FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The New England First Amendment Coalition will honor the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, and New Hampshire resident Donna Green for their right-to-know advocacy and work on behalf of the First Amendment.
The Sun Journal will be presented NEFAC’s 2017 Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award for uncovering a Maine judicial policy that sealed the records of all dismissed criminal cases. Led by editor Judy Meyer, the Sun Journal fought against the policy and formed a coalition of freedom of information advocates to help force an end to the practice. The FOI Award is presented annually to New England journalists who protect or advance the public’s right to know under federal or state law.
Green will be presented the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award for her efforts in requiring New Hampshire agencies to provide documents electronically when requested. Green took a public records battle to the state’s Supreme Court, which last year unanimously ruled in her favor. The Citizenship Award is given annually to an individual from one of the six New England states who has tenaciously fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or the actions of its government.
Both the Sun Journal and Green will be honored at NEFAC’s New England First Amendment Awards luncheon from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 24 at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston. During the luncheon, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan will be honored with the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award.
Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased here.
Sponsors, contributors and luncheon table hosts include The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Boston University, Prince Lobel Tye, WBUR-Boston, Northeastern University, University of New Hampshire, Emerson College, Central Connecticut State University, Fox 25, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, The Vermont Cynic, Roger Williams University, Saint Michael’s College, The University of Rhode Island and WGBH.
The Sun Journal
2017 Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award
The Sun Journal is an award-winning Maine news organization. The Lewiston-based newspaper covers Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.
In April 2016, a Sun Journal reporter went to the Oxford County Superior Court to access the case file of a man charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault in connection with a motorcycle accident two years earlier. The reporter was told there existed no such case file. But there was such a file. The Sun Journal had been reporting on the case for more than a year.
Believing there was miscommunication between the reporter and court clerk, editors at the Sun Journal called the court for clarification and were told the case was sealed. Without any notice to the public, Maine courts had instituted an entirely new procedure for court records: All dismissed criminal case files would become sealed after 30 days and clerks were prohibited from releasing any information on those cases. The new policy was in violation of public record laws.
The Sun Journal fought against the policy and demanded that it be reversed. Freedom of information advocates from across the region joined the campaign. After six weeks, dozens of phone calls, more than 100 emails from the Sun Journal staff and enormous pressure from media companies and public access advocates, the court reversed course and ended the policy.
“There is real accountability in public access to criminal court files,” said Meyer, the Sun Journal’s editor. “The public has an absolute right to know what goes on in our courts, which was the driving focus in our challenge.”
Previous recipients of the FOI award include: Jenifer McKim, reporter for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, in 2016; James W. Foley (posthumously), seasoned war correspondent and New Hampshire native, in 2015; Brent Curtis, a reporter for the Rutland (Vt.) Herald, in 2014; and Don Stacom, of the Hartford Courant, in 2013.
2017 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award
Green is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire, a state-based government transparency organization, a representative of Sandown on the Timberlane Regional School Board, and president of the newly formed School District Governance Association of New Hampshire.
As a school board member, Green began her public records quest two years ago by requesting school district salary information. The superintendent’s office (SAU55), however, refused to provide this information in an electronic format. The New Hampshire Right to Know Law, the SAU argued, didn’t require this information to be released electronically even if available in that form. Instead, Green was limited to inspecting the records in person or paying 50 cents a page for paper printouts, which would have cost well over $150.
Green unsuccessfully challenged that interpretation of the law in a pro se lawsuit in Superior Court. With the assistance of attorney Richard Lehmann, she appealed to the state’s highest court. In a decision last April, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Green, saying that the Right to Know Law should be interpreted broadly and facilitate the efficient and cost-effective production of records. The court found that the distribution of public, non-confidential information in commonly used electronic formats ensures the greatest degree of openness and the greatest amount of public access to the decisions made by the public officials.
“Curious citizens, conscientious elected officials, and members of the media can now get public information in the most useful form in which it is available,” Green said. “This decision is a win for open government.”
Previous recipients of the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award include: Michael Champa, a Massachusetts philanthropist and FOI advocate, in 2016; Harriet Cady, longtime open government activist in New Hampshire, in 2015; Kit Savage, of Connecticut, who uncovered violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in 2014; and David Lang, who exposed mismanagement of health insurance premiums, resulting in a court order to refund $53 million to New Hampshire public employees, in 2013.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.