ACLU Filing Lawsuit Against Gov. Fallin's Office Over Access To Public Records

Monday, November 9th 2015, 1:39 pm
By: News 9

The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing Gov. Mary Fallin over access to public records.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Oklahoma County District Court, is on behalf of two organizations that have each been waiting well over a year for the governor's office to fulfill their respective records requests

"The Open Records Act imposes a very clear legal duty," said ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson at a news conference Monday afternoon at the Capitol. "It's a duty no different than saying, 'I've got to pay my taxes.'"

A spokesman for Fallin addressed media following the news conference and said their office has released 357,000 documents since 2012, more than any other governor in history.

"We are following the letter and the spirit of the law as best we know how," spokesman Alex Weintz said. "I think we need to be realistic and fair about what we're being asked to do."

This isn't the first time the issue of the governor's compliance with the Open Records Act has come up.

In 2013, the ACLU sued the governor's office over access to emails related to Fallin's decision not to create a state healthcare exchange or expand Medicaid. Ultimately, Fallin's office voluntarily released more than 50,000 emails responsive to the request.

The current lawsuit revolves around two Open Records requests submitted last year.

In May, 2014, the nursing home care advocacy group, A Perfect Cause, asked the governor's office for a broad range of documents and communications regarding nursing homes in the state.

In July, 2014, the Oklahoma Observer requested documents related to the executions of Garry T. Allen and Brian D. Davis.

Last month, in an apparent mistake, the Observer received documents related to the execution of Clayton Lockett

Officials with A Perfect Cause say they have received nothing.

ACLU Executive Director Ryan Kiesel said this is not the open government citizens deserve.

"The public supports the ability to have access to their government, to have that kind of transparency and accountability," Kiesel said. "Politicians campaign on that all of the time...but at the end of the day, living up to that promise is something else."

"Gov. Fallin believes in transparency, we think it's important, but if we're asked for a 100,000 pages of emails, we have to read a 100,000 pages of emails, it's not something that can be done overnight," Weintz said.

ACLU officials believe, although it may not be intentional, the governor's legal staff has added steps to the process of procuring requested documents that unnecessarily lengthen the response time.

They hope that the Court, in addition to ordering relief for the current plaintiffs, will encourage the governor's office to, generally, be more efficient.