Ohio Takes a Page from the Sunshine Review

In an effort to goad Ohio officials into making more state records available online, the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a private policy think tank, created the Center for Transparent and Accountable Government earlier this week.


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Johnson v. Barras



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Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Jonetta Rose Barras; Talk Media Communications LLC; DC Watch; Dorothy A. Brizill; Gary Imhoff; The District of Columbia

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Court Name: 

District of Columbia Superior Court

Case Number: 

2007 CA 001600 B

Legal Counsel: 

Daniel Z. Herbst, A. Scott Bolden, Anthony E. DiResta (for Barras and Talk Media); Arthur B. Spitzer (ACLU-NCA) and Marcia Hoffman (Electronic Frontier Foundation) (for Dorothy Brizill, Gary Imhoff, and DCWatch); Eden Miller, Edward Taptich (for Dist

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Dismissed (partial)
Settled (partial)


Roslyn Johnson, former Deputy Director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, sued Jonetta Rose Barras, Talk Media Communications, government watchdog website DCWatch, two DCWatch executives, and The District of Columbia, after DC Watch published in its electronic newsletter and on its website articles submitted by Barras, a local political reporter. Barras's articles, which were posted also on her personal website JR, looked at alleged cronymism in the hiring practices of the Department and stated that Johnson had inflated her resume in order to secure her position. See Cmplt. ¶¶ 70-75 . Johnson filed her claims for defamation, false light, intentional interference with contract, negligence, and violations of the District of Columbia's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in D.C. Superior Court.

DCWatch and its two executives, Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff, moved to dismiss Johnson's claims against them, arguing that DCWatch could not be found liable for Barras's article because DCWatch was protected from liability for publishing third-party content under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230). They also argued that they could only be held liable if Barras' accusations were not substantially true and cited a report by the D.C. Inspector General that found Johnson had inflated her resume.

In addition, Barras moved for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that her accusations were substantially true, and the District of Columbia moved to dismiss the claims against it, arguing that the D.C. FOIA did not create a claim on which Johnson could sue.

The court denied DCWatch's motion initially and granted Johnson limited discovery to ascertain whether Barras was an agent of DCWatch, which would allow Johnson to overcome DCWatch's CDA 230 immunity. The court also denied Barras's and the District's motions, ruling that it would let Johnson investigate her claims in discovery.

Johnson failed to uncover evidence of a relationship between DCWatch and Barras that would sustain her claims against the DCWatch defendants, and she voluntarily withdrew her claims against them in February 2008.


01/29/09 - Case dismissed with prejudice as to Barras and Talk Media Communications; remaining claims settled. 


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Updated 2/12/09 - VAF



Watchdog Group Counters Attorney General’s View of Improved FOIA Picture

A recent report by the U.S. Attorney General paints a mixed but generally positive picture of progress by the federal executive agencies in improving their responsiveness to Freedom of Information Act requests.


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Supreme Court Rejects FOIA Restrictions

In a rare Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) decision, the Supreme Court recently held in Taylor v. Sturgell that an individual's failed FOIA request does not preclude similar requests from related individuals.


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CMLP Launches New Legal Guide Section on Access to Government Information

Back in January, we began rolling out the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide.

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Costs and Fees

Federal agencies are allowed to charge “reasonable” costs for responding to your FOIA request. This typically includes fees for the time the record-keeper spends searching for the correct documents as well as the cost of duplicating those documents. See 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(A).

FOIA breaks down requesters into three categories for determining fees:

Time Periods under FOIA

Technically, government organizations must respond to a FOIA request with a denial or grant of access within 20 business days. Note that the agency must only respond within 20 days; it does not have to deliver the records within the 20-day time period. The time period does not begin until the proper agency or office actually receives your request. Furthermore, under the new 2007 FOIA amendments, the agency may exceed the 20-day time limit if it needs to request more information from you in order to process your request.

Filing a FOIA Request

Written requests are the only way to legally assert your FOIA rights. These should be mailed, faxed, e-mailed, or hand-delivered to the relevant agency’s offices, depending on which methods the agency allows. A quick online search of the "agency's name" and "FOIA" should provide you with specific information about how the particular agency accepts FOIA requests. If you can't find the information through an online search, check the Federal Register, which should include this information.

FOIA Exemptions

While the records you've requested might be covered by FOIA, the information contained in the records may relate to certain subject areas that are exempt from disclosure under FOIA. FOIA contains nine exemptions that might impact your request:

Types of Records Available under FOIA

Any records created, possessed, or controlled by a federal regulatory agency, cabinet and military departments, offices, commissions, government-controlled corporations, the Executive Office of the President, and other organizations of the Executive Branch of the federal government must be disclosed unless the information contained in the records is covered by a specific FOIA exemption. FOIA only extends to existing records; you cannot compel an agency to create or search for information that is not already in its records.

What Are Your Remedies Under FOIA

You have several options if your FOIA request is denied in whole or in part. First, you can attempt to resolve informally any disputes you have with the responding agency. If informal resolution fails, you should appeal the denial within the relevant agency before taking any other action. If your appeal is unsuccessful and the agency withheld the information because it is classified, you can apply to have the information declassified.

What Records Are Available Under FOIA

FOIA covers records from all federal regulatory agencies, cabinet and military departments, offices, commissions, government-controlled corporations, the Executive Office of the President, and other organizations of the Executive Branch of the federal government. 5 U.S.C. § 552(f). For example, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Food and Drug Administration are all covered by FOIA.

Who Can Request Records Under FOIA

The Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") gives the right to request access to government records to any person for any reason, whether the person is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national. Requests can be made in the name of an individual or an organization (including a corporation, partnership, or public interest group). Individuals have the same access rights as professional journalists, though journalists who work for established media organizations sometimes receive better treatment from records-keepers.

Access to Records from the Federal Government

If you are seeking records held by the United States government, you will need to become familiar with the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), which was enacted in 1966. FOIA provides access to the public records of all departments, agencies, and offices of the Executive Branch of the federal government, including the Executive Office of the President. FOIA does not cover the sitting President, Congress, or the federal judiciary.

Access to Government Records

"Freedom of Information" ("FOI") is a general term for the laws — sometimes called "sunshine laws" — and principles that govern the public’s right to access government records. FOI helps the public keep track of its government’s actions, from the campaign expenditures of city commission candidates to federal agencies’ management of billions of dollars in tax revenues. Without FOI, information-seeking citizens would be left to the whims of individual government agencies, which often do not give up their records easily.

A Tale of Two Prisoners

This week, a judge ruled that Allan Parmelee, an inmate at the McNeil Island Corrections Center in Washington state, can continue to request public records under the state Public Records Act. According to the Associated Press, Parmelee has requested hundreds of public records about the state troopers, prosecutors, judges, prison guards, and others who incarcerated him for firebombing two cars.


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