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Carl Messineo on the Open Government Act of 2010

Testifying at the D.C. Council Committee on Gov’t Operations and the Environment

The PCJF today issued its strong support for the Open Government Act of 2010. Carl Messineo, co-founder and attorney with the PCJF testified today at the hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment.

“For too long many government agencies within the District of Columbia have acted from the mind-set that information should be withheld from the public as if the government’s operations were proprietary corporate secrets,” stated Mr. Messineo, “Government in a democracy cannot function without the public being able to know and understand its workings.”

The PCJF has engaged in repeated litigation against D.C. agencies to force public disclosure of critical information. The PCJF filed litigation against the D.C. MPD forcing disclosure of police operational documents, Special Orders and General Orders and policies that the Metropolitan Police Department had previously withheld and refused to release to the public. The MPD had long refused efforts from civil rights and civil liberties and community based organizations for this disclosure, but the PCJF went to court to get the documents. The documents have been made available by the PCJF at www.dcmpd.org.

This proposed legislation will not only strengthen the efficacy of litigation to force disclosure, but will create a new administrative open government office with the authority to compel agency compliance. Citizens will be able to access what should be readily available public information without the need for an attorney or resorting to civil litigation. “You shouldn’t have to find your way to a lawyer just to find out basic information about what your government is doing, ” stated Messineo.

Referring to the MPD as an example, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder and attorney with the PCJF stated, “Public disclosure of the operational policies and practices, orders and staff instructions of the police department is essential for policing in a democratic society and to establish accountability.” She added, “Disclosure is essential to ensure that the police department does not operate above the law and does not constitute the law, but performs those functions and exercises only that authority which the citizenry has deemed appropriate.”

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices. The PCJF recently won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD’s unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. It is counsel on the still-pending Frucht case in which police assaulted demonstrators during a permitted April 2003 anti-war march in Washington, D.C. The PCJF previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups.