MNCOGI supports cameras in courts

Posted by: on Nov 24, 2014 | No Comments

The Minnesota Supreme Court will consider expanding a pilot program to allow audio and video coverage of criminal court proceedings after a guilty plea or verdict is entered. This follows a two-year pilot that allowed cameras at civil court proceedings.

The high court will hold a hearing on the program December 16. MNCOGI submitted a statement urging the court to accept a committee’s recommendation to expand the pilot program:

Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI)
Cameras in the Courts
Prepared by Hal Davis, MNCOGI board member

Minnesota Supreme Court
December 16, 2014

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) commends the Minnesota Supreme Court for continuing to move forward in allowing Minnesotans to see their court system in action. The coalition commends the Court for its extensive efforts and hard work in striving to provide open access to judicial proceedings as we transition to the electronic age.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1947 decision (Craig v. Harney, 331 U.S. 367, 374), said: “A trial is a public event. What transpires in the courtroom is public property.” In 1981, in Chandler v. Florida (449 U.S. 560), the Court ruled that states could experiment with television coverage of criminal trials. The Court found that state experimentation with “evolving technology” in the courtroom, as long as it does not infringe on “fundamental guarantees” of the accused, is consistent with the Constitution.

The public has a right to observe proceedings in open court. “To work effectively, it is important that the society’s criminal process satisfy the appearance of justice, and the appearance of justice can best be provided by allowing people to observe it.” Richmond Newspapers, Inc., v. Virginia, 448 U.S. at 571-572 (1980).

MNCOGI commends the Advisory Committee on Rules of Criminal Procedure for proposing a pilot program to allow cameras in “criminal proceeding[s] occurring after a guilty plea has been tendered or a guilty verdict has been reached.” Rule 4.02(d). We are pleased by the recommendation that “Absent good cause, the trial judge must grant a media request for audio and video coverage of proceedings governed by the pilot,” by the presumption favoring coverage, and by the recommendation that the pilot should be carried out statewide.

This recommendation comes after a two-year pilot allowed cameras in certain civil proceedings. The Advisory Committee on General Rules of Practice reported, among its conclusions:

“The committee is not aware of any problems or complaints caused by the use of cameras or audio recording equipment in court proceedings during the pilot period.

“Coverage of the proceedings has not, to the committee’s knowledge, generated any known prejudice to any of the parties.”

MNCOGI is appreciative of the Advisory Committee’s commitment to further open criminal proceedings to video and audio coverage, and our organization looks forward to additional steps in this area. After more than 10 years of consideration, we believe no problems will arise. Adequate safeguards are in place to protect the participants in the process and the decorum of the court. Problems that have been anticipated have not materialized. We believe that will continue to be the case.

In the State of Ohio, for instance, video is now the official record. The cameras are positioned all over the courtroom, except toward the jury box, and microphones are everywhere but the spectator area. DVDs are the public record, available for $2.25, and can hold a day-long hearing. The judges say that the fears that people would “play to the camera” have not come to pass. The cameras are so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. Everyone knows they are there and no one thinks about them.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information believes that a similar outcome will ensue in this state. Further opening Minnesota courts to audio and video coverage will foster community understanding and present citizens with a positive experience of what goes on in their courtrooms.

Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act: A Primer

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2009 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act : A Primer
Hint: It’s Not as Complicated As You Think!

Presenter: Don Gemberling – “Godfather” of Minnesota data practices

Minnesota’s data practices law is based upon openness to information by and about state and local government. Advocacy groups, citizen journalists, concerned citizens, bloggers and all concerned about access to government activities need to know their rights. Elected and appointed officials need to understand their responsibility to assure access. Don Gemberling knows the law and can clarify it for those who may be intimidated, confused or overwhelmed by a straightforward law based in the assumption of transparency. Attendees are encouraged to bring their government information horror stories for analysis and feedback.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Midtown Commons, 2324 University Ave West, St. Paul
(just East of Raymond)
Minnesota Council of Nonprofits conference room, Suite 20

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.
All COGI-tations are free and open to the public.

Planning MnCOGI’s Transparency Inventory

Posted by: on Jun 8, 2009 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Planning MnCOGI’s Transparency Inventory moderated by Allan Malkis, Board member, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Looking to hold a government agency accountable for the action it takes?
Discuss how to conduct an inventory of a state or local agency’s actions.

Thursday, June 25, 2009
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
East Lake Library
2727 Lake Street (near Hiawatha)

* * * *

Future COGI-tations

August 5, 2009
Don Gemberling
Introduction to Minnesota’s Data Practices Act

Late August/Early September, 2009
International Right to Know Day

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.
All COGI-tations are free and open to the public.

Opening Doors: Finding the Keys to Open Government

Posted by: on Mar 28, 2009 | No Comments

Check out’s webcast; it presents a great opportunity for the public to be involved in the crafting of this directive. During the webcast, individuals who are intimately involved in formulating the administration’s policies and agendas will explain the initiative’s goals, receive feedback from the audience, and let members of the public know how they can continue to participate in the discussion.

Report: Dim Sunshine Laws in Five Midwest States

Posted by: on Mar 18, 2009 | No Comments

wanted to let you know about the report on open government laws that the Citizen Advocacy Center, a policy research partner of the Midwest Democracy Network, launched today in celebration of Sunshine Week. I thought you might find it of interest this week!

Relevant links:

PRNewswire Release:

Contact: Terry Pastika, Citizen Advocacy Center, 630-833-4080
Charlie Boesel, Joyce Foundation, 312-795-3816
Emily Blum, Valerie Denney Communications, 312-408-2580 ext. 13

New study finds five Midwestern states have dim sunshine laws
CHICAGO, March 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — While every state in the nation has laws that require public access to government records and meetings, in five Midwestern states that were recently analyzed, documents are often kept secret and doors can remain tightly closed.
According to a study released Wednesday by the Citizen Advocacy Center (Center) in celebration of Sunshine Week (March 15-21), open government laws in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have systemic barriers that chill public participation and access to government, which weakens our democratic system designed to be by, for and of the people.
The Center analyzed each state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts and found striking similarities between all states, including:

  • Open government laws are sporadically enforced, which means public bodies are more likely to be unresponsive to records requests and employ exemptions to keep meetings closed.
  • No state surveyed has a government office with statutory authority specifically created to oversee and enforce sunshine laws.
  • State employees are not adequately trained to carry out open government policies and may be unintentionally violating the laws.
  • Citizens may be able to attend meetings, but there are very few opportunities to participate.

“For our democracy to thrive and grow, we must have open government laws that are both strong and effective,” said Terry Pastika, Executive Director and Community Lawyer for the Citizen Advocacy Center. “Without forceful sunshine laws, the public can not fully participate in the democratic process, knowledgably discuss issues of public concern, make informed judgments about the actions of elected officials, or monitor government to make sure it’s acting in their interest.”

For the study, the Center reviewed each state’s laws as well as more than 1,000 legal cases, attorney general opinions, and professional publications to produce a comprehensive report on each state’s strengths and weaknesses. The Center also provided specific reform recommendations that good government advocates can use to advance changes within each state. Reforms range from changing how fees should be levied to implementing training programs for public officials.

The study, conducted by the Center and funded by The Joyce Foundation, is distributed by the Midwest Democracy Network, an alliance of political reform advocates who are working to strengthen democracy and build the capacity of the public to participate and affect government decision-making.

To view the full report online, visit or

Citizen Journalist’s Guide to Open Government

Posted by: on Feb 10, 2009 | No Comments

Check out this ambitious multimedia e-learning module designed to help new media makers understand how to obtain public records and get into public meetings. Produced by Geanne Rosenberg, founding chair of Baruch College’s new undergraduate Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions (Knight Citizen News Center)

Creative Yard Signs

Posted by: on Jul 7, 2008 | No Comments

Exercise your voting rights early this season! And have fun doing it. My Yard Our Message is a project sponsored by the Walker Art Center, MN Artists, and the UnConvention. And you get to vote and the medium and the message.

Scores of artists and designers were invited to submit yard signs around the theme of what it means to actively participate in a democracy. Their wildly creative proposals deal with information access, the cost of ignorance, get-out-the-vote messages, the war in Iran, tragedy in Darfur, the environment, and virtually every other concern facing voters in a democracy.

Here’s the offer you can’t refuse: You, your family and friends, check the FaceBook rendering of the artists’ proposals. And then you get to vote for the signs that you would be willing, nay eager, to post in your yard!

I spent almost an hour yesterday weighing the messages, the neighborhood, and my willingness to put the yard sign where my mouth is! Virtually every artist’s creation gave me pause and a keen sense that I’d like to talk about this with the neighbors!

The votes will tabulated (and the process monitored with due diligence….) The top fifty vote-getting designs will be announced August 1. They will then be made available to order as a full-sized political yard sign for $20. Top designs will also be available as free downloads. The frosting on the cake — the Walker and MNArtists are going to print the winning yard signs and place them around the TC’s , with particular emphasis on neighborhoods immediately surrounding the habitués of the visiting RNConventioneers.

Cast your votes now (yes, you get to vote for more than one) by clicking here!

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database?

Posted by: on May 17, 2008 | No Comments

Todd Kruse’s crusade to have the sun shine in on Minnesota state government spending got some ink in a 5/16 Star Tribune editorial, “A blogger’s quest: Where’s the database?” Kruse seeks to have the Minnesota Department of Administration fully implement last year’s State Government and Omnibus Act. To comply with the 2007 Act, the state needs to create a database to track spending on contracts and grants.

Kruse is not alone in his quest. The National Taxpayer’s Union is one of several groups tracking similar developments on the state level on its site, Good for Todd Kruse and the National Taxpayer’s Union for their diligence in pursuing transparency in government.

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database? It’s not lack of software; it’s readily available. The Minnesota Department of Administration estimates the cost at $1 to $1.5 million, and cites lack of dedicated funding. The cost of such a database is not as high as the Department antidicpates. The federal government implemented software that tracked spending for ~$200K last year – a fraction of the state’s estimate.

Here’s the evolution of the database tracking software. In 2006, OMB Watch devised In 2007, the federal government found it to be so compelling that it adopted it as its own. And so, was born. The same software the feds use is – and has been – available to Minnesota. The mandate from the legislature is almost a year old. Only the data appears to be lacking. Could 2008 be the year MN gets its database to track its own spending?

Helen Burke,

Mark Glaser on Net Neutrality

Posted by: on Apr 18, 2008 | No Comments

Some of us have possibly put our brains in neutral to avoid information overflow on the topic of Net Neutrality. I found the recent post by Mark Glaser in Free Press to be extremely helpful as a digest and succinct interpretation of the complex issues surrounding this polarizing issue. The author includes a basic list of resources for keeping abreast of the topic. Check it out.

Traditional Press & Bloggers Met Monday…

Posted by: on Feb 27, 2008 | No Comments
3-2-1 Dive into the wireless pond! It’s not too late to sign up for the “Afloat on the wireless pond” conference set for Saturday, March 1. Curious about the theme? Remember that the genesis of the idea emerged from the 2007 conference focused on Henry Thoreau’s little-known travels in Minnesota. The idea was, and is, Thoreau-inspired — a time, place and stimulus for Minnesotans to reflect on the reality of living in an information world. We spend far more time mastering the tools than giving a passing thought to the social, economic, political and aesthetic upheaval in which we float. The setting on the beautiful Luther Seminary campus sets the stage; the diverse presenters play unique roles – a geographer, data manager, philosopher, educator, city planner, poet, journalist and other thoughtful colleagues willing to share their expertise and their insights. How do you plan to spend the extra day this week? There’s still time to sign up.

The “traditional” press and the bloggers met Monday night in the opulent splendor of the new Minnesota Public Radio to share insights on standards and ethics in journalism. Bob Collins played the ringleader/MPR blogger role while guest Dan Gillmor focused on content. Gillmor has clearly given much thought to what is and what is possible to support an informed society — and a readership that wants to learn. Just about everybody had something to say – several men and at least four women (one a “panelist”) got to speak. Maybe it was the cold outside, but no one seemed in any hurry to leave, even after pretty much everything had been said. Many thanks to the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists which set the stage for this diverse audience. It’s the jumpstart of an essential and more substantive conversation, virtual or mano a mano. The questions raised, sometimes answered, testify to the need for more.

Molnau Sold Farm Near Road She Pushed.
Read this from the information access – investigative journalism – perspective.

For Political Candidates, Saying Can Become Believing. I’ve often thought about this because I sometimes tell a story with such enthusiasm and regularity that I believe it myself. In fact, it often gets better with the telling. Ask any storyteller or Irishman.
GAO Finds Data Protection Lagging The balance between openness and privacy is being played out in Congress. Minnesota’s very own Senator Norm Coleman, along with Susan Collins (R-ME), chairs the committee that called for a study of data protection after the 2006 theft of a data-laden computer from a VA employee. Collins notes that “the findings released in this report are very troubling — indicating that agency after agency has failed to make securing citizens’ personal information a high priority.”
Video on the Net: The Content Question, by Jeffrey A. Hart. On one level this isn’t specifically about access to government information, but it’s certainly grist for the mill of anyone who cares about an informed public. Hart offers a straightforward analysis of the topic, in layman’s terms.
On Tuesday, February 26, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Electronic Records Preservation at the White House. The Committee, led by Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA-30), has been investigating what happened to millions of missing White House emails and what the White House is now doing to make sure it is preserving its records in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

New from Sunshine Week — a new partnership with Helium that creates a special page where anyone can write about open government issues or this year’s election theme. The Sunshine Week promos on the SW website deserve an affirmative vote. Check them out.