Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My First FOIA Request and Arraignment

 As part of my Media Law and Ethics in the Digital Age course, we are asked to write a paper on our experience attending a meeting that is protected under the Sunshine Act (every portion of every meeting of an agency shall be open to public observation) and make 2 FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. I am currently through the 2 FOIA requests:

  1. Retrieve information on a home in Williston.
  2. Attend an arraignment and retrieve the public files.
So, yesterday I went to the Williston Town Hall Clerk's office to get the housing information. Turns out you need to go to the assessor's office for that info. Did I mention that while the Town Clerk is there until 5 pm, the Assessor's office is only open from 9 am - 1 pm? Needless to say, that trip was a bust.

Today, I attended an arraignment with Liz and Pete. I should say we attended 4 or 5 arraignments. Arraignments are really quick and there were 5 in about 20 minutes. There were no serious crimes; the worst offender sold alcohol to minors. The most interesting thing I witnessed was the Waiver of Counsel form that two defendants signed. This means that they waived their right to representation and chose to represent themselves; Neither of them had previous experience with law. After the arraignment, I walked over the the Court Clerk desk to retrieve the public file on one of the cases. I chose a case of an young girl charged with underage drinking. It was a small file and in all honesty, I have yet to look through it.

If you don't know what an arraignment is, enjoy this clip from Law and Order to the right. While VT court is more mellow, you can get the basic idea. Arraignment is the first time the defendant hears their official charges and enters a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty."

After court, I attended Meteorology before trekking back to Williston to get the housing information. Thank goodness the second time around was a breeze. I walked up to the Assessor's office, a very small room with a computer and a lot of filing cabinets. My address was 29 Read Rd, a home sold Oct. 9, 2011 for $178,000. According to the Assessor's Office, that was about $24,000 less than it was assessed for. It has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms plus and 11' x 28' garage. The real world scenario for this exercise? Someday you will want to place an offer on a home. Get the information on similar houses in the area to get an idea of what they are selling for. Then, you won't overbid! Isn't college practical?

Now, I need to go do more practical college things like get some sleep. Tomorrow is a Student-Blogger/Founder's Society extravaganza.


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