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Politician's Suicide Raises Questions About Unsealing Criminal Charge

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle's Gary Craig has highlighted an interesting legal question in the wake of a state assemblyman's suicide. Bill Nojay committed suicide before a federal criminal charge against him was unsealed. Now what? Can that charge be made public even though the criminal defendant is dead? 

One local attorney said that, under the First Amendment, a criminal charge against a public figure like Nojay should be unveiled. That hasn't happened yet, but the D&C is going to make that argument in federal court.

The D&C reports that Nojay may have allegedly taken money from an attorney client-trust account. 

Trump Destined to Lose First Amendment Fight

The Economist has an analysis of the legal consequences of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's increasing attacks on the media. The magazine notes that he has said he would open up libel law to make it easier for public figures to sue for defamation. But The Economist notes that U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including New York Times v. Sullivan, have made the protection of the freedom of the press "strong and well entrenched."

However, Supreme Court Brief's Tony Mauro recently noted that there is a case pending before the Supreme Court which could test the New York Times v. Sullivan precedent. The court has not yet granted allocatur in Armstrong v. Thompson

New York Court of Appeals Revives Patient Privacy Suit

The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that a patient's family can continue their privacy lawsuit because the patient's death was filmed without their permission and aired on medical show, ProPublica's Charles Ornstein reports. The court greenlighted the plaintiffs' claim that doctor-patient confidentiality was breached, but the court rejected the plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

“'We conclude that defendants’ conduct here, while offensive, was not so atrocious and utterly intolerable as to support a cause of action'” for emotional distress, the court opined.

The widow of Mark Chanko recognized her husband moaning in pain on an episode of "NY Med." He was treated at New York Presbyterian Hospital after being struck by a vehicle while crossing the street.

Cuomo's Proposed FOIL Changes Criticized

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed several changes to that state's Freedom of Information Law in the state budget. Open access advocates are criticizing the changes, saying that one would make it "harder for litigants to win court awards of attorney's fees in cases where agencies disregard valid FOIL requests or had no valid reason for delaying compliance with the law" and the other would reject FOIL requests regarding "critical infrastructures", The New York Law Journal's Joel Stashenko reports.

Cuomo also has proposed extended FOIL to the New York Legislature.

Obama Would Sign FOIA Reform Legislation

President Barack Obama would sign a Freedom of Information Act reform bill that has passed the U.S. Senate, Politico's Josh Gerstein reports. The bill "calls for a centralized portal to request records from all government agencies and writes into the law a presumption of openness that the Obama Administration adopted by executive order when he took office in 2009," Gerstein reports. Freedom of information advocates have been criticizing the Obama administration for having broken that promise of openness.

A similar bill has passed the House of Representatives and needs to be reconciled with the Senate FOIA bill.

Court Rules There Is No First Amendment Right to Film Police

U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that citizens don't have a First Amendment right to film police officers "absent a challenge to their conduct," The Legal Intelligencer's Gina Passarella reports. The issue is one of first impression and involves citizens whose cellphones were confiscated after they were filming or photographing police activity. One woman was a legal observer at a protest.

The judge said it has not been clear that documenting police activity--without challenging the activity of law enforcement officers--is expressive conduct.

Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania told TLI that a police officer can't know what the intended use of an image truly is, whether it is to criticize the police or not.

However, the judge allowed the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims to proceed.



South Carolina Lawmaker Proposes Journalist Registry

A conservative legislator in South Carolina has introduced a bill that would require journalists to register with the government in order to work in the state, The Post and Courier's Gavin Jackson and Schuyler Kropf report. The bill also would create requirements for South Carolina journalists before they could being work.

State Rep. Mike Pitts, a Republican, said he introduced the bill because Second Amendment rights are demonized by the press.

The reporters note that the bill has "virtually no chance of advancing but is meant to reflect a lawmaker’s personal political statement."

This Could Be the Year for Drone Journalism

Poynter's Benjamin Mullin has a piece about how 2016 could be the breakout year for drone journalism because the FAA is slated to issue new rules about the commercial use of drones: "It will be a watershed development for American photojournalism writ large, one that will put relatively inexpensive aerial photography, videography and airborne sensors in play for journalists across the United States."

The most common use will be taking footage of land, especially during times of disaster. Currently, the FAA is allowing some media organizations to use drones, but their drone operators have to have pilot's licenses. Under the new rules, journalists and other commercial drone operators would be able to get an alternative licensure to a pilot's license in order to be approved to operate drones.

NY Governor Vetoes FOIL Reform

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have required government agencies to obey a 90-day limit to appeal court decisions in favor of people requesting information under New York's Freedom of Information Law, The New York Times' Jesse McKinley reports. However, the governor issued an executive order that essentially reversed his veto of the bill, setting a 60-day window for a legal response by government agencies except for "'extremely complex matters or extraordinary circumstances outside agency control.'"

Cuomo also vetoed a bill that would have allowed courts to order legal fees in favor of people who request information

Press Groups Ask California Governor to Veto Bill Limiting Drones

A coalition of media organizations have asked California Governor Jerry Brown to veto a bill that would make it illegal to fly drones less than 350 feet above private property "'without express permission of the person or entity with the legal authority to grant access or without legal authority,'" The Hill's David McCabe reports. The coalition said the law would impede newsgathering and violate the First Amendment.


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