Undefeated. If legal challenges were described in sports terms, that would describe the 2007 win-loss record of media outlets and others who sued Arizona governments for access to public records.
You’d think public agencies would learn that the records law is overwhelmingly on the side of the public.
But every year, some efforts to keep tabs on public agencies end up in court. Rarely does the government win.
Two Phoenix attorneys who handle most access cases for Arizona newspapers – Dan Barr of Perkins Coie and David Bodney of Steptoe & Johnson – ran down last year’s cases, including one they didn’t handle.
• January – A Pima County Superior Court judge ordered Marana to turn over records to EXPLORER Newspapers Inc., which wanted e-mail and Web surfing records of the parks director, who had resigned in lieu of firing.
• April – The Arizona Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeals decision that allowed public officials to decide which of their e-mail messages were private under state law.
The Supreme Court said that was a conflict, so a judge should decide if a record is private.
The Arizona Republic had sought e-mail records of former Pinal County Administrator Stanley Griffis, who was fired and eventually convicted of public corruption.
• June – The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a letter seeking $20 million in damages from Scottsdale Unified School District was a public record. A girl who was sexually assaulted by a school janitor filed the claim but wanted it kept secret.
• July – A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered state Child Protective Services to release many case records after the deaths of three Tucson children: Tyler and Ariana Payne and Brandon Williams. The Arizona Republic and the Arizona Daily Star had sued to get the records.
• August – A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered the city of Scottsdale to turn over to the East Valley Tribune performance evaluation records of its city manager.
• September – The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department must give press releases to West Valley View, a Buckeye newspaper. That county has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
• October – A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered the county’s Community College District to provide the Republic with names, résumés and applications of three finalists for an outreach coordinator position.
The district had hired Laura Pastor, daughter of U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, who has funneled millions of dollars into the district’s outreach program over the years. The newspaper wanted to compare her qualifications with those of the other finalists.
• November – A Mohave County Superior Court judge ordered Bullhead City to give the Mohave Daily News records of its investigation of sexual harassment charges filed by two female city employees.
• December – A Pima County Superior Court judge ordered the County Attorney’s Office to turn over to the Tucson Citizen dozens of communications with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department. The Citizen sought the records in July. Pima County Attorney’s Office filed a motion asking the court to decide if the records were public.
In another case, a Pima County Superior Court judge ordered the county to provide some records created by its election tabulation software to the county’s Democratic Party.
And finally, a “special master” appointed by a Mohave County Superior Court judge ordered Kingman to release more than 2,000 e-mails of its city manager to Travin Pennington a Kingman resident. The city said the messages were private. More than 8,000 were reviewed. Of the 2,000 ruled public, many detailed numerous land deals under consideration by the city.
In almost every case decided by the Superior Court, the public agency was ordered to pay attorney fees. The least was about $8,500; the most was $40,000 in the Kingman case.
Maybe if the Legislature allowed punitive damages as well, Arizona governments would stop considering records lawsuits a cost of doing business and be more mindful of the public’s right to know.
Read Tucson Citizen Assistant City Editor Mark B. Evans’ blog, “Why a Free Press?”
If you need help accessing records, call 573-4614 or e-mail email@example.com