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More States Concealing Info On Judges, Police After Threats, Attacks

After threats and attacks on public officials, state lawmakers across the U.S. have stepped up efforts to shield personal information from being publicly disclosed about judges, police, elected officeholders and various public employees. The measures are winning widespread support in state capitols — adding a layer of secrecy, in the name of safety, that could make it more difficult to determine whether public officials are complying with residency laws and paying their property taxes, the Associated Press reports. The efforts to exempt more information from public disclosure come despite the fact that many governments are more transparent than ever when it comes to their meetings, making permanent the online streaming options created as a response to coronavirus-related restrictions on public gatherings. That’s led to a split assessment of government openness during Sunshine Week, an annual recognition of public information laws that runs through Saturday.

Though meetings may be more accessible, “basically, government is getting more secretive every year,” said David Cuillier, an associate journalism professor at the University of Arizona who has analyzed data about government compliance with open-records laws. People requesting records from the federal government are successful only about one-fifth of the time, down from a greater than 50% success rate more than a decade ago, Cuillier said. Information requests under state laws typically fare better, Cuillier said, but “every year, we get exemptions being passed in state legislatures all across the country, and that just seems to be ccelerating.” On a case-by-case basis, many public records exceptions may appear reasonable and justified. The movement to shield the home addresses of judges is an example. In 2020, a man disgruntled with U.S. District Judge Esther Salas came to her New Jersey home disguised as a deliveryman and fatally shot her 20-year-old son while wounding her husband. New Jersey officials responded by enacting a law that exempted the home addresses of current or retired judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers from disclosure under public records laws. The measure, called Daniel’s Law in honor of the judge’s son, also allowed covered officials to ask businesses or individuals to remove their home addresses from internet sites they control.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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