AG Landry’s varied interpretations of Open Meetings Law

Graft, Lies & Politics: A Monument to Corruption.

January 4, 2019 by Tom Aswell (Louisiana Voice) 

Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

A variation of that adage might be, “If your intentions are pure, you don’t have to worry about consistency.”

Jeff Landry might want to remember both statements.

But, on the other hand, sometimes it’s good entertainment to watch a politician more concerned with advancing his own career than the interests of his constituents get boxed in by his own words and actions.

Case in point: A self-serving press release from the attorney general on Nov. 19 which addressed a ruling by a state judge which said the Vermilion Parish School Board violated Louisiana’s Open Meeting Law for forcefully removing a teacher who was critical of the superintendent’s pay raise.

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry pontificated, “and I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law.”(emphasis mine)

Well, Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law and the Public Records Law just happen to go hand in hand, but you’d never know that from the lawsuit pending in State District Court in Baton Rouge scheduled for trial next Thursday.

Landry is a defendant in a LAWSUIT filed by an Indiana woman who is seeking admittedly voluminous records relating to correspondence between Landry’s office and various oil and gas interests in the state as well as records of his travel to conferences, speaking engagements, lodging and meals.

Here is a copy of her request for the records and her lawsuit.

Landry’s public information officer Ruth Wisher said, “We can only hope it is not a political witch hunt distracting from the important work of our office.”

And even though he has already turned over more than 6000 PAGES of documents, the woman, Scarlett Martin of Indianapolis, has sued Landry because she says he has failed to fully comply with her request and that he is holding back additional records.

Now Landry has offered up a rather unique defense by CLAIMING that Louisiana’s public records law applies only to citizens of the gret stet of Looziana.

That doesn’t exactly square with Opinion 17-0044 of last May 18 in which he wrote in an opinion pursuant to a legislator’s request, “The public’s right to public records is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Louisiana Constitution. ‘No person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents…”

(Note there is no mention of any restriction of that right to Louisiana citizens. And also note how he conveniently ties public meetings and public records together in a nice little bow for us.)

In the next paragraph of that opinion, he says, “Any person of the age of majority may inspect, copy, or reproduce, any public record” and “any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record.”

That sounds a tad definitive for a man who is now trying his best to protect certain records from disclosure.

Kinda makes one wonder what he’s trying to hide.

Oh, and in response to Ms. Wisher’s little comment about hoping the request isn’t some kind of “witch hunt” (wonder where she picked that phrase up from?), state law also expressly says, “The purpose for the document request is immaterial, and an agency or record custodian may not inquire as to the reason…”

Moreover, in further addressing Landry’s water-thin residency claim of exception, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Title Research Corp. v. Rausch (450 So.2d933,937(1984) opined:

The legislature, by the public records statutes, sought to guarantee, in the most expansive and unrestricted way possible, the right of the public to inspect and reproduce those records which the laws deem to be public. There was no intent on the part of the legislatures to qualify, in any way, the right of access. [Citations omitted]. As with the constitutional provision, the statute should be construed liberally, and any doubt must be resolved in favor of the right of access.

Section 31 provides that any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record, except as otherwise provided. A person over 18 has the right to inspect and copy or get a copy of a public record that is not exempt from examination, and the custodian has the burden of proving that the record is not subject to inspection. The person may apply in person to the custodian of the public body, to inspect, to copy or to reproduce a public record; however, in Elliot v. District Attorney of Baton Rouge, (1995) 664 So.2d. 122, the court opined that a person could make a request by letter. (emphasis mine)

Mr. Landry is going to have a helluva time getting around all that and he just might have to write a pretty big check (state check, of course, not personal) in penalties assessed by the court.

Editor’s Note: A conscientious attempt was made by LouisianaVoice to access that attorney general’s opinion cited in this story. Previously, the attorney general’s web page had a menu that users could use to access opinions on any subject. That menu no longer exists.

We did, however find in the Media Room, a menu labeled “More Resources” which provided:

biography  of Jeff Landry;

An introduction to Jeff Landry;

portrait of Jeff Landry;

candid portrait of Jeff Landry;

capitol photo of Jeff Landry;

Another capitol photo of Jeff Landry.

I’m certain he gladly provide those for Ms. Martin.

Comments

comments

Comments

comments