Wednesday, April 6, 2011

State Senate committee passes bill to expand attorney-client privilege for public bodies

The state Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted 6-3 for a bill that would expand the attorney-client privilege between public bodies and their lawyers.

The Oklahoma Press Association opposes HB 1559, which heads to the full Senate for a vote.

"Public bodies currently have a limited attorney-client privilege. We think that limitation should stay in place. This bill removes the limitation. Public bodies could hide anything behind their attorney-client privilege," OPA's executive vice president told the Tulsa World.

"This bill puts attorneys in charge of everything," said Mark Thomas. "That is bad public policy, and we are opposed to it."

On Monday, Thomas noted on the FOI Oklahoma Blog that public bodies already have a broad attorney-client privilege for a "pending investigation, claim or action and the court determines that disclosure will seriously impair the ability of the public officer or agency to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation or proceeding in the public interest."

The bill by Tulsa Republicans Rep. Fred Jordan and Sen. Dan Newberry was requested by Jenks officials.

"I ought to be able to talk in confidence with my client about a personnel matter without that being exposed," Jenks City Attorney Stephen Oakley told the Tulsa World. "I ought to be able to talk with the city manager or planner about a potential economic development project without that being disclosed until there was a report that was prepared and went before the council. At that point, it is an open record."

Thomas has called for open government advocates to contact their state senators to oppose HB 1559.

Three senators -- Roger Ballenger, D-Okmulgee; Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate; and minority leader Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City -- signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge in 2010.

Each man promised "to support at every opportunity ... the inherent right [of Oklahomans] to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power."

The vote on HB 1559 is one of those opportunities.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. The passage of this bill makes the Open Meeting Act a joke. Public bodies can now claim attorney-client privilege for any topic they wish to discuss in secret, as long as they have their attorney present. What we will now have are an endless string of "executive sessions" where the public's business is conducted behind closed doors and the reasons for a public body's votes are not discussed.


Differing interpretations of law and policy are welcome. Personal attacks and character assassinations will be rejected.