the release of additional documents would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

FERPA protects the personal information of students  and orders financial sanctions on educational institutions that fail to comply.

The Press Citizen sued for release of additional documents and was granted release of additional documents in 2008 and 2009, although courts ordered some redacted. The university appealed.

Iowa’s Supreme Court recently ruled in the school’s favor. The Court justified its ruling with provisions from a 2009 Department of Education ruling preventing disclosure if the requester knew the  identity of  people in the records.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of Student Press Law Center, said this ruling went too far.

“Extremists in the U.S. Department of Education have hijacked a well-intentioned law about the confidentiality of academic records and, by their bizarre interpretations, transformed it into the Federal Education Rapists’ Protection Act,” he said, according to the Student Press Law Center.

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Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with the Society of Professional Journalists. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email –  wevans@hq.spj.org –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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