Friday, February 22, 2013

DA changes mind about requiring lawsuit to obtain records

OSU's student newspaper won't have to sue Payne County District Attorney Tom Lee to get him to turn over the dates of employment of a former assistant.
Lee faxed the dates and other personnel information on Thursday afternoon to The Daily O'Collegian and to The Oklahoman, whose reporter had requested the dates earlier that day.
Lee, who also is district attorney for Logan County, had told The Daily O'Collegian on Wednesday that it would have to sue him if it wanted him to release the employment dates of former Assistant District Attorney Jill Tontz.
His refusal came despite the state Open Records Act explicitly requiring that employment dates for government employees be available to the public. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.7(B)(3))
Lee had said he preferred an Open Records Act lawsuit by the newspaper rather than a lawsuit by Tontz. He didn't explain the grounds on which Tontz could sue him. The Open Records Act says public officials can't be held civilly liable for damages when they release information in compliance with the statute. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.17(D))
Lee should never have denied access to the information, but at least he changed his mind without the need for a court order.

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.

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