The 2017 CNPA Freedom of Information Award was presented today to two winners who worked together to achieve a significant victory for public access to police records: Thadeus Greenson, editor of the North Coast Journal in Arcata, and Paul Nicholas Boylan, a Davis-based media law attorney.
Greenson in 2013 began covering an incident where a minor was arrested and which ultimately led to criminal charges being filed against the arresting police officer for excessive use of force. The charges were later dropped, but not until after video footage of the arrest was lodged as evidence in the case.
Because the footage was pivotal to the resolution of the criminal case, the newsroom wanted to see it. Despite clear law on point permitting disclosure of the record, the county and city refused to release the footage, arguing it was part of the officer’s personnel file, forcing the dispute into court.
With an editorial staff of only five, the editor of the North Coast Journal dedicated his time and resources to drafting legal arguments and court briefs to inform the court of the overriding public interest served in disclosing the records.
After two years of dogged determination, the newspaper won access to the arrest footage.
Jeff Glasser, vice president and senior counsel for the Los Angeles Times and chair of the CNPA Governmental Affairs Committee, presented the award to Greenson on Saturday during the CNPA Press Summit in Santa Monica.
Once Greenson prevailed in the trial court, gaining access to the arrest footage, the case was appealed by the agency. Mired by the costs of continuing to advocate for access, the North Coast Journal turned to the attorney who represented The Journal in the appellate court.
Paul Nicholas Boylan has represented newspapers across the state in access battles for many years. He often takes these cases either on a pro bono or contingency basis, which a nominating publisher recognizes is a “risky” and “wallet-numbing proposition.”
He has represented, and receives glowing commendations from, journalists and news organizations across the state including the Davis Vanguard, the Lake County News, the Ferndale Enterprise, the Woodland Record and the Sacramento Valley Mirror.
His many contributions to Californians’ right of access include litigating and prevailing in several reverse-CPRA actions — some of the most risky cases in California because they proceed without legislative or court guidance.
Glasser presented the FOI award to Paul Boylan for his representation of the North Coast Journal and preserving the trial court victory by Greenson.
Boylan represented the newspaper at no cost to The Journal, and he advocated in front of the appellate court to uphold the disclosure ruling. He successfully beat back an attempt by the agency to expansively apply the confidentiality laws that govern police personnel records.
And when the agency asked the state Supreme Court to depublish the favorable access decision so that other requesters could not point to it to gain access to footage, Boylan quickly cobbled together a team of amicus support, including CNPA, to write to the Supreme Court and urge it to uphold the ruling.
This effort was successful and the City of Eureka case now represents one of the most favorable access decisions with respect to police video footage records on file in the state.
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