Open Government Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Open Government

The ACLU of Rhode Island works daily to improve citizens' access to public records and meetings through litigation, public education and advocacy.  

Why is open government important?

  • Openness in government is a linchpin of democracy, ensuring that the voters have the information they need to choose their leaders and then evaluate their performance in office.
  • Public access to information is an essential tool in the fight against corruption in government.
  • Public access to information can save taxpayer dollars and expose poor government practices.

The public has the right to know what its government is doing. After all, isn't our government supposed to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people”?

One of the most vital aspects of an open government is public access to government records.  Accessing Public Records in Rhode Island includes an explanation of the APRA request process and gives you tips on requesting public records.

Open Government in the News

  • Nov, 14, 2017: Open Government Coalition Calls on East Greenwich Town Council to Cancel Meeting
  • Nov, 02, 2017: ACLU Statement on Court’s Appointment of a Special Master to Oversee UHIP
  • Nov, 01, 2017: ACLU Sues Over State Police Abuse of Power

View All Open Government Related News Releases »

Open Government Related Court Cases

2017: Lacoste v. RI State Police
Category: Active Case    Due Process    Fair Administration of Justice    Open Government    Police Practices    


About This Case:
This is a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the RI State Police for abusing their power by retaliating against a Warwick resident who declined to serve as an informant for the agency in an ongoing criminal investigation. The lawsuit argues that RISP relied on a dubious state law to bar the plaintiff from continuing to work at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln when she bowed out of assisting RISP as an informant.

Current Status:
Suit filed in November 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
James W. Musgrave

Supporting Documents
2017: Brady v. Tamburini
Category: Active Case    Fair Administration of Justice    Free Speech    Open Government    Police Practices    Workplace Rights    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Johnston Police Department on behalf of retired Detective James Brady, an 18-year veteran of the force.  The suit argues that Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini violated Brady’s free speech rights by disciplining him after he spoke to the news media about a matter of public concern.

Current Status:
Suit filed in October 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
John W. Dineen

Supporting Documents

View All Right to Open Government Court Cases »

Open Government Related Legislation

Open Meetings (S 381, H6323) PASSED
Category: 2017    Open Government    

In February 2016, the ACLU published a report called “Hidden Agenda” in which we took a close look at compliance of agencies with the Open Meetings Act requirement to publicly post their agendas at least 48 hours in advance of the date of their meetings. Our report found many violations in this regard. One of our many recommendations included providing the public with more adecuate notice about public meetings, by excluding weekends and holidays from that calculation. This legislation would do just that. During the first week of May, the Senate passed S 381 and the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. During the last week of June, H 6323 was passed by both the House and the Senate.

Administrative Procedures Act (H 5339, S 229) DIED
Category: 2017    Open Government    

Currently, the state Board of Elections is virtually the only major state agency exempt from the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires state agencies to adopt rules and regulations through an open, public process. As a result, the Board can modify how elections take place in Rhode Island without having to inform the public or accept public input. The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Carlos Tobon (H 5339) and Senator Stephen Archambault (S 229) to eliminate this exemption. No action was taken on this legislation prior to the June recess.

38 Studios Public Records (H 5347, S 932) PASSED
Category: 2017    Open Government    

This legislation would make public any records generated or obtained by the Rhode Island state police or Attorney General in their investigation of the 38 Studios scandal. The ACLU assisted sponsor Rep. Charlene Lima in drafting the legislation, and the House approved the measure in March. Citing the strong public interest in their release, the ACLU and other open government groups have been calling for disclosure of the documents since last year. In April, the ACLU filed a friend of the court brief in support of the release of the grand jury records in the investigation. Senator Lombardi introduced this legislation (S 932) as well in the Senate. 

This legislation passed the House and the Senate during the month of June. However, before the Governor even had an opportunity to sign the bill, the Attorney General had a Superior Court judge issue a temporary restraining order blocking release of documents from the 38 Studios investigation.

Access to Public Records (S 68) DIED
Category: 2017    Open Government    

The Access to Public Records Act is a critical law, essential to promoting open government and an informed citizenry. Despite updates to the law in 2012, an audit by the ACLU and other groups concerned with transparency in government found the law’s enforcement policies insufficient to ensure compliance from dozens of agencies. The ACLU testified before the Senate Judiciary committee this year in support of legislation sponsored by Senator Stephen Archambault (S 68) to make it easier for the public to obtain documents of public concern. Among other provisions, the legislation limits when documents such as arrest reports and correspondence by elected officials could be exempt from release, requires public bodies to specifically note the reasons for withholding any document and to prominently feature their public records policies on their websites, and allows courts to impose stronger penalties on those agencies that improperly withhold documents. No further action was taken on this legislation after being heard.