Home Law government Iowa attorney general presents dangerous legal defense in open cases case

Iowa attorney general presents dangerous legal defense in open cases case

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The cooling effect this will generate is obvious. Document custodians will be more reluctant than ever to respond to requests for documents in a timely manner.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

It is more than troubling that the state attorney general’s office is poised to undermine the Iowa Open Records Act in its defense of a governor’s administration with an extremely poor record in releasing public documents. .

Former Department of Public Health communications director Polly Carver Kimm is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds and his spokesman Pat Garrett for unfair dismissal. Carver Kimm claims she was kicked out of her job because of her willingness to publish public material sought by journalists and others. She argues that the department, under the direction of the governor’s office, “has sought to slow, stifle and otherwise hijack the free flow of information” regarding Iowa’s response to the pandemic.

Carver Kimm was fired shortly after providing a reporter with public information showing an increase in abortions in Iowa.

In defending Reynolds and Garrett, the attorney general’s office argues that the Iowa Open Records Act is not “well-recognized public policy” and does not protect employees who respond to requests for public records, has The Associated Press reported last week. Lawyers for the state argue that the law’s transparency statement is “the kind of broad, vague and amorphous concept that is neither clearly defined nor well recognized.”

We understand that the attorney general’s office must stand up for its clients. But deploying a legal argument that seeks to dig a big hole in the state’s 54-year-old open cases law could have ramifications beyond the courtroom.

This could send a message to government officials and bureaucrats in Iowa that pressuring their staff to withhold or slow down requests for public information is acceptable conduct, and to oppose such unlawful secrecy could cost their employees a job.

In journalism, we have all dealt with government entities dragging their feet over requests for documents or charging high fees to make them available. We could only speculate on the motives, but this legal defense is saying the silent part out loud. Civil servants just want to keep embarrassing or politically sensitive files secret, and removing workers’ protections will allow them to do so.

The cooling effect this will generate is obvious. Document custodians will be more reluctant than ever to respond to requests for documents in a timely manner.

Already, the governor’s office has spent most of the past year and a half delaying, obstructing or ignoring registration applications. The culture of secrecy that permeates the Reynolds administration will only get worse if this legal argument succeeds.

The attorney general’s office should find a less damaging defense strategy. Otherwise, we hope the court rejects it and sends the signal that officials should not be punished for informing the public.

(319) 398-8262; [email protected]


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