From the community: Abrams to be Honored to Mark 40th Anniversary of CtFOIA – Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — First Amendment scholar and legal activist Floyd Abrams will be honored with the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government’s prestigious Walter Cronkite Freedom of Information Award, it is announced today. The award is part of the organization’s celebration marking the 40th anniversary of Connecticut’s pioneering Freedom of Information Act.

“Floyd Abrams is a titan on First Amendment issues and a tireless gladiator in the efforts to preserve the public’s right to an open government,” said CFOG President Gary Gold in announcing the honor. “Abrams has been tirelessly at the forefront of nearly every significant First Amendment battle on the public’s behalf — from the Pentagon Papers to today. He is truly a giant as a litigator, author and educator.”

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government’s Walter Cronkite award is presented only every five years. Previous recipients have included Cronkite, Jim Lehrer, Louis Boccardi, Seymour Hersh and, most recently, Bob Woodward.

“Floyd Abrams’s long and continuing career has been instrumental in battling efforts to chip away the public’s most basic freedoms,” Gold said. “It also reflects the long and continuing need for just such commitment and vigilance as officials everywhere unendingly seek to deny the public its rights to freedom of speech and access to government activities, ” Gold said.

Abrams will be presented with the Cronkite Award at an honors dinner at Amarante’s Sea Cliff in New Haven on October 22, 2015 at 6:30 p.m., reception with banquet to follow. For tickets and more information, the public is invited to visit the organization’s webpage or contact Denis Horgan at

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government is dedicated to promoting open and accountable government by educating policymakers and citizens in general on the need for a free flow of information on all public policy matters. The first-in-the-nation Connecticut Freedom of Information Act sets a national standard for open government — but has faced consistent challenge to erode its values.

In addition to his legal work, Abrams also teaches First Amendment courses at Columbia and Yale Universities and has helped endow the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at the Yale Law School. Awarded uncounted honors and tributes, he is a partner in Cahill Gordon & Reindel’s litigation practice group.

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Editorial: Sunshine needed –

Mitchell W. Pearlman, of Glastonbury, probably knows as much about open government as anyone. He has served as director of both the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and the Office of State Ethics. He has taught, lectured and written extensively on the subject, and has consulted on democratic governance both in this country and abroad.

So if Pearlman is concerned about the direction in which the General Assembly is steering this state — and he is — then we should probably take notice. And he says our legislature, which once was a pioneer in open government, having passed the landmark Freedom of Information Act in 1975, “more recently has earned a reputation as one that tolerates corruption and governmental misconduct.”

From city halls to the Capitol, recent years in our state have been darkened by the corruption trials of public officials, including a second guilty verdict on the same ex-governor. And the current governor, instead of concluding that more openness might lead to better government, has doubled his relentless efforts to bring the formerly independent Freedom of Information Commission to heel.

Then, last summer, the state Supreme Court issued a divided decision that allowed law enforcement agencies to keep more information secret. They can now disclose a bare minimum of arrest information until prosecution, and that can take months, sometimes years. Previously, police had to provide more information about arrests or give good reason why that information should not be made public.

Why this change of direction? Why, four decades after Watergate, are we heading toward more government secrecy?

Fortunately, there’s a bill before the legislature — HB 6750, “An Act Expanding the Requirement for Disclosure of Arrest Records during a Pending Prosecution under the Freedom of Information Act” — that would restore some of the FOIC’s authority, but at the moment it’s bottled up in committee.

Remarkably, the court in its decision explicitly recognized that its interpretation of the law was in need of clarification by the appropriate branch of government — the legislature. For that reason alone, HB 6750 at least deserves a debate by that body.

There are times when police need to withhold information; for instance, to protect the identity of an informer. But the FOI Act already allows for such exceptions, so that’s no reason to hamstring the law.

Society entrusts the police with great power, including the exclusive right to use force. While we believe that most cops honestly try to do the right thing, there have been too many exceptions, both here and across the nation, not to keep safeguards in place.

One of those safeguards was Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, before the court watered it down. HB 6750 would restore some of its bite, so this bill should get a full hearing and debate. Let the General Assembly take the reins and steer our state back toward open government.

What grows in the darkness? Only creepy-crawly things. Let there be light!