Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Supreme Court Allows Lawmakers To Shield E-Mails From Public Disclosure On Non-Justiciable Grounds

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled against a public interest group that had sought to obtain e-mail correspondence of State Rep. Eric Koch under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act today in a 4-1 decision authored by Justice Steven David. The majority opinion held that, although the General Assembly is subject to the open records law, it would not delve into deciding whether the legislature's claim of the e-mails being protected from disclosure under the statute's work product exemption.

Justice David explained in his decision that justiciability is not a question of jurisdiction. "Declining to hear a case on grounds of non-justiciability arises due to 'prudential concerns over the appropriateness of a case for adjudication,'" Justice David explained. The trial court had dismissed the plaintiffs' case due to lack of jurisdiction, which the majority opinion found was in error since the court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case. Deciding what was work product the court deemed to be a matter within the sound discretion of the legislature to determine. "We are not inclined to make determinations that may interfere with the General Assembly’s exercise of discretion under APRA," Justice David wrote.

Justice Robert Rucker sharply disagreed with the majority's opinion. He found from the trial court record that neither party had addressed the merits of the applicability of the work product exemption under APRA. Justice Rucker did not believe the case was, therefore, ripe for consideration. He would have remanded it to the trial court to establish a clearer record on the work product claim. The e-mails in question involved communications Rep. Koch had with lobbyists representing energy concerns regarding pending legislation.

You can read the Supreme Court's full opinion in Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana v. Koch by clicking here.


Anonymous said...

No surprise that Indiana judges can contort any case into the outcome they desire. Two to one decisions are just an example of the quandary that the system represents. Still mystified by the 2-1 Noe Echevarria appeals court decision that ignored basic rules of evidence tenants that first year law students could easily grasp. Perhaps higher court judges need a mandatory refresher course or are they all about protecting favored interests?

Gary R. Welsh said...

The decision wasn't 2-1; it was 4-1.

Anonymous said...

Got the name wrong - was Noe Escamilla and tenets was my bad also but his case was a 2-1 by the Court of Appeals. Opinion was rendered that Escamilla's expert witness did not introduce testimony supporting the opposition's side of the case which was not even an issue to the plaintiff's argument. Big man wins little man loses.