Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana’

FOI Daily Dose: Louisiana’s public records victory points to larger abuses of the law

A panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge upheld a judge’s ruling that Louisiana State University is not privy to the governor’s office public records exemption, according to The Associated Press.

LSU was using the governor’s “deliberative process” exemption to hide the names of three dozen candidates in its closed-door search for a new president. They hired former University of California-Long Beach President F. King Alexander, who started in June.

The Advocate and The Times-Picayune filed lawsuits seeking names of the other candidates. But LSU board members said keeping the names quiet allowed sitting chancellors and presidents to avoid jeopardizing their current positions.

After district judge Janice Clark ruled in April that the records are public and must be released, LSU requested the 1st Circuit Court review the decision, according to the AP. The court panel on July 19 supported Clark’s ruling.

“This is very good news, and we are thrilled,” Lori Mince, an attorney for The Advocate, told The AP.

But Mike Hasten, capital bureau chief for Gannett Louisiana newspapers, said this victory for open government advocates is only one in a long list of exemption abuses. He published an editorial in The News Star on July 20 explaining the larger problem about how LSU and other agencies are wrongfully using an exemption for the governor’s office to keep sensitive material out of public view.

Governor  Bobby Jindal backed legislation four years ago that removed a blanket exemption for the governor’s office from the public records law and replaced it with a provision called “deliberative process” that exempts “any documents or other types of communication used by the governor to make a decision,” Hasten said.

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, told The Advocate lawmakers never intended the “deliberative process” claim to be used beyond the governor’s office.

The exemption specifically protects materials “relating to the deliberative process of the governor.” It said: “The provisions of this Section shall not apply to any agency, office, or department transferred or placed within the office of the governor.”

But even so, agencies using the exemption attribute their decision to a 2004 court ruling from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal that allowed the Public Service Commission to shield some records from a legislative auditor. The Advocate said this decision had nothing to do with the public records law.

“They’re doing something outside of what it was intended to do, and that needs to be addressed,” Danahay told The Advocate.

Hasten said it’s up to the public to assert the public records law and challenge agencies when they misuse it.

“Because they have not been legally challenged on that and until a court says they can’t do it, they probably will keep doing it in violation of state law,” Hastens wrote for The News Star.

An attorney for LSU told the AP that LSU will return to Clark in state district court for her decision on the damages and attorney fees.

The AP said LSU will get its chance to appeal the decision, but it’s unclear whether they will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the issue.

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

Attorney attempts to restrict reporting during public meeting

A Department of Justice attorney tried to stop a Daily Iberian reporter from recording a public meeting or quoting her.

Jeff Zeringue, managing editor of The Daily Iberian, filed a complaint with the Department of Justice on June 15, in response.

As of 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Zeringue had not heard back.

Louisiana’s Rep. Jeff Landry and Sen. David Vitter joined Zeringue’s battle by sending letters to Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“I came to Washington to fight for an open, accountable, and transparent government,” Landry wrote, reported the Associated Press.  “I find it wholly unacceptable that our government, specifically the DOJ, has not responded to Mr. Zeringue’s complaint.”

However, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre, said the attorney never tried to prevent publication of or change the news story.

Upon entering the meeting in New Iberia on June 12,  Department of Justice attorney Rachel Hranitzky asked if any reporters were present, according to The Daily Iberian. Iberian reporter Matthew Beaton identified himself.

Hranitzky, a senior trial attorney in the department’s Civil Rights Division, said – according to policy—the reporter could remain in the meeting and quote other people who spoke, but could not tape the meeting or quote her.

The events of June 12 appear to be a violation of the reporter’s civil rights, as well as a violation of the public trust. Left unchallenged could give the department the feeling of reigning over it citizens, not defending them.”

— Jeff Zeringue, managing editor, The Daily Iberian

Beaton protested.  Because it was a public meeting he should be allowed to quote anyone speaking,  he said.  Eventually Hranitzky threatened to throw the reporter out of the meeting.

She warned Beaton about getting on the department’s “bad side,” Beaton reported.

After Beaton and others in the meeting protested, Hranitzky relented and allowed Beaton to stay in the meeting.

The Daily Iberian filed a complaint with Thomas E. Perez, the U.S. Assistant Attorney General over the department’s Civil Rights Division ,  on June 15, according to Zeringue.

“The events of June 12 appear to be a violation of the reporter’s civil rights, as well as a violation of the public trust. Left unchallenged could give the department the feeling of reigning over it citizens, not defending them,”Zeringue said in his editorial.

The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press also sent a letter to Perez.

“We are gravely concerned over any internal practice or policy preventing journalists from recording or quoting statements made by DOJ officials in public meetings,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporter’s Committee For Freedom of the Press, according to The Daily Iberian.

Editor’s Note – The Associated Press story cited above was published by The Huffington Post on July 12.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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FOI DAILY DOSE: State bills promote open gov, OpenGovernment Minn. website launched

State bills support transparency in Mass., La.

New pieces of legislation aim to further transparency at both the state and city government level.

In Massachusetts, four measures have been introduced that, if passed, will make the legislature accountable via the state open meetings law.

Two years ago, the legislature exempted itself from the open meetings and public records laws through the passage of an ethics reform bill.

In Louisiana, a measure has been introduced that would make all the governor’s records public.

The state currently exempts the governor from disclosing records that are under a “deliberative process,” according to a Sunlight Foundation blog post.

New York City is also jumping on the transparency bandwagon with the passage of a bill that will make executive orders from the mayor’s office available online.

Prior to the bill’s passage, executive orders were only available through FOI requests. The bill will require all memorandums of understanding, which are documents detailing agreements between various parties, and related documents to be made available online by April 1, 2012.

Minn. becomes sixth state to launch OpenGovernment website

OpenGovernment Minnesota, a transparency website that tracks state government happenings using official documents, social media alerts and other avenues, launched June 17.

It is the sixth state to launch an OpenGovernment website as part of the Sunlight Foundation’s joint project with the Participatory Politics Foundation.

The project aims to increase transparency at various levels of government throughout the U.S.

Minnesota joins California, Texas, Wisconsin, Maryland and Louisiana in having OpenGovernment websites.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).


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