MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

June 13, 2014

ACLU, Fallin aides battle in court over health law papers

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union told an Oklahoma County judge Thursday that Gov. Mary Fallin has no legal right to withhold documents requested by news organizations under the state’s Open Records Act concerning her rejection of a state health insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.

Brady Henderson, the legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, urged District Judge Barbara Swinton to reject assertions by Fallin and her attorneys that she has the authority to claim an executive privilege that exempts her from the law and allows her office to withhold documents that were used to establish important public policy.

“The public is entitled to the public’s own records,” Henderson said during oral arguments. “It is something that has strong, strong policy impact on our state.”

Henderson said the public needs to know who is influencing their government and how.

But Senior Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader urged the judge to affirm Fallin’s right to claim executive privilege to avoid interfering with the kind of “frank, candid and confidential” communications with her staff and others that he said is needed for her office to function.

Swinton said she could rule in the case as early as Friday.

The ACLU sued Fallin last year on behalf of The Lost Ogle, a satirical news website, which joined with several news organizations, including The Associated Press, in a request for documents from Fallin’soffice related to her decisions to reject a state health insurance exchange and to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income and uninsured Oklahomans.

The ACLU of Oklahoma is representing The Lost Ogle’s parent company, Vandelay Entertainment LLC of Oklahoma City.

Leader said Fallin’s office released more than 51,000 pages of emails and other correspondence.

But the office withheld 31 documents consisting of 100 pages of materials that her General Counsel Steve Mullins determined to be part of “executive and deliberative process privileges.”

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