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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Author Says FOIA Lawsuit Yielded Results

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal lawsuit moved the U.S. Department of Commerce to hand over thousands of pages of withheld documents needed to write a book, the lawyer of an environmental activist and author said Thursday.

Writer, fisherman and environmental activist Alan Stein sued the Commerce Department under the Freedom of Information and Administrative Procedures Acts in July 2015. He claimed the department and two of its agencies — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Office of the Inspector General — had stonewalled his requests for documents he needed for a book he was writing.

Last year, Stein told Courthouse News the planned book required materials from an investigation of Arne Fuglvog, a former fishing vessel operator and fisheries official who spent time in prison for making false statements in fishing quota reports.

"After we sued, the government started working in good faith with us, settled the case almost immediately and released I don't know how many thousands of pages of documents," Stein's attorney Dave Bahr told Courthouse News. "Mr. Stein was satisfied, we got what we wanted and it's closed," he said.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar dismissed the case on Monday.

Bahr praised the Commerce Department and its counsel for their efficient and cooperative work in producing the documents. Some were redacted, but Bahr said he determined that the redactions were within FOIA guidelines.

"It's too bad we had to file suit to get it, but such is life," Bahr said.

Stein said FOIA "needs more teeth" in an email.

"NOAA had a legal duty to produce records within 20 days," Stein said. "In some cases, I waited four years and had to file suit to uncover public records. FOIA is still broken and the public needs to demand far more reforms than the ones made into law last year."

The Commerce Department did not respond to an email requesting comment Thursday.

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