Louisiana AG Sues Journalists To Keep Them From Obtaining Documents Detailing Sexual Harassment By Top Prosecutor

from the The-Man-says-The-Man-will-not-be-releasing-records-about-The-Man dept

Another public official is attempting to make the public records request process even more aggravating and expensive than it already is.

In many cases, the public does what it's allowed to do: request records. And, in many cases, governments refuse to do what they're obligated to do. So, people sue. They dig into their own pockets and force the government to do what they were always supposed to do. And when they do this, the general public digs deep into their own pockets to pay government agencies to argue against the public's interests.

This is diabolical enough. It's also, unfortunately, the standard M.O. for government agencies. Pay-to-play. Every FOIA request is a truth-or-dare game played on a field slanted towards the government, which has unlimited public funds to gamble with.

But when just being dicks about isn't diabolical enough, government agencies and officials go further. When it's simply not enough to engage in litigation as defendants and argue against accountability and transparency, these entities go on the offensive.

That's right. Government agencies and officials occasionally engage in proactive lawsuits, daring the defendants (i.e., citizens making public records requests) to prove they're entitled to the documents. This shifts the burden away from the government and onto the person with limited funds and almost nonexistent power. It's no different than demanding millions for the production of PDFs. It's an option deployed solely for the purpose of keeping everything under wraps.

The latest participant in the "fuck the public and our obligations as public servants" is Louisiana's Attorney General.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry on Friday sued a reporter for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune over a public-records request she filed, asking a judge to issue a declaratory judgment denying the request and seal the proceedings.

The unusual action came a few days after the newspaper warned Landry that it intended to sue him if he didn’t turn over the requested records.

Welcome to Louisiana -- a state where government officials and employees don't even need to camouflage their desire to screw the people they're supposed to be serving because a whole bunch of local laws encourage this screwing. In this case, the AG undid the lawsuit threat -- one predicated on the state's refusal to hand over requested documents -- by firing off a lawsuit of his own. And just like that, the burden of proof needed to keep these documents out of the public's hands has been shifted to the public, as represented by the Times-Picayune.

One has to ask why the AG would need to keep these records hidden. There's alleged malfeasance afoot, and the sooner the public has some straight answers, the sooner this can be taken care of. The AG's decision to insert himself and his disingenuous lawsuit into the proceedings makes everyone involved look guilty... especially since the malfeasance is coming from inside the house.

The matter dates to Dec. 14, when the reporter, Andrea Gallo, first filed a public records request with Landry’s office seeking copies of sexual harassment complaints against Pat Magee, the head of the office’s criminal division, and records of how the complaints were handled. Magee was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation that day.

It's a terrible move in terms of optics. But it's a brilliant move if you care less about optics than protecting your government brothers (and, to a much lesser extent, sisters).

This is the sort of thing that would be greatly served by proactive transparency. Maybe the allegations are false. Maybe they're substantiated. But deciding to sue records requesters rather than turn over documents suggests it's the latter. And it suggests a cover-up in the works -- one that, at the very least, will allow the accused to resign before it can affect the accused's career or pension.

Optics matter. And they matter even before the facts are in. Being upfront with the people you serve generates goodwill -- something that's valuable to have in your pocket when government employees screw up. Suing the public before they can sue you says the public is subservient to their supposed public servants. It says the government would rather anger people and drain them of their money than engage honestly with the problem and carry out their obligations to the public.

This is garbage. But it's the same overheated garbage we've seen for years. And nothing will change as long as government agencies can use tax dollars to pay for legal arguments against transparency and accountability.

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Filed Under: foia, jeff landry, journalism, louisiana, pat magee, sexual harassment, transparency

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 7:19pm

    They realize that they can't use the standard exceptions, so they are pinning their hopes on

    a constitutional right to privacy and policies within the Attorney General's office and state Civil Service that call for confidentiality in such investigations.

    Good luck with that.

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