State AG Tries To Order Removal Of Public Records From Journalist's Blog, Resulting In Records Being Posted Everywhere
from the my-god...-it's-full-of-files dept
Georgia state Attorney General Sam Olens recently decided to play hardball with a journalism student who published certain documents at the Society for Professional Journalists blog network. Needless to say, it backfired. (via Jim Romenesko)
First off, University of Georgia student David Schick made a public records request for documents concerning names of candidates for his university's president, as part of an investigation into
the school's Georgia Perimeter College's $16 million budget shortfall. According to Schick, the obfuscation began there. The published part Olens objected to is only four of the 700 pages Schick ended up with -- but he had to fight hard to get anything at all.
First, the school charged him $2,963 to forward him emails. When he got a volunteer lawyer who threatened to sue, the price tag was knocked down to $291. But then administrators printed out each email and then re-scanned them – which meant Schick couldn't search them for keywords.Schick is still awaiting a decision for his lawsuit brought against the
According to Olens, the information (which was released as part of a public records request) wasn't supposed to be made public.
"The four pages of documents," says the motion Olens' office filed last Wednesday, "contain the names of a number of individuals who applied for the position of president at one of the Board of Regents' colleges or universities. None of these individuals was selected as a finalist for the position for which they applied."So, rather than deal with the entity which (allegedly) "improperly released" the information to the student, Olens went after the student instead, using a little attempted prior restraint. News of this bullying behavior spread quickly -- as did the offending documents themselves.
Michael Koretksky, another blogger for the SPJ, posted 21 pages (including the four Olens was seeking to take down) at his blog and encouraged others to do the same. Many others did, including the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, David Cuillier.
Olens says the names should not have been released, so the student must take them down. Sorry, Mr. AG, but you can't do that. There's something called case law (e.g., Pentagon Papers), and we in America don't care much for prior restraint (or post restraint, for that matter).With the documents being quickly spread around the internet, Olens either realized a) fighting this would require all-day sessions at the courthouse or b) he looked completely, ridiculously thuggish because he has decided to withdraw his legally unsupportable request.
Also, the idea that candidates for university president should be secret is silly, and unfortunately more states are incorporating this exemption into their public record laws. A shame when it involves something so important. We need to push back against efforts to make that process hidden from public view.
There's nothing like a little bad publicity to make would-be censors rethink their tactics. Obviously, the