Representation: Independent Journalist Norman Oder
I recently had the pleasure of representing Norman Oder, an independent journalist who has written prolifically about the controversial Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project in Brooklyn (his work can be found at http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com). In connection with his research for his coverage and an upcoming book, Norman submitted a FOIL request (the New York state equivalent of FOIA) to Baruch College of the City University of New York.
Norman's request was not denied in the traditional sense - just simply ignored. In FOIA parlance, we call that a "constructive denial." The reality of FOIA (and its state analogues) is that agencies know that the vast majority of journalists lack the resolve - or means - to retain an attorney. So, they comfortably ignore or obstruct requests, knowing that the worst-case scenario is a lawsuit and an order to disclose the documents.
For some agencies, the cost in dollars - or reputation - of defending a lawsuit is immaterial. But I was optimistic that Baruch, which probably doesn't get sued very often, would respond to a legal threat. So, I helped Norman formulate a revised request that would be simpler for Baruch to comply with, and he made sure to alert Baruch that this time he had representation. After a few phone calls and some strongly-worded emails, Baruch ceased its stonewalling and delivered a reasonable amount of the records sought.
Says Norman, "I don't think I would have gotten results without Dan's assistance, and insistence."