July 27, 2012
ACLU of Iowa Loses its Battle for School Employee Discipline Information.
In a 4 to 3 split decision the ACLU of Iowa lost its bid to find out through an open records request what, if any, discipline was imposed on Atlantic Community Schools officials who were responsible for conducting an illegal strip search on 5 teenage high school girls. The ACLU of Iowa will, of course, continue to push in the legislature for greater public access to information about public officials who engage in misconduct in the course of their employment.
May 3, 2012
Governor Branstad signs law creating the Public Information Board
Today, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law Senate File 430 creating the Iowa Public Information Board endowed with powers and the responsibility to assist Iowan's with Open Records and Meetings law issues. The ACLU of Iowa applauds this major change which switches the focus of public enforcement of open meetings and records laws from County Attorneys (who have largely ignored that role) to a state-wide fully independent board.
There will be problems. The board will not be operational, i.e., it will not have a paid director any sooner than July 1, 2013. Board members will only be compensated for their expenses and are only required to meet four times per year. Beyond the director, no other staff have been authorized. Backlogs can be predicted.
The ACLU is also concerned about a provision that requires court cases to put on hold if another litigant files a complaint with the Public Information Board. If that happens, it may prolong the case by months. Moreover, the decision of the Public Information Board cannot be overturned by a district court that might be inclined to rule differently on the Open Records or Meetings question. The standard for review of an agency decision is whether the decision of the agency was illogical or arbitrary. A government body seeking to delay or derail court review of a matter directly on the merits could derail a lawsuit by convincing a third party to file a similar complaint with the Public Information Board.
April 24, 2012
Legislature Approves a Public Information Board; Steps Back on Open Records
The Iowa Legislature has passed Senate File 430 creating an Iowa Public Information Board which will be empowered to investigate, mediate and prosecute Open Records and Open Meetings disputes. In a possibly counter-productive move, the legislation provides that preliminary drafts of documents are not public records. Often governmental bodies avoid production of an important document under consideration by keeping it secret until a "final version" is to be voted on. The board will have no jurisdiction over the legislature or the governor's office. For a more detailed analysis see our memo posted at: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B6f-6bKFPKe5SHJPM2puekdqbDQ
April 2, 2012
Iowa Public Information Board Closer to Reality
Creation of an Iowa Public Information Board as an alternative to going to court in order to force the turnover of open records, took a step closer recently as an important house committee signed on to the plan but not the details. After accepting a complaint, the board is charged with attempting an informal settlement. The ACLU of Iowa predicts that complainants to such a board would have their issues resolved in a more timely fashion, but at the cost of forgoing the right to re-litigate the facts in court.
March 7, 2012
Iowa Supreme Court Hears Strip Search Records Case
In a special Argument Session held in Council Bluffs Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments from Atlantic School District attorneys and ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Randall Wilson in our case seeking disclosure of the discipline meted out to two Atlantic school officials who apparently conducted an illegal strip search of five teenage girls. The auditorium at Iowa Western Community College was filled with several hundred people. In addition the proceedings were viewed by many more observers online. The case has strong potential to clarify just when courts need to consider balancing of public interests against asserted privacy rights of employees. http://omaha.com/article/20120308/NEWS97/703089909
March 5, 2012
Iowa City Schools Admit Withholding Public Records, will pay fees
Under a settlement agreement the Iowa City Community School District admitted withholding public records and will pay the Petitioners in a lawsuit !$4,770. The records in question were related to allegations that the school district failed to hold venders of a geothermal installation responsible for problems. http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20120303/NEWS01/303030053/District-admits-withholding-records
February 7, 2012
Iowa Supreme Court Grants Further Review in Strip Search Case, will hold special arguments
The Iowa Supreme Court breathed new life into a controversy over whether Atlantic School Officials have to disclose what punishment, if any, they meted out to two school officials who conducted an illegal strip search of 5 teenage girls in search of $100 that was reported missing. The Open Records case was brought by the ACLU of Iowa but nearly ended when the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled in a split decision that the school did not have to disclose the information. At stake is the proper interpretation of the frequently debated personnel records exception of our state Open Records statute. The ACLU successfully requested further review from the Iowa Supreme Court which will hear special arguments on the case in Council Bluffs on the evening of Wednesday, March 7 at Western Community College in Council Bluffs..
November 21, 2011
Federal Court Sanctions FBI for Policy of Lying About Existence of Responsive Documents
Under a longstanding "national security" policy supposedly authorized by 5 USC §552, the FBI represented to the Court that only a limited number of documents responsive to Plaintiffs' FOIA request existed when, in reality, a significant number of responsive documents existed. The Court said "the Government's deception of the Court was inexcusable. The Court cannot perform its important oversight role mandated by FOIA unless the Government provides it with complete and accurate information. It is the Court, not the Government, who determines what the law requires. The Court must impose monetary sanctions to deter the Government from deceiving the Court again http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/11/18/fbi%20sanctions.pdf
November 18, 2011
Iowa Supreme Court Rejects "advice of counsel" defense
The Iowa Supreme Court reversed the Iowa Court of Appeals, holding that the City of Riverside could be assessed attorneys fees for its16 month long bad faith litigation in resistance to disclosure of a City hall security video of a confrontation over an unrealated open records request at the clerk's counter. The City tried to hide behind the advice of one of its junior staff attorneys, however, the Supreme Court ruled that advice of counsel, while still a factor, in looking at the issue of good faith, is not a complete defense. The City of Riverside had to pay the Plaintiffs $64,732 for trial attorney's fees and additional fees attributable to the appeal. http://www.iowacourts.gov/Supreme_Court/Recent_Opinions/20111118/09-1670.pdf
October 19th, 2011
ACLU of Iowa Loses in Split Court of Appeals Decision in School Strip Search Open Records Case
In a 2-1 decision the Iowa Court of Appeals rejected the ACLU of Iowa's quest to obtain public disclosure of the sanctions imposed on two Atlantic High School staff members who strip searched 5 teenage girls in an unsuccessful attempt to find $100 that another student had reported missing. The ACLU of Iowa has sought further review from the Iowa Supreme Court which may or may not be granted.
August 26, 2011
Reasons For Lawyer Suspensions Will Remain Public
The Iowa Supreme Court has considered and rejected a procedure proposed by the Office of Professional Regulation that would have allowed an attorney to consent to a voluntary temporary suspension of his or her law license without public disclosure of the reasons for the suspension. http://www.iowacourts.gov/news_service/news_releases/NewsItem477/index.asp
August 4, 2011
ACLU of Iowa Open Records Case Set for Oral Argument
August 3, 2011
ACLU of Iowa Files Open Records Requests Over Police Cell Phone Tracking Practices
July 28, 2011
Governor Branstad Vetoes Legislation Opening School Organizations to Public Inspection
July 21, 2011
Governor Branstad Reverses Position On Not Charging Fees for Open Records
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is now charging a controversial "legal review fee" for reviewing emails prior to release.
The practice of charging a fee for legal review of a record was first implemented by former Governor Chet Culver.
The fee kicks in for any staff time spent over 3 hours at an hourly rate of $52.49. Link to the Gannett story.
UPDATE: On July 21, 2011 the ACLU of Iowa filed an open records request asking the governor to disclose his policy in full.
May 15, 2011
Governor signs SF289 Open Meetings and Records Law Reform Into Law.
The law does the following:
April 6, 2011
Various Bills Are Filed In the Legislature To Establish Public Records and Meetings Oversight. No Consensus Reached.
February 4, 2010
ACLU of Iowa Appeals Open Records In the Atlantic Student Strip Search Case to Iowa Supreme Court
Read our brief.
Spring 2010Open Records and Meetings Law Reform Fails