Monday, March 12, 2012

Attorney General Reverses Decision Of Daniels' DCS Seeking To Block Release Of Public Records

In a rare move, the Indiana Attorney General took issue with an appeal filed by the state's Department of Child Services concerning the release of public records and intervened, resulting in the dismissal of the case. Last week, a probate court judge in St. Joseph County approved the release of recorded calls made by an anonymous person to a hotline reporting on the abuse of a young boy, who months later died at the hands of his father's physical abuse. DCS sought emergency relief from the Indiana Court of Appeals, which issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the South Bend Tribune from releasing the records about an hour after the newspaper published a story online detailing the phone calls. The newspaper pulled the online story and awaited further action at a hearing scheduled before the Indiana Court of Appeals tomorrow. Instead, Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office intervened as the state's chief legal counsel and asked the court to dismiss the case, which the court agreed to do. The Tribune reports on this development:
The Attorney General’s office took over the case Monday from DCS and immediately filed a motion for dismissal, determining the agency’s effort to prevent publication was inconsistent with the First Amendment.
"In the interest of openness and transparency, the publication of public records should not be halted," Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement.
After the dismissal, the Tribune published the story on its website. It also appears in today’s Tribune. The article concerns a 20-minute phone call made to the abuse hotline about 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis, who was tortured and beaten in his home in November.
"We're grateful to our attorneys and pleased that the attorney general decided to intervene," said Tribune Executive Editor Tim Harmon. "Mr. Zoeller, at least, understands the very serious constitutional issues that are at stake when the courts are asked to muzzle the press."

Interestingly, after the Attorney General intervened and got the case dismissed, DCS now claims its objective was not to impose prior restraint on the press. John Ryan, DCS's Chief of Staff, tells the Tribune its only objective was to prevent the Tribune from revealing the identity of the anonymous caller who reported the abuse. Zoeller told the Tribune his office is reviewing its long-standing practice of allowing DCS to represent itself in light of its actions in this case.

Hats off to Zoeller for standing up to DCS and the Daniels administration on this important issue. The Attorney General's actions here are instructive on how he may proceed with the criminal appeal in the Charlie White case. Some legal commentators have suggested that Zoeller has a conflict in defending the state's prosecution of White on appeal at the same time he is urging on behalf of the State's Recount Commission that the Supreme Court reverse Marion Co. Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg's order reversing the Commission's decision in favor of White's eligibility to hold the office of Secretary of State. If Zoeller believes White's prosecutors misapplied Indiana's election law to indict and convict him on charges of registering and voting in the wrong precinct, he has every right to take a position supporting the overturning of those convictions. He is not legally obligated to defend what he determines to be a legal wrong just as he did with the DCS case today.

1 comment:

guy77money said...

I'm not going to hold my breath that Zoeller is capable of any reasonable thought when it comes to the Charlie White case.