Georgia Gov't Employee Somehow Manages To Get Criminally Charged For Violating Public Records Laws

from the protections-for-records-requesters-no-longer-listed-as-'NIB' dept

In an event rarer than the stripping of qualified immunity from a police officer, a public official is being criminally charged for violating open records laws.

The press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been cited for allegedly violating the Georgia Open Records Act in the first-ever criminal complaint filed in connection with the law, the state attorney general’s office announced Monday.

Jenna Garland, 34, the press secretary during Reed’s second term, is accused of ordering a subordinate in the city’s watershed department in March 2017 to delay handing over public records that contained information damaging to Reed and other city officials. The records were requested by Channel 2 Action News.

Both misdemeanor charges are potentially worth $1,000 in fines and a year in jail, but we're probably not going to see anyone locked up for screwing the public. We've only seen one other case like this in the history of Techdirt, and there's nothing indicating any of the politicians indicted for public records law violations have been jailed for breaking the law. In fact, one felt so unthreatened by the charges, she filed for re-election while still under indictment.

In this case, a pair of records requests led to the criminal charges. The first request was for water billing records, filed by journalists at Channel 2. The second request -- filed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution(AJC) and Channel 2 -- sought communications discussing the water billing records request. The second request was a goldmine for journalists and the impetus for criminal charges against Jenna Garland.

In March 2018, the AJC and Channel 2 published text messages Garland sent a year earlier to then-watershed spokeswoman Lillian Govus.

[...]

In the messages, Garland instructed Govus to “drag this out,” “be as unhelpful as possible” and to “provide the information in the most confusing format available.”

Garland later instructed Govus to “hold all” records until a Channel 2 producer contacted Govus for an update.

The records originally sought showed large amounts owed to the city's water department by a number of city politicians, including a councilwoman attempting to run for mayor. Those records were finally released to Channel 2 after it threatened to sue the agency.

There may be more charges coming, based on what's been seen in the text messages AJC obtained. Garland didn't work alone to withhold requested documents and quite possibly was following instructions from those above her when she started telling city employees to violate open records law.

This sort of thing should be happening more frequently, but it's difficult to convince prosecutors to go after fellow government employees. The laws themselves usually aren't much help, snaring only the most egregious violators. Still, it does show it's not impossible to punish government employees for violating open records laws, which should generate at least some minimal deterrent effect.

Filed Under: criminal charges, foia, georgia, jenna garland, public records


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  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:10am

    Orders from Above...

    ...Ya think?

    Hey, if someone offered me ten grand to plead guilty to a $1,000 paperwork violation, I'd be $9,000 richer.

    I know a bunch are going to take that the wrong way... my intended point is the laws in this area have no teeth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:25am

      Re: Orders from Above...

      I guess it really depends upon who you are because our multi-tiered justice system ruthlessly prosecutes the not rich while looking the other way when it is their rich buddies who were caught.

      The most to expect here is a slap on the wrist.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:43am

        Re: Re: Orders from Above...

        "...Both misdemeanor charges are potentially worth $1,000 in fines and a year in jail..."

        Generally speaking, misdemeanors that result in a jail sentence involve either violence or multiple past convictions on similar charges.

        For what is essentially "misfiled paperwork", even if misfiled with "malice aforethought", the fine will probably be under $500 if it carries a $1,000 maximum.

        While we could all dream up Felony charges for this type of thing, the fact is that they won't result in Convictions, especially at a Jury Trial.

        My initial comment is that for the equivalent of a "Failure to Obey a Traffic Signal" ticket, not many people will be deterred if there's an "offer of compensation" from above.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 11:15am

          Re: Re: Re: Orders from Above...

          Does not really matter whether it is a felony or misdemeanor when the DA refuses to do their job. I mentioned neither in my comment.

          The not rich are subjected to ridiculous traffic stops, interrogations, strip searches ... while the rich are given a pass. Some even have special plates to warn cops to not pull them over, soon we might have those flashy blue lights like in Russia which allows its user to violate traffic laws as thou they were LEOs.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 15 Feb 2019 @ 1:10pm

    It's only illegal if you get caught

    She's only getting charged because she was stupid enough to leave a paper trail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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