Open Government Update
Posted on July 12, 2011
For those of you who are interested in my attempts to obtain copies of the testimony given at a recent Massachusetts legislative committee hearing on the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgment Recognition Act, here are the latest developments:
- I corresponded with the House chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), about my request. Representative O’Flaherty’s view is that the policy against making written testimony public is justified by the need to protect the privacy of witnesses who might otherwise be deterred from testifying in public (he gave the example of rape victims). I expressed my view that this makes little sense, since the hearings are public, and the public is free to attend. Anyone who has decided to testify at such a hearing already has made the decision to speak publicly. Moverover, Joint Rule 1D provides a mechanism for taking testimony privately, in executive session. Besides, the chance of any of the testimony at the hearing in which I had an interest having any sensitivity at all is remote, as those of you who follow judicial assistance issues and understand their lack of, ah, broad public interest will no doubt agree! Despite these points, Representative O’Flaherty has not indicated any change in his view. I am grateful, though, that he took the time to correspond with me about this.
- I called the clerk of the House of Representatives to obtain a copy of the Committee’s rules. By way of background, each committee is supposed to file its rules with the Clerk. A staffer in the Clerk’s office told me that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary was the only committee that had not done so. In fact, the staffer asked me to let the Committee know that the Clerk’s office would like a copy of the rules! When I called the Committee’s offices, I was told that in fact the Committee had no rules, i.e., that the Committee had not adopted rules to govern its hearings. This is troubling because it suggests that Representative O’Flaherty’s position on whether testimony should be publicly available has not been codified in a rule at all.
- I have had some expressions of support for my view that the Joint Rules should be amended to require committees to make written testimony and witness lists publicly available. Representative Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk) has endorsed my view, and David Kravitz, the co-founder of the Blue Mass Group blog, and Michael Jonas, who writes for Commonwealth Magazine, have also been critical of Representative O’Flaherty’s position.
I will report on further developments here.