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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Legal Defense Fund Roundup – November 2016

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SPJ Legal Defense Fund Roundup – November 2016



Lynn Walsh, SPJ National President, 614-859-6194, Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com
Rachel Semple, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, rsemple@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – As a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund Committee initiates and joins legal briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases.

The following are amicus briefs and other action the LDF Committee took in November.

Kenneth Jakes v. Sumner County Board of Education
The LDF Committee has approved a request from the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government for $4,000, which will help offset legal fees in an important public records case. The Coalition is submitting an amicus brief in the case of Kenneth Jakes v. Sumner County Board of Education. The case involves a public records request that a Tennessee resident submitted via email to his local board of education. The board denied the request under the theory that public records requests may be made only in person or via a written request mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. The resident sued, arguing that the relevant question is whether the board actually received the request, not what form the request took. The trial court ruled in favor of the resident and found that the school board violated the Tennessee Public Records Act. But the school board, with the support of state government agencies, is now appealing that ruling, and it is litigating the appeal aggressively.

The case is seen by many in Tennessee as an important test case that will create a precedent beyond its narrow facts. If the school board ultimately prevails on appeal, it will open the door for agencies to implement all sorts of other policies, beyond the bounds of the Public Records Act that impede or delay access to public records.

Read the brief here.

Fields v. City of Philadelphia
This brief involves a Philadelphia case attempting to stop private citizens from photographing and recording police on the grounds that unless they are criticizing the police, it is not protected under the First Amendment. Precedent set by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Supreme Court shows that in public places, under reasonable restrictions, the First Amendment protects the right to record or photograph the police regardless of purpose.

Eyewitness news provided by private citizens is an important source of news to journalists, and not allowing citizens to do gather photo and video removes an important source of information to the public, the brief argues. The ability to support or contradict official reports of events through eyewitness photo and video often plays an important role in monitoring the function of the government and therefore is of significant importance to the general public.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. The First Amendment also guarantees the press and the public a right of access to criminal trials, including pretrial proceedings, and documents submitted in connection with them.

Read the brief here.

The LDF Committee also oversees the Legal Defense Fund, a unique account that can be used to provide journalists with legal or direct financial assistance.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

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