May 14, 2013
Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic Reflects on NYC Schools Chancellor Freedom of Information Victory
Following the release of emails that closed the book on a 30-month freedom of information battle, students from Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MIFA) are hopeful the successful outcome of their case will send a strong message about the importance of open government.
MIFA represented journalist Sergio Hernandez in a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) action against the City of New York seeking emails relating to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial pi
“The final decision in this case, and the media attention it has received, are pivotal to spreading awareness about the importance of freedom of information laws and open government.”
- Isia Jasiewicz ’13ck for schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, in 2010. The clinic’s work was recently highlighted in a New York Times article about the case, which stretched over two years as the city spent $100,000 trying to fight the release of records.
“MFIA is so pleased to have had the opportunity to represent Sergio and to advocate for greater government transparency in New York,” said Isia Jasiewicz ’13, who has been involved with the case from the start. “The final decision in this case, and the media attention it has received, are pivotal to spreading awareness about the importance of freedom of information laws and open government.”
In 2011, the clinic was approached by Hernandez, a former Village Voice intern and citizen blogger who requested the emails after a swarm of controversy surrounding Black’s appointment led to her resignation several months later.
“The clinic took it on enthusiastically because freedom of information requests are so central to our mission,” added Jasiewicz, “and because we were excited to help a young independent blogger who wouldn't otherwise have access to legal assistance.”
Black, a Hearst publishing executive, had no education experience when she was appointed to the position. The released emails show how the city attempted to build a campaign to support Black’s appointment in the wake of backlash, including brokering celebrity endorsements, according to the New York Times article.
During the case, the clinic formally represented Hernandez with supervision from Elizabeth Wolstein of Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP. Jenn Bishop ’12 appeared at oral arguments in New York Supreme Court in November 2011 and other students worked on briefs at that stage, including Jasiewicz and Jeff Love ’12. On appeal, Wolstein’s firm took over formal representation, but MFIA students provided research assistance, including Pat Hayden '12, Max Mishkin '12, and Carlton Forbes '12.
In court, Wolstein and students argued that the mayor’s office could not claim an exemption to the FOIA request under “inter-agency” or “intra-agency” communications because Black was not part of any government agency at the relevant time. They also argued that there could be no personal privacy exception by the city because the disclosure of Black’s credentials and relevant experience was pertinent to the public.
“It is our hope that this case will send a strong message that the New York Freedom of Information Law speaks to a strong commitment to government transparency,” said Jasiewicz, “and that the government must seek to uphold that commitment more regularly.”
The MIFA Clinic is an initiative of Yale Law School’s Information Society Project and serves as both a vigorous advocate for its clients and as a supporting teaching institution for law students in developing critical litigation skills. The mission of the clinic is to support a robust investigative role for news organizations and to preserve the public’s right to access to information, thereby ensuring a well-informed public sphere. It is supervised by David Schulz, one of the most foremost media lawyers in the country, and Jack Balkin, the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School.