Press Coverage and Commentary

NEFAC receives considerable press coverage each year for its consistent advocacy of freedom of information and First Amendment concerns. Below are links to stories we’ve appeared in during the current year. Coverage from previous years can be seen here:

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Access RI Wants Gov to Allow Remote Meetings for Public Agencies | The Westerly Sun 9.25.21

Access/RI said Friday that it sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Dan McKee asking him to issue an executive order because his previous order to waive the requirement that members of public bodies meet in person expired in July. The letter was signed by Access/RI, the ACLU of Rhode Island, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Common Cause, University of Rhode Island and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

Coronavirus Developments Around New England | Associated Press 9.25.21

An open government coalition is asking Rhode Island’s governor to allow public agencies to hold meetings online due to the surge of COVID-19 infections. . . . The letter was signed by ACCESS/RI, the ACLU of Rhode Island, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Common Cause, University of Rhode Island and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

McKee Urged to Again Allow Remote Participation in Government Meetings | The Providence Journal 9.25.21

The plea represents a turnaround for some members of the coalition that includes representatives of the ACLU of Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, ACCESS/RI; Common Cause RI and the New England First Amendment Coalition. In their letter, the coalition members said they still firmly believe “that some measure of accountability is lost when public bodies do not meet in person and the public cannot engage with them directly.”

‘Varsity Blues’ Judge Seals Jury Selection, Stoking Criticism | Law360 9.10.21

Attorneys who are not involved in the case said even amid a pandemic, denying any access to the jury selection process without providing an explanation first — or giving the press an opportunity to argue against the closure — is problematic. “You can do it in Russia, you can do it in Cuba, but you can’t really do it in America. You can’t close the courtroom,” said Peter Caruso Sr. of Caruso & Caruso LLP, who works with the New England First Amendment Coalition. “You need to have a very specific reason, and it has to be articulated.”

High Court Finds Private Health Care Contractor for State Subject to Public Records Law | VTDigger 9.5.21

Several organizations signed a brief in support of the organization’s position. Those groups included the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, the New England First Amendment Coalition, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and state Auditor Doug Hoffer.

Accessing Police Body Camera Footage and 911 Calls in Rhode Island (video) | Rhode Island PBS 9.3.21

NEFAC’s Edward Fitzpatrick, a reporter at The Boston Globe, appeared on A Lively Experiment to discuss a new police body camera initiative and when footage should be released. Fitzpatrick and other panelists also spoke about the lack of access to 911 calls in the state. The conversation begins at 11:55.

NEFAC Joins Lawsuit Over Cop Report at NH Supreme Court | InDepthNH 9.1.21

The New England First Amendment Coalition is joining the lawsuit that seeks to make public a report on an alleged assault by former Canaan Police Officer Samuel Provenza that is now before the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Justin Silverman, with the coalition, announced this week the organization is filing an amicus brief with the court, along with the New Hampshire Union Leader, coming out in favor of releasing the report to the public.

Analysis: What Does New Justice Department Policy Mean for Journalists? (video) | WCAX 7.23.21

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland Monday formalized a new policy that broadly prohibits prosecutors from subpoenaing of journalist records, something major media outlets like the New York Times and CNN dealt with during the Trump administration. In his official memo, Garland said the DOJ “will no longer use compulsory legal process for the purpose of obtaining information from or records of members of the news media acting within the scope of newsgathering activities.” Darren Perron spoke with Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition, about the proposed policy and what it means for journalists.

States, Legislators Grapple With Virtual Meetings | InDepthNH.org 7.20.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said, “We need a permanent system requiring in-person meetings while also allowing online access for citizens who cannot be in the room. It’s a matter of access and public oversight.”

Months Later, Beacon Hill Has No Agreement on Contested Transparency Rules | The Boston Globe 7.4.21

The delay “is not a good sign, but it comes as no surprise,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “Creating more transparency within the Legislature continues to be an uphill battle,” Silverman said. “The public is in the unfortunate position of convincing its legislators to open themselves up to more scrutiny and oversight, and for obvious reasons, that can be a difficult sell.”

Lawmakers Promise ‘Transparency’ in Spending Relief Funds | The Daily News 7.1.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the Legislature is “notoriously secretive” and should be more open as it decides how to spend the federal relief money. “The need for transparency becomes even more apparent when we’re dealing with huge sums of taxpayer money like this,” he said. “We need more public oversight of the process.”

Public or Secret? High Court Weighs Records of Prison Health Care Contractor | VTDigger 6.22.21

Several organizations signed onto a brief in support of the organization’s position, including the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, the New England First Amendment Coalition, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and State Auditor Doug Hoffer.

Remote Access to Public Meetings a Post-Pandemic Must | The Boston Globe 6.22.21

The legislation filed by Representative Denise Garlick and Senator Jason Lewis not only has the support of some 60 of their colleagues but also of a coalition of advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England First Amendment Coalition and several disability rights groups.

Advocates Oppose Bill Allowing Remote Meetings for Two More Years | The Boston Globe 6.21.21

New England First Amendment Coalition executive director Justin Silverman said the group welcomes the chance to expand public access to government through technology, but it “strongly opposes” many of the changes proposed in this bill. The main concern is that the bill allows all public bodies to meet exclusively online, Silverman wrote in a June 14 letter to legislators. “With this legislation, members of these bodies can avoid directly facing journalists and other citizens before, during, and after meetings,” he wrote. “This legislation prevents that accessibility — and the accountability that comes with public access and oversight.”

Municipal Transparency Issues in a Blow to ‘the Public’s Right to Know’ | Hearst Connecticut 6.20.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said “the public has a right to know what is going on within its schools, whether teachers or administrators are doing what’s best for its students.” While officials are allowed to withhold certain information, “It is clearly within the public’s right to know why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Silverman said. One important reason for that is “to make sure that government employees are being treated fairly,” Silverman said. In the New Haven case, Silverman said, “we don’t even have the opportunity to fully assess what happened here … unless we have that information fully in context.” “Without that information, not only can we not assess for ourselves whether the right decision was being made, but we may begin to distrust all actions of the school board. … You’re really planting the seeds of doubt,” he said.

Maine Campaign Finance Regulator Hides Public Meeting During Investigation | Maine Public 6.18.21

Portland Attorney Sig Schutz, a member of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the ethics commission can redact the confidential information from a recording of the meeting, but it can’t keep the entire public proceeding secret. “Just because there’s one piece of non-public information mentioned at the meeting that would not justify shutting down public access to everything else that was discussed at an otherwise public meeting,” he said. Schutz also noted that had Friday’s meeting been held in-person, there would have been no way for the commission to retroactively honor Stop the Corridor’s request to strike anything that was witnessed by meeting attendees, including members of the press.

Remote Meetings Hailed as Major Public Access Reform | State House News Service 6.16.21

“We need a permanent system requiring in-person meetings while also allowing online access for citizens who cannot be in the room,” said Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “It’s a matter of access and public oversight.”

After Sharing Racially Charged Texts, a Boston School Official Has Resigned | The Boston Globe 6.7.21

In Massachusetts, under public records law, agencies have a responsibility to tell the person who requested the records if anything has been redacted — and why, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “The law works in a way where the requester is never — should never be — unaware that there is information missing,” he said. Without knowing there has been information redacted, Silverman said, the requester won’t have the opportunity to appeal the decision to redact, another key right protected under the public records law. If the public records law is not followed, “government will be operating in secret,” he said.

High Fees Could Hurt Public Access as Maine Court Records Go Digital | Press Herald 5.30.21

“If the public can’t afford to access that system and reap the benefits of having all these documents online, then what really is the point?” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a Massachusetts nonprofit that defends citizen access to government. “It’s certainly not enriching the public. Maybe it’s enriching the contractor.” . . . Silverman, from the New England First Amendment Coalition, described the arrangement as “offensive.” “When you have these electronic systems in place, there should be more access to documents,” Silverman said. “The public should be able to more easily get the records they need and not have a more difficult time. … I really question why the courts would have such a system if the public is not going to experience the benefits that can come with having more documents received and stored electronically.”

Should Rhode Island Equity Council Meetings Be Secret? | The Boston Globe 5.28.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said, “Secret meetings among state officials do little to reassure the public. Only through a transparent process can Rhode Islanders fully trust that those communities hit hardest during the pandemic will get the help they need.”

News Outlets, First Amendment Groups Bring Suit Over Access to Court Records | VTDigger 5.23.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the issue is not just important for journalists, but the public at large as well. “This is a concern for everyone in Vermont to make sure they are aware of what is happening in their courts,” he said. “It really is a universal issue for all Vermonters.” He said that Massachusetts, which is not known for providing great access to public records, does provide judicial records filed in court on the same day as they are submitted. “We’ve seen this done in many other states,” Silverman added.

What the Heck is Going On With Some of These License Plates? | Bangor Daily News 5.9.21

In a recent Boston Globe article about the current conversation in Maine, Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition had this to say: “When the state starts limiting speech based on what it considers offensive, we should immediately put our First Amendment guard up.”

Lawmakers Nix Proposal to Limit Public Access to Statehouse in 2022 | VTDigger 5.5.21

“Any proposal or any plan that’s being considered that shuts out the public entirely I think is a plan that should be abandoned and rethought,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, an organization that advocates for government transparency and media organizations.

Maine Lawmakers Seek to Limit Crude Language on Vanity License Plates | The Boston Globe 5.5.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the state must respect constitutionally protected speech if it chooses to offer vanity plates. “When the state starts limiting speech based on what it considers offensive, we should immediately put our First Amendment guard up,” Silverman said. “Our constitution is wary of government deciding for the people what is and is not acceptable expression. Maine is not obligated to offer vanity license plates. But if it chooses to do so, it must respect constitutionally protected speech no matter how disagreeable.”

NEFAC Recognizes KSC Professor and Class | The Equinox 4.28.21

Salcetti and her students were honored at the 11th annual New England First Amendment awards for their efforts in a more than three-year battle against the City of Keene in a Right-to-Know lawsuit. This led to the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in their favor on several points last June.

Maine Bill Would Mandate News Coverage | The Center Square 4.27.21

Justin Sliverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Center, told the committee that the proposal would “turn news organizations into an arm of the court system, forcing coverage newsrooms may not want – or need – to provide.” “This is antithetical to the First Amendment and curtails our freedom of the press to an unconscionable and unconstitutional degree,” he said. “Forcing news organizations to update stories in fear of civil liability may also ultimately discourage certain reporting altogether.”

1st Amendment Coalition Argues Against Mandatory Updating of News Stories | Rochester Voice 4.23.21

LD 923 — similar to failed legislation in New Hampshire and Rhode Island last year and a new bill in New Hampshire earlier this year — is “not only unconstitutional, it’s also unwise and undemocratic,” wrote NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman in written testimony submitted to the Maine State Committee on the Judiciary.

KSC Journalism Students, Professor to Be Honored for Public Records Work | Keene Sentinel 4.21.21

The New England First Amendment Coalition today will recognize a Keene State College journalism professor, and a group of her former students, for their work on an assignment that turned into a successful right-to-know lawsuit before the N.H. Supreme Court last year. Marianne Salcetti and students from her fall 2017 public affairs reporting class will be honored during the 11th annual New England First Amendment Awards, according to a news release from the Westborough, Mass.-based nonprofit.

Whistleblower Receives Award for Protest Over Public Records Issue | The Berkshire Eagle 4.14.21

The former chief of appeals and records access officer in the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is being honored for blowing the whistle over the DA’s order to withhold public records about a closed investigation in a politically fraught case. Jeanne Kempthorne, also the office’s former general counsel, has received the 2021 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award from New England First Amendment Coalition. She will be honored at the coalition’s New England First Amendment Awards on April 21.

Bangor Daily News Wins New England Public Access Award | Bangor Daily News 4.7.21

The Bangor Daily News will receive an award from the New England First Amendment Coalition for its reporting on a lack of accountability among Maine county sheriff’s offices, the organization announced Wednesday.The newspaper will receive the coalition’s annual Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award, which is given to a New England journalist or team of journalists for work that protects or advances the public’s right to know, at an online awards ceremony April 21. Preference is given to reporters who overcome hurdles to access public information.

Mass. Lawmakers Debating Their Transparency Procedures — Behind Closed Doors | The Boston Globe 4.7.21

Massachusetts is “very much toward the bottom on transparency,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “There just doesn’t seem to be much political appetite to change this culture of secrecy and open up the Legislature at least to more scrutiny and more transparency.” . . . “We’re dealing with a lot of self-interest here,” Silverman said. “The very people that are going to be scrutinized more and perhaps criticized more are the very people that we’re counting on to change the law to make that happen.” . . . In 2016, Baker signed the first new public records law in decades. The law set new deadlines for furnishing public records and required that records be provided electronically in most cases. But those changes simply took Massachusetts “from bad to mediocre,” Silverman said.

ACLU-Vt. Files Amicus Brief Over Prisoners’ Alleged Inadequate Health Care | The Sun 3.24.21

The most notable official supporting the ACLU and HRDC is Secretary of State Jim Condos, a long-time outspoken advocate of government transparency. Along with Condos, Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, and the New England First Amendment Coalition have joined the amicus.

Right to Know | Caledonian Record 3.23.21

This week the VT-ACLU, Human Rights Defense Center, New England First Amendment Coalition, Auditor Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos went before the Vermont Supreme Court to argue that records for health care provided to Vermont prisoners are public records.

ACLU Urges Vermont Supreme Court to Rule for Transparency in Prison Records Case | Vermont Biz 3.22.21

The ACLU of Vermont filed an amicus brief today, supporting HRDC’s position that the records at issue are subject to Vermont’s Public Records Act and must be disclosed. The ACLU’s brief is joined by Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

ACLU Urges Vermont Supreme Court to Rule for Transparency in Prison Records Case | VTDigger 3.22.21

Joining the ACLU’s brief were Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

CT Fire Company’s Communications Officer Disputes Arrest | The ShoreLine Times 3.11.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said that while he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the law, he had concerns that criminal charges were brought against Frischling for photos that he said any member of the public could have easily taken.

New Bill That Targets Press is Part of a Nationwide Push | Sun Journal 3.5.21

“There’s no question this bill is unconstitutional,” Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has laid out bright lines related to the freedom of the press that the proposal clearly violates. . . . Silverman said it is understandable why people might have an issue with newsrooms doing an incomplete job. The correct way to deal with that, he said, is to talk to editors and reporters to convince them to put a higher priority on making sure the outcomes of cases are given enough attention. The bottom line, though, is that it is a news organization’s prerogative to make those decisions, not the government’s, Silverman said.

Many South Shore Towns Rely on Private PR Firm to Disseminate News | The Patriot Ledger 2.26.21

New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman said these agencies work for the benefit of their clients and not in the best interest of the public.

State to Release Data on Scope of R.I. Unemployment Insurance Fraud | The Boston Globe 2.25.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said, “It is inconceivable that this information would implicate anyone’s privacy interests. But even if it did, the public interest in knowing how many Rhode Islanders are being defrauded clearly outweighs whatever minimal privacy interests there may be.” “If this were any of other crime being investigated, we would be receiving this information,” he added. “We are looking for data, not personal information – just two numbers. There is no reason why an ongoing investigation should prevent this data from being disclosed.”

MassHealth Employee Fired After Facebook Posts About Masks, Nazi Germany | Lowell Sun 2.23.21

Public employees should have the freedom to speak about issues in their communities, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman added, “If they can do so without affecting the job they have in government, then I do think we should be taking every opportunity we can to make that happen and protect that speech.”

RI GOP, First Amendment Advocates React to Raimondo’s Rare Comments (Video) | WPRI 2.10.21

But Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition argues that Raimondo’s decision to avoid the press is problematic, especially since she’s still the governor. “She is a sitting governor and there are a lot of very important questions that need to be asked of her,” Silverman explained.

McKee Refuses to Reveal Who Applied to Be RI’s New Lieutenant Governor | WPRI 2.4.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, argued Rhode Island voters should know who’s applying for such a potentially powerful job. Without that transparency, he added, Rhode Islanders will lose confidence in the process. “Only through open and public process can we be confident that the most qualified candidate will be chosen,” Silverman said. “We need to know who’s applying so we can have a better understanding of why certain applicants were given interviews while others were not. This type of transparency is needed in all corners of government, but it’s especially crucial when so much power and influence is at stake.”

Groups Call for Transparency on Beacon Hill | Gloucester Daily Times 2.3.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the Legislature is “notoriously secretive” and more transparency is needed. “Measures to open up the lawmaking process are long-overdue,” said Silverman, whose group hasn’t taken a formal position on the recommendations. “As citizens, we need more transparency to not only better understand how our government operates but to also keep tabs on our representatives and hold them accountable.”

Talking Politics: MIA GOV | Cranston Herald 1.27.21

Raimondo became a media darling due to her much-heralded pension overhaul in 2011, leading to outbreaks of “Raimondomania.” Now, though, with her posture set toward D.C., the Rhode Island Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition are among those calling on Raimondo to resume participation in news conferences, pointing to the need for her to provide information about COVID vaccination and other subjects.

Political Scene: Raimondo on Mute | Providence Journal 1.24.21

Neither the New England First Amendment Coalition nor the Rhode Island Press Association think that answer is sufficient and have called on Raimondo to break her silence. Although that is unlikely to happen, the transition to an unmuted governor may happen sooner than once expected.

A Sign of the Times? Artwork Called Into Question | Berkshire Eagle 1.22.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said there is good reason for the government declining to define what constitutes a work of art. “We, as a people, should be debating and discussing what art is and not looking to the government to decide that. Once you have a government making the distinction between what is art and what isn’t, you’ve given the government the power to censor expression. That’s something the First Amendment is against,” he said.

N.H. Legislation Would Make It Harder for the Public to Access Police Records | Media Nation 1.21.21

A bill filed in the New Hampshire legislature would make it more difficult for the public to access police records, reversing a recent decision by the state’s supreme court that requires greater openness. The New England First Amendment Coalition reports: Senate Bill 39 intends to exempt police personnel files, internal investigations and other law enforcement records from the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law.

Walsh Gets COVID-19 Vaccine; Mayor’s Office Mum on Details | CommonWealth Magazine 1.21.21

The letter to her office was sent by the New England First Amendment Coalition and was endorsed by the director of the New England Newspaper & Press Association. “While your nomination to President-elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor,” said the letter. “Making yourself available for questioning by journalists — who serve as a proxy to the public — is one of those duties.”

Open Government, Press Groups Call on Raimondo to Answer Questions | Providence Journal 1.20.21

“With Rhode Island reeling from cases of COVID-19 and a need for timely and accurate health information, there is no substitute for direct access to the governor,” the executive directors of the New England First Amendment Coalition and the New England Newspaper & Press Association said in a joint statement Wednesday.

Groups Call for Raimondo to Hold Press Briefings | Providence Business Journal 1.20.21

The New England First Amendment Coalition is requesting that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo resume press briefings and allow direct questioning from journalists. The coalition, which sent the request in a letter to Raimondo Wednesday, took issue with the governor not making herself available for questioning from journalists since being nominated earlier this month for United States secretary of commerce. NEFAC stated the following in its letter: “While your nomination to President-Elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor.”

NEFAC’s Justin Silverman Discusses Raimondo, Press (Audio) | Dan Yorke Show 1.20.21

1st Amendment Group Asks Raimondo to Stop Avoiding Reporters | Associated Press 1.19.21

“While your nomination to President-elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor,” the New England First Amendment Coalition wrote in a letter Tuesday to Raimondo.“Making yourself available for questioning by journalists — who serve as a proxy to the public — is one of those duties,” the letter said.

Social Media Platforms Not Violating First Amendment (Video) | KOCO-Oklahoma City 1.11.21

“The First Amendment’s purpose is to protect us from government and not private companies like Twitter or Facebook,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. He said constitutionally protected free speech is often misunderstood. “I think there is a broad misconception that the First Amendment allows us to speak freely wherever and however we want, and that’s not true,” Silverman said.

Expert Addresses Misconceptions About First Amendment (Video) | WMTW-Portland 1.11.21

As social media companies have suspended or banned President Donald Trump after last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol, it has raised questions as to whether it impedes the First Amendment. “I think there is a broad misconception that the First Amendment allows us to speak freely wherever and however we want, and that’s not true,” New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman said. Silverman said that Twitter and Facebook, along with other private companies, have their own terms of service that users agree to, which allows the companies to decide who uses their platforms and under what circumstances.