Using FOIA to sit in on Ben Carson's Bible study and provide better criminal justice oversight

Using FOIA to sit in on Ben Carson’s Bible study and provide better criminal justice oversight

Plus a major ruling that will impact public records in Washington state

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Edited by JPat Brown and Michael Morisy

Public records can help dig into policy makers at all levels, as well as help find out the truth on the ground. This week’s FOIA roundup shows how you can use requests to do the same no matter what subject you’re interested in.

Send over your favorite FOIA stories via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we’ll include them in the next roundup.

Washington State Lawmakers not Exempt from Public Records Law

After a lawsuit from ten news organizations, including The Associated Press and The Seattle Times, a new ruling says Washington state lawmakers are not exempt from public records laws.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese found that lawmakers were breaking the state’s public records law by refusing Washington Public Records Act requests. In April, The Seattle Times covered lawmakers’ denial of public records regarding court-ordered education funding.

“The plain and unambiguous language of the Public Records Act applies to the offices of senators and representatives,” Judge Lanese wrote in his ruling. Under the ruling, staff complaints about lawmakers as well as lawmakers’ emails and work calendars are subject to public disclosure. Lawmakers and their attorneys disagree with the ruling, with attorney Paul Lawrence saying individual legislators should not be subject to the act.

Chicago Data Collaborative

January 23rd marked the launch of the Chicago Data Collaborative, a project that links public records on the criminal justice system to gain a comprehensive picture of the system as a whole. The project collaborates with newsrooms, academics and researchers to collect and organize data from multiple avenues. So far, members have collected databases including Chicago Police Department investigatory stops, arrests, snapshots of the Cook County Jail population, state case-level data and tables to link sources together.

Ben Carson, HUD sued over secretive Bible study meetings

The Freedom From Religion Foundation released a press release announcing that they, along with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, are suing Ben Carson and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for ignoring FOIA requests and denying fee waivers regarding his mysterious weekly Bible Study meetings.

The organizations seek to determine whether or not the bible study uses government resources, whether staffers feel coerced into attending and to determine government access granted to Capitol Ministries. Ralph Drollinger, President of Capitol Ministries and leader of the sessions, is a conservative Christian who is against same-sex marriage and called female legislators with children “sinners.

Domestic terrorism data

A recently filed FOIA request to the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys seeks to identify details about U.S. terrorism prosecutions to further understand who the perpetrators are and how the federal government is responding.

Professor Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill filed the request and maintains a dataset documenting Muslim-American involvement with violent extremism. Kurzman aims to challenge assumptions about Muslim-Americans and terrorism. His data shows that foreign-born Muslim Extremists committed 0.002 percent of murders in the United States since 9/11. Kurzman requested the docket numbers for federal prosecutions in all terrorism-related crimes, noting that a joint report from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security only showed data for international terrorism convictions. If completed, the requested data will help fill in this gap, providing more insight into all terrorism convictions, including domestic.

Seen a great FOIA-based news story? Let us know and maybe we can include it in our next round up! Send it over via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Image via HUD Flickr