Brechner News

Competition offers Cash Prizes for Law Student Research Papers Addressing Issues of Access to Information

Posted: August 5, 2021

The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and The Journal of Civic Information are soliciting submissions for the 2021-2022 Journal of Civic Information Law Student Writing Competition. THE JOURNAL The Journal of Civic Information is an online, open-access journal of practical scholarship, published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. The Journal is indexed on Google Scholar and articles are peer-reviewed by an interdisciplinary team of scholarly editors.  TOPIC Students are invited to submit papers addressing a legal or public policy issue in the field of information access. Recent editions of the Journal have…

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Free-speech organizations ask appeals court to protect college athletes against vague “misconduct” rules

Posted: November 25, 2020

College athletes can’t be stripped of their scholarships for violating vague “misconduct” rules that penalize legally protected expression, free-speech groups told a federal appeals court in New York. In a brief filed Tuesday, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information joined the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in supporting Noriana Radwan, who was kicked off the University of Connecticut soccer team for momentarily flashing her middle finger during a sideline celebration. The brief, filed with the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, argues that the university violated due process by taking…

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Shadow Governments: New Mexico Court Asked to Illuminate University’s Privatized Sports, Fundraising Operations

Posted: November 10, 2020

Open-government advocates and the New Mexico attorney general are weighing in behind a sports blogger in his quest for public records withheld by a state university that has “privatized” its fundraising operations. The case challenges the University of New Mexico’s use of nonprofit “auxiliary” corporations as a tactic to conceal otherwise-public records from scrutiny, an increasingly common practice at state universities everywhere. In a brief filed Nov. 4 with the New Mexico Court of Appeals, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and the NM Foundation for Open Government (“NMFOG”) argue that public agencies should not be allowed to evade…

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Brechner Center Welcomes First Civic Tech Fellow to Work on Open-Data Projects

Posted: July 16, 2020

Media innovator Rebecca Harris has joined the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information as the Center’s first Civic Tech Fellow, working to identify solutions to make local-government data more accessible and useful to journalists and the general public. Harris is the founder and former CEO of Purple, a messaging CMS and distribution platform enabling publishers to make individualized connections with their audience members, which was acquired in 2019 by theSkimm. In partnership with media platforms including Univision, her team at Purple provided news coverage of the 2016 presidential election entirely by text-message. In 2019, she was named one of Forbes’…

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Brechner Center Partners with MuckRock to Gather Police-Misconduct Records from Across New York

Posted: June 16, 2020

Under a newly enacted state law, long-secret police personnel files and misconduct complaints are now a matter of public record in New York, home to the nation’s largest police force. The Brechner Center is partnering with MuckRock, a nonprofit transparency and investigative-reporting organization, to secure as many of those records as possible for use by journalists and researchers. MuckRock, which operates a platform that automates freedom-of-information requests, began sending requests Tuesday to more than 500 certified law enforcement agencies across New York State, employing more than 65,000 officers. The requests were formulated in collaboration with lawyers from the Brechner Center…

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Ten Journalists Awarded Brechner Fellowships to Support Reporting on Issues of Government Secrecy

Posted: June 4, 2020

Ten journalists from across the country have been awarded grants to pursue in-depth reporting projects about government secrecy through the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. The inaugural Brechner Reporting Fellowships were created to benefit journalists who have lost jobs or experienced furloughs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, during which at least 30 local news organizations have shut down and hundreds of others have downsized. “We’re incredibly excited to be able to help support the work of excellent journalists from a variety of backgrounds in markets from coast to coast as they pursue stories to…

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Supreme Court Asked to Take First Amendment Appeal of Medical Student Punished for “Disrespectful” Anti-Abortion Post on Facebook

Posted: May 19, 2020

College students cannot be disciplined for “uncivil” political speech on social media, free-speech organizations told the U.S. Supreme Court in a brief filed Monday. The brief, prepared by attorneys with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, asks the justices to accept the case of New Mexico medical student Paul Hunt, who was punished under a campus civility code for using sharp, profane language in a Facebook post about his opposition to abortion.  Hunt’s case has the potential to set a legal standard for students’ free-speech rights when they use social media — an issue that has frequently been litigated…

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Call for entries: Apply by Feb. 28 for $3,000 reporting prize from UF’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

Posted: January 17, 2020

Journalism published during 2019 that draws on public records, or highlights secrecy in government, is eligible for a $3,000 cash prize. The Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award is presented annually to recognize outstanding news coverage that promotes transparent, accountable government. Applications are due Feb. 28, and details about how to apply are available on the website. Work by any U.S.-based media organization or individual, in any medium, is eligible for the prize, and there is no fee to enter. The winner will be recognized April 13 at a meeting of the Florida Free Speech Forum in Gainesville, Fla., and entrants…

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In the New Journal of Civic Information: Defending Against “Reverse FOIA” Lawsuits, and Obtaining State Legislators’ Records

Posted: December 18, 2019

Is the public entitled to request documents kept by state legislators? Can a requester be sued by the government just for filing a freedom-of-information request — and is there a way to get such harassing litigation easily dismissed without spending a fortune on legal fees? The newly published second issue of the Brechner Center’s Journal of Civic Information tackles these topics, providing guidance for news organizations and their lawyers about contemporary issues involving access to government documents and data. This quarter’s articles include: A deep dive into “anti-SLAPP” laws by University of Nevada-Reno researchers Patrick C. File and Leah Wigren.…

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Media Coalition Asks Supreme Court to Hear Author Krakauer’s Appeal for Access to Campus Safety Records

Author Jon Krakauer speaks in 2016 on campus sexual assault

Posted: December 9, 2019

Federal student privacy law has been abused and distorted to deny journalists access to records essential for public safety, a coalition of media and First Amendment organizations told the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, urging justices to accept author Jon Krakauer’s petition in a much-watched freedom-of-information case. Krakauer, the acclaimed author whose bestselling works include Into The Wild and Into Thin Air, is asking the justices to hear his appeal from a Montana Supreme Court decision denying him access to records that would shed light on how state education officials handled a high-profile sexual-assault claim involving a star college athlete. A…

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New Brechner Center Study Documents Illegality of Commonplace Government Policies Restricting Employee Communications With Journalists

Posted: October 8, 2019

Government agencies throughout the country are enforcing broad policies forbidding public employees from speaking to the news media without approval, even though federal courts repeatedly have declared such policies unconstitutional, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information documents in a new report. The Brechner Center issue brief, “The First Amendment and Public Employees’ Right to Speak to the Media,” documents nearly two dozen instances in which courts have struck down workplace policies that forbid employees from giving interviews without approval from a supervisor or a public-relations officer. Despite this string of court victories for employees, the issue brief finds agencies…

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Open-government expert Miranda Spivack joins Brechner Center to lead student investigative reporting projects

Posted: August 2, 2019

Veteran Washington Post journalist Miranda Spivack is joining UF’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information on a year-long fellowship to work with journalism students on investigative reporting projects spotlighting issues of government secrecy. Spivack began work Aug. 1 in a newly created fellowship position that also will include creating research papers for the UF-based National Freedom of Information Coalition about issues affecting public access to government records. Over a journalism career spanning four decades, Spivack has been recognized with multiple awards and accolades, including the 2017 Sunshine Award from the Society for Professional Journalists for her series, “State Secrets,” examining…

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