Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Federal court disparity between the treatment of government agents and defense private investigators

EvidenceProf Blog writes about two recent cases — one from the 6th Circuit, the other from the 10th — that highlight the courts’ different treatment of private investigators and government agents. The government can keep a private investigator out of the courtroom when she’s not testifying, under Federal Rule of Evidence 615, because she’s not the “employee of a party which is not a natural person [the government] designated as its representative by its attorney”.
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State and Federal Case Law Now On Google

Google Scholar is indexing the case law in all 50 states – Court of Appeals and Supreme Court – and the federal courts.

As with the other Google search engines, Google Scholar makes use of its own advanced search operators. Search by keywords, personal names, inclusive dates, and specify one or more states in a single search. Options on a single search are limited to 1) Search all legal opinions and journals; 2) Search only US federal court opinions or, 3) Search only court opinions from self-selected states.

Wondering which courts are included and the inclusive dates? Ask Google Scholar Help:

Which court opinions do you include?

Currently, Google Scholar allows you to search and read opinions for US state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950, US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923 and US Supreme Court cases since 1791 (please check back periodically for updates to coverage information). In addition, it includes citations for cases cited by indexed opinions or journal articles which allows you to find influential cases (usually older or international) which are not yet online or publicly available. Legal opinions in Google Scholar are provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed lawyer. Google does not warrant that the information is complete or accurate.

View a list of search results with citations and a 2-line summary of text where some or all of the keywords appear. From here you can select to read an entire case or view case summaries that have cited the selected case.

My search query [(garbage OR trash) (curb OR curbside) +privacy], limited to California courts, 1970-2009 returned 33 cases.

Government Spending Transparency Databases

The governor of Alabama signed an executive order that creates an online database of all state government spending and legislators’ relationships with lobbyists. This will go online later this year, but many other states have already made available government spending, salary and revenue databases, often in a site dedicated to issues of transparency in government.

Review the Nevada state budget by general revenue, expenditures, departments or function at Nevada Open Government. Also, lookup vendors with state contracts.

Open Georgia includes a searchable database of state employees and their salaries.

South Carolina gathers together links to their various online databases including, state expenditures and salaries.

Similar sites have been assembled by Kentucky, Rhode Island (also see, Transparency Train) and South Dakota.

Transparency rankings and states with spending online are listed at Sunshine Review.

Track transparency in government spending issues reported by independent organizations in Colorado and Illinois.

Legislation, citizen activism and current news on state government transparency can be found at the Center for Fiscal Accountability.

This week in public records: Arizona Disciplinary Records

All disciplinary records of Arizona government employees become public records September 28, 2008. Arizona Revised Statutes adds section 39-128, Disciplinary records of public officers and employees; disclosure; exceptions.

Release of home address, telephone number and photograph of people in certain job categories (law enforcement) is restricted.

The Arizona Ombudsman produces a monthly educational newsletter, The Public Law. A recent issue offers agencies guidance that speaks to the complaints of private investigators, reporters, and all those who request public records. Read, Public Records Law 101: Avoid the top ten most common pitfalls.

Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Iowa are among the few states that have a statewide ombudsman office.

Does your state have an open records law related to government employee discipline records?

California AG Interprets Public Records Act to Allow Real Property Addresses On the Internet

A little noticed but potentially significant (for public records researchers) California Attorney General opinion was released a week ago. The opinion upends the almost universal interpretation of the Public Records Act by county Assessors pertaining to disseminating property addresses on the Internet.

If you go to any California county Assessor online public inquiry you’ll see an explanation similar to this on the Stanislaus County site:

California Government Code 6254.21 states that “No state or local agency shall post the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official on the Internet without first obtaining the written permission of the individual.”

Therefore the agencies don’t reveal anyone’s address.The law seems to be hewed to regarding the real property addresses for public officials, right? Not according to the AG. Deputy Attorney General Daniel Stone says the common interpretation is wrong and isn’t what the legislature intended.

As a practical matter, we believe that a broad and overly literal reading of section 6254.21(a) would lead to unworkable results. Some public agencies…might conclude that they were forced to refrain from making any property-related database accessible to any internet technology, no matter how secure or limited the network, due to the possibility that the data could contain home information of public officials. Other public agencies… might conclude that they were forced to review and redact their databases… Such an identification process would be difficult, time consuming, and inevitably incomplete. Furthermore, the resulting revised property databases… would no longer be comprehensive and would therefore be of diminished utility to users. We are hesitant to conclude that the Legislature could have intended such impractical results.

Simply put, the 1998 law was “intended to prevent public agencies from posting on their public websites any list or directory of public officials’ home addresses and telephone numbers, without first obtaining each official’s written permission to be included in the listing.” In other words, government agencies can’t construct a list of names and residential addresses of government employees and put that on their Internet sites.

Giving the Assessors permission to reconsider their ban on including addresses and names in their online databases, Stone states, simply:

Indeed, we believe that if the Legislature had in fact contemplated a comprehensively literal application of section 6254.21(a), that intention would have been more clearly reflected in the statute.

Give a kindly call to your local Assessor and ask her/him what changes they anticipate making in their Internet access in light of this opinion. What did the Assessor say?

FTC Permanently Halts ‘Pretexting’ Scheme

Defendants Barred From Obtaining or Selling Consumers’ Phone Records to Third Parties

The Federal Trade Commission has put a permanent halt to an operation that allegedly obtained consumers’ confidential phone records without their knowledge or consent and sold them to third parties. The defendants are barred from obtaining consumers’ telephone records without their consent and court orders impose judgments on the defendants totaling more than $600,000 – the estimated amount of their ill-gotten gains.

This is the latest in a series of FTC cases targeting telephone pretexters – individuals who use false pretenses to obtain consumers’ confidential information. Since 2006 the FTC has charged sixteen individuals and their corporations with violating federal law by pretexting to obtain phone records of third parties. All have now been barred from pretexting and all have been ordered to give up the money they made engaging in the illegal practice.

In February 2007, the FTC asked a U.S. district court to order a permanent halt to the operations of a company that sold consumers’ confidential phone records, including information on calls placed and received. The FTC also sued the individuals who had used false pretenses to obtain the records from phone companies and then supplied those records to the company for a fee. The agency alleged these practices were unfair and deceptive in violation of federal law, and could endanger consumers’ safety. The agency also asked the court to order the defendants to give up their ill-gotten gains.

According to the FTC complaint, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 provides that a customer’s phone records may only be disclosed “upon affirmative written request by the customer.” But the agency alleged that since at least 2005 Action Research Group, Inc., and its principals, Joseph and Matthew DePantes, sold confidential customer phone records, including lists of calls made and the dates, times, and duration of the calls, to third parties, without the knowledge or consent of the customers. To get the records, these defendants relied upon the other defendants, Eye in the Sky Investigations, Inc., Cassandra Selvage and Bryan Wagner, who obtained them from phone companies through “pretexting” – using “false pretenses, fraudulent statements, fraudulent or stolen documents or other misrepresentations, including posing as an account holder or as an employee” of a phone company. Selling the records constitutes an invasion of privacy that could endanger the health and safety of consumers, the agency alleged.

The DePantes and ARG agreed to settle the FTC charges. Defendants ESI, Cassandra Selvage, and Bryan Wagner are subject to default judgments entered by the court.

The settlement and default judgments permanently bar the defendants from obtaining, marketing or selling customer phone records or consumers’ personal information derived from those records. They also bar the defendants from pretexting or using others to pretext to obtain consumers’ information. The settlement order entered a judgment in the amount of $67,000 against the DePantes and ARG, the estimated amount of ill-gotten gains the defendants earned from their illegal scheme; the judgment was suspended upon a payment of $3,000 based on the defendants’ inability to pay. In the default judgments, the court ordered Wagner to give up $428,085 in ill-gotten gains and ESI and Selvage to give up $110,762.

The Commission vote to accept the settlements was 5-0. They were filed in U.S. District Court for the middle district of Florida, Orlando division.

NOTE: Stipulated final orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.

What are your comments in this topic?

Jimmie Mesis, Editor-in-Chief
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