FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Investigative Reporters and Editors Hold Session on Suing for Documents Under FOIA

FOIA News (2015-16)Kevin SchmidtComment

They want their public documents. They’re not taking no for an answer.

By Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post, June 21, 2016

I will grant you upfront that the Freedom of Information Act is not a sexy topic.

And yet, last weekend, in a New Orleans Marriott — where some 1,800 true believers got together for the Investigative Reporters and Editors confab — it was standing-room-only for a rather thrilling session on how to sue the government for the release of denied or long-delayed documents. (The short course: It costs only a couple of hundred dollars to open a lawsuit, and doing so has a tendency to focus the attention of foot-dragging public servants.)

The rock stars of public records were present and accounted for: Jason Leopold, a reporter for Vice News, whom a Justice Department lawyer called a member of a “FOIA posse” and who claims with pride that the FBI once referred to him as an “FOIA terrorist”; Sarah Cohen, who heads a data journalism team at the New York Times; Brandon Smith, the independent journalist who, through sheer doggedness, forced the city of Chicago to release the video of Laquan McDonald being killed by police; and Matt Topic, the Chicago lawyer who helped him do it.

Cohen got the crowd psyched up, urging them to stand up and shout, “I want my documents!” (Some added an adjective that cannot be printed here.)

But it was Leopold’s show.

“I sometimes fantasize about winning the lottery and suing the government forever,” he told the crowd.

Read more here.