The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Right to Open Government

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Right to Open Government

The public’s “right to know” is a critical right in a democratic society. In furtherance of that right, the R.I. ACLU has worked to make government more open and accountable. Listed below are several cases relating to open government in which the ACLU of Rhode Island has been involved over the years:

2017: In re: 38 Studios Grand Jury

Category: Active Case  Open Government  


About This Case:
This is a "friend of the court" brief in R.I. Superior Court in support of Governor Gina Raimondo's petition to have the court release the grand jury records of the 38 Studios investigation.  The ACLU of RI's brief argues that, while grand jury records should ordinarily be protected from disclosure, the 38 Studios investigation "presents a truly exceptional circumstance that justifies disclosure."

Current Status:
In May 2017, RI Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice Gibney ruled against releasing the documents.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Jared A. Goldstein, Andrew Horwitz

Learn more about this case >

2017: ACLU v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Category: Active Case  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  Open Government  


About This Case:
This is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding government documents about the on-the-ground implementation of President Trump's Muslim bans.  Filed on behalf of six New England ACLU Affiliates, the lawsuit seeks records from the Boston field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) related to CBP's implementation of President Trump's Muslim bans at T.F. Green, Bradley, Bangor, Burlington, Logan and Manchester airports.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in April 2017.

ACLU Attorney:
Zachary Heiden, Legal Director, ACLU of Maine

Learn more about this case >

2015: Eil v. DEA

Category: Active Case  Open Government  


About This Case:
This is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on behalf of a local journalist, Philip Eil, who for years has been stymied in his effort to obtain access to public evidence from a major prescription drug-dealing trial. The lawsuit, against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), seeks a court order to release the documents and a declaration that the DEA has wrongfully withheld and redacted documents.

Current Status:
In September 2016, Judge McConnell ruled in Eil's favor and ordered the documents released.  The defendents in the case have appealed.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Neal McNamara, Jessica Jewell

Learn more about this case >

2014: Brown v. Cylke

Category: Open Government  Students' Rights  

This is an open records lawsuit against the Pawtucket School District for its failure to respond to an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request relating to the district's wavier policy from the state "high stakes testing" requirement. 

 

Learn more about this case >

2013: Egan v. RI Board of Education

Category: Open Government  Students' Rights  

This is an open meetings lawsuit against the R.I. Board of Education over its plans in August of 2013 to meet in a private retreat, closed to the public and the media, in order to hear from invited “experts” on the issue of its “high stakes testing” requirement for high school seniors. The ACLU argued that allowing such a private meeting would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.  In issuing a preliminary injunction against the planned private discussion of the issue, R.I. Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini agreed with the ACLU that allowing such a discussion to take place in private would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.

More information about the issue of high stakes testing can be found here.

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2013: Providence Student Union v. RI Board of Education

Category: Open Government  Students' Rights  

This is a lawsuit in R.I. Superior Court over the R.I. Board of Education’s (BOE) failure to consider a petition filed by seventeen organizations to do away with the Board’s “high stakes testing” graduation requirement. The lawsuit argues that the Board had an obligation under state law, which it ignored, to consider the proposal and either reject it or initiate a formal rule-making process to consider its adoption.  

Cooperating Attorneys: Marc Gursky and Elizabeth Wiens

More information about high stakes testing can be found here.

Learn more about this case >

2013: McBurney v. Young

Category: Open Government  

“Friend of the court” brief in the U.S.Supreme Court on behalf of a Rhode Island resident challenging a Virginia law barring non-residents from invoking that state’s open records law. The court upheld the constitutionality of the statute.

National Attorney: Patrick Carome

2012: Thomas v. Flanders

Category: Due Process  Open Government  Right to Petition & Protest  

This lawsuit charged that the Central Falls Receiver, Robert Flanders, Jr., unlawfully delegated to an appointed hearing officer powers that are afforded only to him under the state law authorizing his appointment. The lawsuit also argued that the receiver’s actions were a violation of the open meetings law, the Financial Stability Act, and residents’ rights to due to process and to petition their government. The suit was voluntarily dismissed after the City came out of receivership. 

Cooperating Attorney: Jennifer Azevedo

Learn more about this case >

2011: Lavik v. DMV

Category: Due Process  Open Government  

A lawsuit challenging the Division of Motor Vehicle’s actions in refusing to reinstate a person’s driver’s license based on a “policy” that appears nowhere in the agency’s rules and regulations. The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court on behalf of Warwick resident Marc Lavik, argues that the DMV’s actions are in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), an important state law that requires agencies to provide advance notice and a public comment period before adopting policies that affect members of the public.

Cooperating Attorneys: Albin Moser and Melissa Braatz

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2011: R.I. ACLU v. Department of Public Safety

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Lawsuit challenging the adoption of regulations by the State Police significantly limiting public access to arrest reports and other police records.

2010: RI NOW v. Wall

Category: Criminal Justice  Open Government  Women's Rights  

Favorably settled open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections for refusing to disclose its policies relating to the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners.

2010: Moura v. East Providence School Committee

Category: Open Government  

Open meetings lawsuit challenging a school committee’s closed meeting to discuss a non-existent “Public Comment Lawsuit.” The suit was voluntarily dismissed after defendants averred that no discussion of the agenda item ever took place.

Cooperating Attorneys: Howard Merten, Keith Fayan

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2009: Phoenix Times Publishing Company v. Barrington School Committee

Category: Open Government  

An Open Meetings Act (OMA) lawsuit against the Barrington School Committee for unlawfully meeting in closed session this past February to discuss the merits of instituting a mandatory breathalyzer policy for all students attending school dances. 

The lawsuit was later expanded to include the further charge that the school committee, by using “vague boilerplate terminology, … routinely fails to specify the nature of the business to be discussed on public agendas,” and has also failed to provide adequate public notice of some of its meetings.

Cooperating Attorneys: Howard Merten and Keith Fayan.

Learn more about this case >

2009: Fontes V. City of Central Falls

Category: Open Government  Rights of Candidates  Voting Rights  

Federal lawsuit challenging the disqualification of a Mayoral candidate based on a city charter provision barring voters from signing more than one nomination paper for the same political office. The court ruled the provision unconstitutional, and the General Assembly enacted a law overriding similar requirements in other municipalities.

Cooperating Attorneys: Armando Batastini, Timothy Baldwin

Learn more about this case >

2008: R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence v. Carcieri

Category: Due Process  Immigration  Open Government  

Lawsuit challenging a Gubernatorial executive order requiring all vendors and contractors doing business with the state to register with the federal government’s E-Verify work authorization program. A temporary restraining order was denied, but the executive order was subsequently rescinded and the suit was voluntarily dismissed as moot.

Cooperating Attorney: Randy Olen

Learn more about this case >

2008: R.I. ACLU v. Carcieri

Category: Open Government  

Open records lawsuit against the Governor for refusing to release documents relating to the chain of command for state governance during the Governor’s absence from the state. The court ordered immediate release of certain documents, and also awarded attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorney: Kathleen Managhan

Learn more about this case >

2008: Pehrson v. Reynolds

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Open records lawsuit challenging a police department’s refusal to release a copy of the arrest report of car passengers who may have been victims of racial profiling. A day after the suit was filed, the defendants turned over the requested documents.

Cooperating Attorney: Gary Berkowitz

Learn more about this case >

2007: RI ACLU v. Moran

Category: Open Government  

Open records lawsuit challenging the Central Falls police department’s refusal to release the report regarding the fatal shooting of a local resident by police. A court ordered release of the records.

Cooperating Attorneys: Howard Merten, Keith Fayan

Learn more about this case >

2007: Brown v. Esserman

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Open records lawsuit seeking police department’s policies governing the use of video surveillance cameras in public street locations. 

Cooperating Attorney: Staci Kolb

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2005: Butterfield v. Gemma

Category: Open Government  

Open records lawsuit challenging Town of North Smithfield’s requirement that a person provide his or her name and e-mail address in order to gain access to an on-line database of tax assessment records. The Town agreed to eliminate the requirement.

Cooperating Attorney: Karen Davidson

2005: R.I. ACLU v. Cirillo

Category: Open Government  

Open records lawsuit against the Foster-Glocester School District for failing to respond to requests for copies of policies and forms governing the release of student directory information to military recruiters. The defendants turned over the documents the day after suit was filed, and the case was voluntarily dismissed after defendants agreed to a monetary settlement.

Cooperating Attorney: Karen Davidson

2003: Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) v. Gannon

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Open records suit against the Providence Police Department for refusing to release internal records of police brutality complaints. In 2003 the R.I. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that the records were public and, in a second appeal, an order requiring defendants to turn over the records at no cost and to pay attorneys’ fees. After lengthy negotiations, an award of attorneys’ fees was made.

Cooperating Attorney: Dennis Grieco II

2002: In re: Providence Journal Company

Category: Open Government  

“Friend of the court” brief filed in response to court’s refusal to publicly release various briefs submitted in the “Operation Plunder Dome” corruption case, asking appeals court to overturn the district court’s long-standing practice of not placing any court briefs in the public file. The appellate court overturned the no-filing policy.

2001: Brown v. Providence Police Department

Category: Open Government  

Successful open records lawsuit challenging police department’s refusal to release copies of its policies governing the city’s use of video surveillance cameras in public street locations and in police cars.

1999: Solas v. Emergency Hiring Council of the State of Rhode Island

Category: Open Government  

Successful lawsuit challenging the failure of the Governor’s Emergency Hiring Council to abide by the Open Meetings Law.

1997: Corbett v. City of Providence

Category: Open Government  

Favorably settled lawsuit challenging City’s non-compliance with copying cost limits imposed by the open records law.

1996: League of Women Voters of R.I. v. R.I. State Board of Elections

Category: Discrimination  Rights of the Disabled  Open Government  Voting Rights  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit requiring the state to take immediate action to fully comply with provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, including requiring the availability of voter registration services at state-funded agencies providing assistance to people with disabilities.

1996: Operation Clean Government v. Superior Court

Category: Open Government  

Favorably settled suit challenging a court order sealing the identities of six public officials who had anonymously sued the Ethics Commission.

1995: Direct Action for Rights and Equality v. Gannon

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Successful open records lawsuit filed on behalf of a Providence community group seeking access to various city police department records relating to police brutality.

1990: Providence Journal Company v. Kane

Category: Open Government  

“Friend of the court” brief challenging a Superior Court decision which held that, under the state’s Open Records Law, records relating to “personnel” are automatically and completely exempt from disclosure.

1988: Injured Workers of Rhode Island v. Rotondi

Category: Open Government  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit on behalf of public interest group denied the right to take notes at Workers Compensation Commission hearings.

1985: Providence Journal Company v. RIHMFC

Category: Open Government  

“Friend of the court” brief in Superior Court, successfully arguing that a state agency could not withhold from the public certain records simply because they had been subpoenaed by a grand jury.

1983: The Rake v. Gorodetsky

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Favorable “open records law” decision issued in this case required the Providence Police Department to release various records relating to civilian complaints of police abuse.