Back in November, we wrote about Governor Mary Fallin’s refusal to comply with Oklahoma law and not release certain emails and documentation that were sought by the Oklahoman in an open records request. Since then, several other media organizations have joined the party and filed their own requests. I contemplated doing so at the end of my post:
I think later today I’m going to research how to file one of these open records things and see what info I can get. Remember, we’re not real journalists here, so we have no clue how this stuff works. When our request is denied, maybe we can file a lawsuit. Do any attorneys know how that works? We’ve been sued before, but have never actually filed one. Also, can some rich Democrat with a vendetta finance it? That person would be an instant finalist for the 2012 Ogle Mole of the Year award. Just saying.
Although we were never contacted by a rich Democrat with a vendetta, something better actually happened. We were approached by the ACLU! You know, those godless liberal creatures that vigorously protect the rights and freedoms of all US citizens? One phone call, two meetings, and five certified letters later, they issued the following press release:
ACLU of Oklahoma Assists TheLostOgle.com in Joining the Fight for Open Government
Local news, entertainment and satire website TheLostOgle.com is the latest media organization to request that Governor Mary Fallin comply with Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. The request seeks the release of emails and reports surrounding the Governor’s decisions rejecting medicaid funding that would have provided health care to nearly 200,000 Oklahomans and refusing to set up a state health care exchange. With the ACLU of Oklahoma serving as legal counsel, the publisher of TheLostOgle.com filed an open records request with the office of Governor Fallin, as well as Secretary of State Glenn Coffee and other agents of state government.
These requests seek correspondence, emails, reports, and memos to which Oklahoma citizens are entitled under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, which requires state government agencies and public officials to maintain open and public access to most records so that citizens may be directly informed about what their government is doing. In multiple prior requests under this Act, Governor Fallin’s office has refused to comply with the law, repeatedly citing “executive privilege,” which is not recognized by Oklahoma law and is not listed as a permissible exception under the Open Records Act.
“Transparency and liberty go hand in hand,” said Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of ACLU of Oklahoma. “The ACLU of Oklahoma is committed to ensuring that government officials abide by the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act.”
“Like other media organizations, we filed these requests to get a better understanding on the decision making process taking place inside the Governor’s office.” said Patrick Riley, founder and publisher of TheLostOgle.com. “But perhaps more importantly, we did this to help protect the media and public’s rights to transparency in government.”
“The Open Records requests filed by TheLostOgle.com join the requests filed by many other media organizations, and we sincerely hope the Governor and her staff will abandon the fictitious loopholes they now claim insulate them from the pending requests, and comply with the law.” said Kiesel.
ACLU of Oklahoma’s Legal Director Brady Henderson says they are prepared for the scenario in which the the Governor’s legal team continues to assert they are not bound by the Open Records Act. “We cannot speak for other media organizations, but it should be known that with these particular requests our client intends to aggressively challenge any denial, and we are prepared to test the Governor’s legal arguments in court,” said Henderson.
“This is a battle that must be won to ensure that future generations of Oklahomans can hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable for their actions and inactions,” said Henderson.
Here are some quick thoughts on this:
1. I only agreed to this so I could see my name in a press release. Holy crap, isn’t my quote official sounding? If my grandparents didn’t hate the ACLU with all their might, they’d be very proud. I feel like an important person or something. That being said…
2. I have become the first person to ever be censored by the ACLU. My original quote for the press release was waaaaaay better than the one they used, but since the ACLU is a “professional organization,” they removed my references to state troopers, frat parties and Mary Fallin hating Jari Askin’s haircut. Ironic, huh?
3. “Wait a second. You all don’t even claim to be ‘real’ journalists. Why are you doing all this?” Because someone has to. Some of the larger media outlets in our state, especially ones with conservative agendas like the Oklahoman and News 9, probably have too much to lose by taking on the Governor’s office in the courts. For smaller outlets, suing the Governor’s office to release the information may be cost prohibitive. Since we have a) nothing to lose and b) the legal backing of the ACLU, we’re the ideal outlet for this type of action.
4. Hopefully, though, it doesn’t get to that point. Once again, if any of our requests are denied, we’re taking this to the courts. And according to just about every lawyer or media law expert out there, we’re likely going to win. The Governor’s office can save everyone a bunch of time and hassle by releasing the records.
5. Like that’s going to happen. Logic and reason have never been Mary Fallin’s strong point.
Anyway, we’ll try our best to keep you updated throughout this process. We’d like to thank the ACLU for having our back in this matter. They are now a finalist for our 2012 Ogle Mole of the Year award.