MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 9, 2013

Oklahoma ACLU sues Fallin over records release

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Gov. Mary Fallin after her office refused to turn over documents requested under the state's Open Records Act.

The ACLU filed the petition for declaratory and injunctive relief in Oklahoma County District Court on behalf of The Lost Ogle, a satirical local news and entertainment website, seeking to force Fallin's office to release the withheld documents.

The Lost Ogle joined with several news organizations, including The Associated Press, in a request for documents from the governor's office related to her decisions to reject a state health insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.

Fallin's office released thousands of pages of emails and other correspondence but withheld 31 documents consisting of 100 pages of materials that her General Counsel Steve Mullins determined to be "privileged."

"These privileges are frequently referred to as the executive and deliberative process privileges," Mullins wrote in a letter to The Associated Press and other media outlets.

But media law experts have said there is no reference in the Open Records Act, Oklahoma Constitution or existing case law to such privileges.

"The Oklahoma Open Records Act exempts some records from disclosure, particularly those that are 'specifically required by law to be kept confidential,'" the lawsuit states. "However, not one of the 31 documents defendants are currently concealing from public view has been shown to be properly subject to a specific cognizable privilege or exemption."

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said in a statement that the governor welcomes the opportunity to put questions regarding the privileges to rest.

"The governor is confident in her legal position," Weintz said. "She remains committed to following the letter and spirit of the law regarding Open Records, under which all non-privileged documents are public. That is why she recently turned over 50,000 pages of documents requested by the press, withholding less than one tenth of a percent of that amount for reasons of privilege.

"As our office has explained before, these privileges are important in ensuring the governor can receive candid and private advice from her senior advisers."

The case has been assigned to Oklahoma County District Court Judge Barbara Swinton.

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