August 6, 2012
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas will hold its 2012 Bernard and Audre Rapoport State Conference on Friday, August 10 at the Hyatt Regency Austin Hotel. This year’s theme is Keep it Open: Fighting Threats to Public Access. Award winning investigative reporter Terri Langford of the Houston Chronicle will be the conference’s Luncheon Keynote Speaker.
The highlight of Friday’s program will be the John Henry Faulk Awards Luncheon and the presentation of the James Madison Award to The Dallas Morning News, with special recognition for the contributions of reporters Brooks Egerton, Miles Moffeit, Reese Dunklin and Sue Goetinck Ambrose, as well as editors Maud Beelman and George Rodrigue.
The James Madison award is given annually by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas to honor those who have demonstrated outstanding commitment and service in upholding the principles of the First Amendment. “Results of The Dallas Morning News’ investigation into patient safety at Parkland Memorial Hospital and related issues at its teaching facility, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, epitomize the very purpose of the James Madison Award,” said Keith Elkins, Executive Director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “This was certainly no easy task. Efforts by the newspaper to obtain records were repeatedly blocked by the taxpayer-supported institutions, even after the Attorney General ruled that many of the records were public. But The News refused to back down.”
The News has filed three lawsuits against UT Southwestern for the release of records related to possible patient harm and potential Medicare-Medicaid fraud. The newspaper has also intervened in two lawsuits brought by Parkland against the Texas Attorney General in an attempt to block the release of records. The News’ multi-year investigation of Parkland revealed systemic breakdowns in patient care. The federal government, in response to the newspaper’s reporting, ultimately put the Dallas County hospital under a rare form of oversight and installed independent safety monitors to overhaul operations throughout Parkland.
The News’ examination of presidential spending at UT Southwestern prompted a state investigation, new audit procedures and staff resignations or removals. The paper’s reporting on these topics can be found online at www.dallasnews.com/investigations. This year’s annual program will also feature the presentation of the State Bar of Texas’s 2012 Texas Gavel Awards, honoring journalistic excellence that helps foster public understanding of the legal system, as well as: Session I: The Perils of Public vs. Private — The continuing use of digital communication by government officials and employees sparks heated debate over private accounts and public servers. The law is clear, but the issue keeps returning to the courts. Get a refresher on the law and an update on the latest litigation. Panelists include Joe Larsen, Special Counsel, Sedgwick L.L.P, Houston and George Hyde, Partner/Shareholder, Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal, Austin. Mr. Hyde represents Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson in a lawsuit challenging the Texas Attorney General’s ruling requiring he release emails related to the transaction of official business on his private email account. Session II: Top 10 Things You Need to Know — The Office of the Attorney General has powerful tools to help Texans gain access to public records and meetings, but state rules and regulations can get complex. Learn how to work effectively with the OAG from those who know best. Panelists: Hadassah Schloss, Cost Rules Administrator, OAG; Karen Hattaway, Deputy Chief, Open Records Division, OAG; and, Tim M. Kelly, Editor, The Beaumont Enterprise. Session III: Secrets Revealed: How to Get Information They Don’t Want You to Have — When government officials seek to conduct public business behind closed doors, innovative researchers and investigators find new ways to open that door. Get little-known tips and tricks you won’t want to miss from experts on the front lines. Panelists: Brian Collister, investigative reporter, WOAI-TV, San Antonio; Joe Ellis, investigative producer, KXAN-TV, Austin; and Nanci Wilson, former award winning investigative reporter.
The cost of the total conference, including the Keynote John Henry Faulk Awards Luncheon, and all sessions, is $100 and the awards luncheon only is $75 per person. To register, please visit www.foift.org or call the FOIFT office at 512.377.1575.
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization supported through grants from private citizens, corporations, foundations, and tax-deductible donations. For more information, call 512.377.1575, or write 3001 N. Lamar # 302, Austin, TX 78705.