FOIA ‘Reading Room’ Case Heads for Do-Over

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A watchdog group must try again if it wants to force the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to share documents in a so-called “FOIA Reading Room,” a federal judge ruled.
     Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Washington-based advocacy group, has been fighting for nearly three years to get the Justice Department to automatically subject its subagency’s legal opinions to public scrutiny.
     Currently, the public can use the Freedom of Information Act to force the department to release specific legal opinions upon request.
     Hoping to streamline this process, the watchdog sued the department under the Administrative Procedure Act to make the Office of Legal Counsel set up an online “reading room” for all such documents.
     On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta found that the case must be filed again under the FOIA statute in order to have any chance of succeeding.
     Both parties believed that FOIA only allowed the judge to rule on individual requests, rather than the broad disclosure that CREW seeks.
     But Mehta believes both sides are mistaken.
     “The court is far from convinced that the parties are correct about the limited extent of the court’s remedial authority under FOIA,” he wrote in a 17-page opinion.
     A CREW spokesman said that the legal team is reviewing the decision and exploring their legal options.

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