MNPA Files Comments on Proposed Court Access Rules

The MNPA today filed comments on proposed rules that would govern public access to court records.

The proposed Trial Court Rule XIV, Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, would control access both to physical records in a courthouse and electronic records available online.

The MNPA opposes parts of the proposed rule and supports other aspects of it. Our full comments to the committee considering the rule are posted below.

Gov. Baker to Keynote MNPA Annual Meeting Dec. 3 in Boston

Registration is now open for the annual meeting and luncheon of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Bastille Kitchen, 49 Melcher Street, Boston. This year’s featured luncheon speaker is Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

governor-charlie-baker-300x450The day’s full agenda is as follows:

  • 10 a.m. Annual business meeting and election of officers and executive board.
  • 11 a.m. Panel discussion: The Right to Be Forgotten: How Newspapers Should Handle Requests to Take Down What They’ve Reported.
  • Noon Networking reception (open bar).
  • 12:30 p.m. Luncheon and keynote.
  • 2:00 p.m. Adjourn.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend. Registration, which includes lunch, is $90 for MNPA member newspapers and their employees, $95 for all others.

Two ways to register:

If you have any questions about the event, please address them to MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi, (978) 309-9188, or

Registration deadline is Monday, November 30.

House Passes Bill Requiring Newspapers to Post Legal Notices on the Web

The Massachusetts House of Representatives today passed a history-making bill that will require newspapers to publish legal notices on the Web. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The bill, House 1566, “An Act Concerning Electronic Publication of Certain Legal Notices,” was sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey N. Roy (D-Franklin) with the support of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, which provided input on the language of the bill.

The bill would require that newspapers publish legal notices not only in their print editions, but also on their own websites and on a statewide website run collaboratively by the state’s newspapers, through the MNPA.

The bill would help ensure that legal notices are available to and accessible by the broadest-possible number of Massachusetts citizens, both through the newspapers’ print publications and online.

The MNPA has proposed additional changes to the language of the bill with the hope that they will be incorporated before the bill can become final.

If you have questions about the bill, please call MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi: 978-309-9188.

Alliance Urges Passage of Massachusetts Public Records Modernization Bill

BOSTON — United under the banner of the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance (MassFOIA), open-government groups today urge the state legislature to quickly pass recently filed legislation intending to modernize and rationalize the Massachusetts public records law. Their call to action coincides with a national celebration of open government known as Sunshine Week, from March 15-21.

swlogo2-300x176The state public records law is supposed to grant the public the right to access information about government operations from the executive branch and municipalities, subject to certain exemptions, such as to protect personal privacy. MassFOIA contends that the law is weak and needs updating for the digital age, having not been substantially amended since 1973.

Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton) and Sen. Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester) filed bills in both the House (HB 2772) and Senate (SD 1235) that aim to reform the public records law by eliminating technological and administrative barriers to its enforcement. Key provisions would update the law to reflect advances in technology, require state agencies to have a “point person” to handle records requests, rationalize fees for obtaining public records by having them reflect actual costs, and provide attorneys’ fees when agencies unlawfully block access to public information.

“Our public records law is broken,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, a founding member of MassFOIA. “Journalists, concerned citizens and others with a need to know how our government is working often can’t get the information they have a right to, because of excessive fees, long delays, or obstruction of one kind or another. The public records law hasn’t been substantially updated since 1973–now it’s time to bring it into the 21st century.”

Other groups included in the alliance are:

According to MassFOIA, the proposed legislation aims to improve access to information that the law already defines as a public record. It would not alter the scope of the public records law or make any changes to existing exemptions, which include exemptions for personal privacy, criminal investigations, personnel records, trade secrets, and many other categories. Rather it would modernize outmoded language in the law and strengthen procedures for compliance and enforcement.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Promote access to records in electronic form.
  • Direct agencies to assign a “records access officer” to streamline responses to public records requests.
  • Lower costs for requesters and limit charges for redacting documents to withhold information.
  • Require attorneys’ fees when access to public records is wrongly denied, creating an incentive for agencies to obey the law.

“Let’s take the opportunity this Sunshine Week to discuss the state’s public records law and make meaningful, yet common sense improvements,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “As winter-weary residents of Massachusetts, we’re all looking forward to more warmth and sunshine. When it comes to the public’s right to know, however, let’s make sure sunlight shines on our government all year round.”

“The outmoded public records law is repeatedly thwarting the news media in their efforts to cover state and local government activities,” said Robert J. Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. “The public has a right to know what their government officials are doing, but outrageous fee demands and lack of accountability frequently obstruct that right.”

“The point is to fix the law so it works the way it’s supposed to,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “Allowing courts to award attorneys’ fees is a common way to create an incentive for people to abide by the law and to provide a remedy when rights are violated. It’s shocking that 46 states have this kind of provision–as does the federal FOIA law–and Massachusetts doesn’t. As the cradle of liberty, Massachusetts should lead the way, not lag behind the rest of the country.”


Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel
American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
(617) 482-3170 x340;

Robert J. Ambrogi, Executive Director
Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association
(978) 546-3400;

Justin Silverman, Executive Director
New England First Amendment Coalition
(774) 244-2365;

Pam Wilmot, Executive Director
Common Cause Massachusetts
(617) 962-0034;

MNPA Annual Meeting to Feature Boston Globe CEO Mike Sheehan

Mike Sheehan, chief executive officer of The Boston Globe and former CEO of the advertising firm Hill Holliday, will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

Boston Globe owner John Henry named Sheehan CEO of the paper last January. He oversees all day-to-day operations at the Globe.

The annual meeting will also feature a panel discussion on the Massachusetts public records law.

The meeting will be held on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse, 200 Dartmouth St., Boston.

The day’s full agenda is as follows:

  • 10 a.m.: Annual business meeting and election of officers and executive board.
  • 11 a.m.: Panel discussion: The Massachusetts Public Records Law: Its Weaknesses and How to Fix Them.
  • Noon: Networking reception.
  • 12:30 p.m. Luncheon and keynote.
  • 2:00 p.m. Adjourn.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend. Registration, which includes lunch, is $85 for MNPA member newspapers and their employees, $95 for all others.

Register online here or you may download the registration form and send it by mail or fax.

If you have any questions about the event, please address them to MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi, (978) 546-3400, or Registration deadline is Friday, November 28.

Registrations should be sent to: MNPA Annual Meeting, c/o New England Newspaper & Press Association, 370 Common Street, Suite 319, Dedham, MA 02026. Fax to: (781) 320-8055. Payment by check preferred but credit cards accepted.

Newburyport Newspaper Wins Fight to Open Clerk-Magistrate Hearing

The Newburyport Daily News recently succeeded in opening to the public a closed clerk magistrate’s show cause hearing on a brawl that occurred outside a Plum Island beach house.

But it wasn’t without drama, including a surprise last-minute ruling by Justice Robert J. Cordy of the state Supreme Judicial Court that could help Massachusetts media gain wider access to such hearings.

Clerk magistrate show cause hearings are typically closed in Massachusetts to protect the privacy of the accused because they have not yet been formally charged. But the clerk magistrate can open a hearing if there is legitimate public interest in the proceeding.

Robert Bonin, clerk magistrate for the Newburyport District Court, declined that option when a Daily News reporter showed up at the Aug. 20 hearing on whether formal charges were warranted against seven persons police identified as parties to a vicious Plum Island street fight on Memorial Day of last year.

Peter Caruso Sr., the paper’s attorney, promptly filed a motion to open the courtroom to the public on the basis police had already released the names of the parties, the brawl had been prominently publicized in the media, and there was obvious public interest in the court proceeding.

Clerk Magistrate Bonin denied Caruso’s motion, citing the historic rights of the accused to a closed courtroom. Mere minutes before Bonin was to begin the hearing, Caruso appealed to District Judge Peter Doyle to intercede.

Doyle also rebuffed Caruso, but he did postpone the show cause hearing for an hour (to 11 a.m.) to give the paper’s attorney an ever-so-brief opportunity to appeal to the SJC. Caruso quickly scribbled his argument on legal paper and faxed it to the high court.

With the 11 o’clock hour approaching and no response, Bonin again prepared to convene the closed hearing when his phone rang. The SJC told the clerk magistrate to delay for another half-hour so Justice Cordy could research the paper’s appeal.

Then, alas, at 11:30 a.m. sharp, Cordy’s three-page ruling arrived by fax, instructing the clerk magistrate to open the hearing to the public on the ground the brawl and subsequent investigation “had a profound effect” on residents of the Plum Island neighborhood and the public perception of the police.

It was a rare victory for the public, but also a lesson in the value of the press challenging clerk magistrate show cause hearings when a significant issue is at stake.

There is latitude in the district court rule regarding such hearings.

The rule states: “If the application [for issuance of process] is one of special public significance, and if in the opinion of the magistrate the legitimate interest of the public outweighs the right of privacy in the accused, the hearing may be open to the public, and should be conducted in the formal atmosphere of a courtroom.”

Caruso called Justice Cordy’s decision a “breath of fresh air.” He said too often the media fails to challenge clerk magistrate show cause hearings because they are presumptively closed to the public.

“There are cases that cry for a full and open public airing to ease any doubt of secret dealings,” said Caruso. “The news media needs to be more aggressive in contesting the closing of the courtroom in these cases.”

Caruso knows of what he speaks. He was also the attorney who successfully opened the clerk magistrate hearing in Boston in 2003 to determine if assault and battery charges would be issued against New York Yankees pitcher Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia for fighting with a Fenway Park groundskeeper during a playoff game.

The fight followed the infamous bench-clearing melee in the fourth inning in which Yankees coach Don Zimmer rushed Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, who shoved Zimmer to the ground.

This post was written by William B. Ketter, vice president of news, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. CNHI owns the Newburyport newspaper.

Trooper’s Arrest Underscores Problems with Domestic Violence Secrecy Law

On Aug. 8, Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill targeting domestic violence in Massachusetts. (Chapter 260 of the Acts of 2014). This comprehensive bill included troubling and confusing provisions that severely restricted the public’s right to know about crimes committed in their communities.

Now, a newspaper reporter’s almost-accidental discovery of the domestic violence arrest of a State Trooper underscores the confusion surrounding this law and the reason why it was bad policy to begin with.

The law closed to the public and the press police reports and police logs pertaining to domestic violence. That means that if a public official or trusted person is the subject of a domestic violence complaint, the public may never know.

Earlier this week, Cape Cod Times reporter Amy Anthony, while routinely reviewing arraignment records at Barnstable District Court, came across a police report that the police say should have been secret under this law.

The report detailed the arrest of a State Trooper on Sunday for charges related to domestic violence. As Anthony’s report describes, there is significant disagreement about whether the arrest should ever have been made public under this new law.

Virtually everyone she spoke to — Sandwich police, State Police, the district attorney, and a sponsor of the bill — had different understandings of the law.

The story illustrates why this aspect law was bad policy to begin with and why it should be repealed.

Read her story here: Massachusetts Domestic Violence Law Leading to Confusion.

Robert J. Ambrogi, Esq.
MNPA Executive Director

Annual MNPA Luncheon to Feature Juliette Kayyem

Gubernatorial candidate and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist Juliette Kayyem will be the featured speaker at the annual luncheon of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday.

KayyemUntil launching her campaign for governor, Kayyem was a columnist for the Boston Globe, analyst for CNN, and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 2013, she was a Pulitzer finalist for her series urging the Pentagon to end its female combat exclusion rule – a prohibition the military has since lifted.

Kayyem began her professional career in the Clinton administration as a civil rights attorney, litigating cases involving the rights of children. She helped bring the first federal anti-bullying case and was part of the team that argued for The Citadel and VMI military institutions to open their doors to women.

She then moved into public safety and homeland security, serving as Gov. Deval Patrick’s homeland security adviser. After several years overseeing the 8,000-plus member Massachusetts National Guard, the Commonwealth’s strategic security planning, and the distribution of homeland security funds, she was tapped by President-elect Obama to be part of his transition team and then became assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.

As assistant secretary, Kayyem was responsible for coordinating planning between the federal government and all of its state, local, and territorial partners on issues as varied as immigration, intelligence sharing, military affairs, immigration reform, and the response to crises such as H1N1, the Dec. 25 attempted terrorist attack, the Haiti earthquake and the BP oil spill. For her exemplary leadership in the wake of the BP spill, coordinating 60 federal agencies over five states, Kayyem was awarded the Coast Guard’s highest civilian honor.


Join Us for the MNPA Annual Meeting and Luncheon

Please join us for the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Hyatt Boston Harbor in Boston. Our annual meeting and luncheon is you’re preeminent opportunity to meet with newspaper publishers, editors, reporters and business staff from throughout Massachusetts.

The day’s full agenda is as follows:

  • 10 a.m. Annual business meeting and election of officers and executive board.
  • 11 a.m. Panel discussion: The Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law and its Impact on Newspapers.
  • Noon. Networking reception.
  • 12:30 p.m. Luncheon and keynote (speaker to be announced).

The panel discussion of the independent contractor law will look at the impact of the law on newspapers. The panel will feature three speakers:

  • Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport),  sponsor of a bill to correct the wording of the law.
  • Mark W. Batten, a partner in the Boston office of Proskauer who represents newspapers and other businesses in labor and employment matters.
  • Aaron Julien, MNPA president and president of Newspapers of New England, who will talk about measures his company has taken as a result of the law.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend. Registration, which includes lunch, is $85 for MNPA member newspapers and their employees, $95 for all others.

The registration form may be downloaded by clicking here .

If you have any questions about the event, please address them to MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi, (978) 546-3400, or Registration deadline is Friday, November 29.

Registrations should be sent to: MNPA Annual Meeting, c/o New England Newspaper & Press Association, 370 Common Street, Suite 319, Dedham, MA 02026, or by fax to: (781) 320-8055.

Survey on Implementation of SJC Rule 1:19, Electronic Access to the Courts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Judiciary-Media Committee is conducting a survey of judges, clerks, registers, court officers, associate court officers, and media representatives to determine how SJC Rule 1:19 is working since it became effective on Sept. 17, 2012. Your answers will be valuable in helping the committee to evaluate whether to recommend changes in the rule to the SJC.

The MNPA is a member fo the Judiciary-Media Committee.

Responses to survey are due by June 11, 2013.

Access the survey via this link:

If you have any questions, please contact:

Joan Kenney
Public Information Office
Supreme Judicial Court