The Idaho Press Club has sued Ada County for multiple violations of Idaho’s public records law. The lawsuit, filed in 4th District Court in Boise, seeks full release of records related to four different public records requests by the Press Club and its members.
It also seeks a change in how Ada County handles future public records requests, to make county officials comply with Idaho Code. The REPORT.
By DAVE FRAZIER, editor
The GUARDIAN has found that the so-called “Freedom of Information Acts” and public records laws are nothing more than ways for politicos and coppers to hide and delay the reporting of public information.
All too often reporters simply fall into the routine of filing records requests rather than chasing tips and confirming facts.
When I came to town in 1968 as the police reporter for the STATESMAN, the Ada Sheriff and Boise Police had a clipboard with a copy of EVERY REPORT and it was available to me on a daily basis. It was a treasure trove for news stories–humorous, tragic, and downright stupid.
The fire dispatchers often called me in the wee hours of the morning between the time they dispatched the rigs and when they arrived. Calls often were no more than, “House fully engulfed with people inside on Pasadena.” The BFD also issued me a set of used turnout gear (helmet, boots, coat).
When the STATESMAN published my account (taken from the clipboard) of a copper locking a drunk in the trunk of his car to keep the interior of the squad car clean, it caused a huge split in our society. The drunk was an African American. The officer hated the paper for decades claiming he put a blanket in the trunk to make it comfortable for his prisoner. The story would not see print today.
When a prominent local insurance agent gave away his wife’s diamond jewelry to a prostitute and made a false burglary report, it was on the clipboard. Today it would be a “pending investigation.”
A copper heard a parrot talking at a residence and remembered reading my report of a stolen bird that spoke a certain phrase. He was able to solve the crime and arrest the thief. That one would certainly be worthy of a press release today!
I had midnight calls from high ranking coppers giving me tips about everything from deputies blowing the roof off of a squad car with a shotgun to the impending arrest of a state official who embezzled hundreds of thousands from the highway department.
Today, all that is hidden from public scrutiny behind the phrase, “Make a records request.”
Those requests habitually take the allowed 10 day response time and often are highly redacted, sometimes to the point of providing nothing more than a page number and date. They also can come with fees in the hundreds of dollars.
This oldtimer suggests the reporters establish a mutual trust and even friendship with their sources. Never burn your sources, confirm the accuracy of the information, and try not to get used by the politicos.
Click for the complete press release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Idaho Press Club today sued Ada County for multiple violations of Idaho’s public records law. The lawsuit, filed in 4th District Court in Boise, seeks full release of records related to four different public records requests by the Press Club and its members. It also seeks a change in how Ada County handles future public records requests, to make county officials comply with Idaho Code.
State law provides just one recourse to correct a public records violation: a lawsuit.
The incidents summarized in today’s lawsuit include the following:
– Ada County waited nearly 40 days to respond to a public records request by Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman. Idaho law requires a response within three days, and allows for an extension of no more than 10 days.
– Ada County responded to a second request by providing pages of almost entirely redacted documents. The request, filed by Melissa Davlin on behalf of the Idaho Press Club, concerned any communications regarding fulfillment and delay of Sewell’s initial request. This response rendered impossible any effort to determine why the county ignored state law. Among the excessive redactions, the county removed Davlin’s own email address from the records it then provided her.
– Ada County similarly illegally redacted records provided to Jennifer Swindell, who asked on behalf of the Idaho Press Club for information on previous public records requests to the county.
– Finally, Ada County completely denied a records request by Katy Moeller of the Idaho Statesman, citing privacy grounds that do not exist in Idaho Code. Moeller had requested 911 recordings regarding two accidents.
“These violations by Idaho’s largest county only encourage further confusion and abuse of public records law throughout the state,” said Melissa Davlin, vice president of the Press Club and chair of its First Amendment Committee. “We trust our efforts today will result in increased access to records for journalists and members of the public.”
“Our laws say that the public has a right to access public records, and we expect all levels of government in our state to follow the law,” said Betsy Russell, president of the Idaho Press Club. “The Idaho Press Club takes this very seriously.”
Boise attorneys Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham are representing the Press Club.
To insure more advertising-free Boise Guardian news, please consider financial support.