ONA members, have a question about your legal rights?

Free help is here from FAC Legal Hotline

By on May 18, 2016

ONA members now receive priority attention from First Amendment Coalition (FAC) lawyers, thanks to a partnership between ONA and FAC. The next time you have a question about your legal rights as a journalist, check out FAC’s legal consultation service, the Legal Hotline, free of charge.

ONA and FAC are collaborating to make the Legal Hotline service available on a priority basis for ONA members to give journalists expert guidance and support in holding government accountable.

The Legal Hotline handles questions about freedom of speech, access to government records, attending court proceedings or meetings of government agencies and many more matters involving journalists and their legal tools and rights.

Suppose you need to examine court records that have been “sealed” by a judge; what are your options? Can police legally stop you from taping an arrest on a public street? From posting that tape on your blog? And if you receive a subpoena about the incident, what should you do?

ONA members can go to the Legal Hotline page on FAC’s website and submit your question. (Remember also to check the box indicating you are an ONA member, which will move you ahead in the queue). You’ll get a reply by email from one of FAC’s lawyers, media law experts at Bryan Cave, a national law firm.

Legal Hotline replies frequently contain citations to relevant court decisions, statutes or other authorities, helpful when appealing an agency’s denial of an FOI request, or generally pushing back against recalcitrant government officials. To see recent Legal Hotline answers, check out FAC’s online archive, “Asked and Answered.”

One factor to keep in mind: While the Legal Hotline is staffed by lawyers, they cannot provide legal representation. That means, among other things, that there’s no attorney-client privilege, so please don’t submit confidential information on the Legal Hotline form. In some cases, however, free legal representation may be provided to ONA members who find themselves in a legal jam; specifically, those who receive a subpoena related to their journalism work, and who don’t have access to a lawyer through an employer or a publication, should call FAC directly  at (415) 460-5060. FAC may be able to obtain a lawyer for you.

If you’re interested in becoming an ONA member to take advantage of the Legal Hotline, as well as other discounts and services, you can read about our membership opportunities here.

FAC, a nonprofit organization founded over 25 year ago, receives contributions and grants to support the Legal Hotline as part of its mission to help journalists and ordinary citizens pressure government to be more transparent.

Jane McDonnell

As executive director, Jane oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, working closely with the Board of Directors. Her purview includes membership, partnerships, global community outreach, budgeting and revenue generation, fundraising and development, the Online Journalism Awards, and providing vision for ONA’s state-of-the-art annual conference.