Lawsuits, Lawsuits, and more Lawsuits

Public record lawsuits appear to be on the rise as states look to better define what is covered under current public record laws and who has access to that information.

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Featured

Arizona Senate President tells Cyber Ninjas to 'immediately make available' records on election audit

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann on Wednesday [Sept. 15] directed the CEO of Florida-based Cyber Ninjas to turn over all communications related to the ongoing audit of the Maricopa County, AZ election.

Fann’s letter to Doug Logan comes a day after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order for the Senate to make the Cyber Ninjas’ documents public as part of a public-record lawsuit.

The Arizona Republic and a left-leaning watchdog group called American Oversight both sued the Senate when Fann and the other members did not grant requests for emails, texts and other communications concerning the audit.

Arizona’s Public Records Law requires government agencies to provide such documents to anyone requesting them.

Cyber Ninjas’ lawyer John “Jack” Wilenchik filed an appeal of that order Wednesday, [Sept. 15] asking the Court of Appeals to put a hold on that order so that Cyber Ninjas didn’t have to produce “thousands” of records this week.

Read More | AZ Central

LITIGATION

Hawaii Supreme Court: The public has a ‘compelling’ interest in knowing about police misconduct

In a unanimous opinion, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that citizens have a compelling right of access to officers’ disciplinary files when they are suspended or fired for misconduct, noting that such records are critical to holding police accountable.

More significantly, the court ruled that private parties, such as the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, do not have the right to block government officials from releasing those records to the public.

“We hold that there is no private right of action under UIPA for a party seeking to prevent the release of documents,” the court ruled.

Read More | Honolulu Civil Beat 

Lawsuit says Kentucky government business on private phones, emails should be public

The Kentucky Open Government Coalition, which advocates for transparency in government, has filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court, claiming that public business conducted on private electronic accounts should be publicly disclosed.

“This practice has to stop. It is an insult to the public’s right to know,” said Amye Bensenhaver, a former assistant attorney general who specialized in Open Records and Meetings opinions. She is a founding member of the coalition.

[Attorney General Daniel] Cameron’s office, which interprets the state’s open records and open meetings laws, said in an opinion issued July 19 that “when no public funds have been spent to procure the cell phone services, then a public agency does not ‘own’ the text messages.”

The lawsuit would affect most state and local government officials but not state lawmakers, who have largely exempted themselves from the Open Records Act.

Read More | Lexington Herald Leader

Wisconsin Supreme Court hears arguments in significant public records case

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday [Sept. 16] heard oral arguments in a case that could make it — depending on the ruling — easier or harder for people to sue state and local governments to compel them to release public records.

The case involves a community group, Friends of Frame Park, that sought a copy of a draft contract between the city of Waukesha and Big Top Baseball LLC, which had been pursuing plans to build a stadium in the city’s Frame Park for summer collegiate baseball. Friends of Frame Park sued the city to release the draft contract.

The city released it shortly after — without being ordered to do so by a court — explaining the reason it did so was because the open records exception it relied upon to deny releasing the records was no longer applicable. One of the questions in the case is whether the court should award attorney fees to Friends of Frame Park even though Waukesha handed over the records without a court ruling.

Under current practice in Wisconsin, courts award attorney fees to records requesters if their lawsuit was found to be one of the reasons for the release of the records, even if the records were voluntarily produced.

Under the new test, courts could award fees based on the validity of the initial records denial.

Read More | Wisconsin State Journal

PEER RESOURCE

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The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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