“FOIA 101” provides intro/refresher on open records law

SPJ Houston will present “FOIA 101” from 6:30-7:30 p.m. April 13 at Ripley House Neighborhood Center (room 135), located at 4410 Navigation Blvd in Houston. RSVP by 5 p.m. April 12 to houstonspj@hotmail.com.


This introduction/refresher to the Freedom of Information Act and Texas Public Information Act will examine what the documents covers, how reporters can obtain information through FOIA/TPIA, what is not accessible and advice from local journalists/lawyers.


The Freedom of Information Act generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.


The Texas Public Information Act gives the public the right to access government records; and an officer for public information and the officer’s agent may not ask why you want them. All government information is presumed to be available to the public. Certain exceptions may apply to the disclosure of the information.


Panelists include:

IMG_0704 copy (1)Catherine Dominguez has been in journalism since 1994. Most recently Catherine spent eight years at the San Antonio Business Journal covering the small business beat and establishing a photojournalism department for the paper. Currently, she is an editor with Houston Community Newspapers working specifically for The Courier of Montgomery County and The Woodlands Villager. As a content producing editor, Catherine concentrates on investigative journalism focused on government and politics.



Margaret DowningMargaret Downing has been editor-in-chief of the Houston Press since February 1998 and a writer for the publication since that time. She and the writers and photographers for the Houston Press have received a number of national, regional and state journalism awards including IRE, SPJ, NABJ, the Pen Center and the National Awards for Education Reporting for both the print and online publications. She was previously the managing editor at the (Jackson, Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, and managing editor at The Houston Post.


Joe LarsenJoe Larsen is special counsel for Sedgwick LLP in Houston and focuses his practice on media law with extensive experience in all aspects of media newsroom representation including defending clients in defamation lawsuits, defending and handling of subpoenas, prior restraint matters, and newsgathering. He is the recipient of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ 2010 James Madison Award. He also has a practice in general and commercial litigation and bankruptcy, and is experienced in both insurance coverage disputes and insurance defense.


headshotSt. John “Sinjin” Barned-Smith covers law enforcement and breaking news for the Houston Chronicle. Previously, he worked for newspapers in Boston, Philadelphia and suburban Maryland, where he once wrote a crime story about a puppy mauled to death by a pair of pit bulls. He also served in the Peace Corps, in Paraguay. Since coming to Houston, he has examined how Texas’ jails provide care for inmates, particularly those suffering from mental illness. Other major assignments included covering historic flooding, mass shootings, and a brief stint as one of the paper’s correspondents for the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.


“FOIA 101” will start with panelist introductions, followed by breakout table discussions with each of the panelists and will conclude with a group Q&A.


RSVP by 5 p.m. April 12  to houstonspj@hotmail.com.


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