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Archive for Sunday, May 7, 2006

Judicial, legislative records off limits

Journal-World sought information related to Justice Nuss case

May 7, 2006

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— It's possible that an indication of whether legislators and justices have been communicating on the pending school finance lawsuit could be found in their telephone records and appointment calendars.

But those records are off limits under the Kansas Open Records Act.

The Lawrence Journal-World requested those records after Justice Lawton Nuss on April 20 disclosed - when it became apparent it would be reported - that he had discussed on March 1 the school finance case over lunch with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina. Judges are prohibited from privately discussing pending cases with interested parties.

The newspaper sought on April 25 copies of or access to telephone records of justices on the Kansas Supreme Court and Morris, dating back to Jan. 1, 2006.

Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the court, denied the request, citing a part of the Open Records law that states the judiciary is exempt. Patti Van Slyke, communications director for Morris, cited another part of the law that exempted records maintained or kept by members of the Legislature.

Essentially, the Kansas Open Records law states that it is the policy of the state to make government records open to the public. But then it lists dozens of exemptions that includes the Legislature, which created the law, and the Kansas Supreme Court, which interprets it.

More about open records law

Douglas Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Assn., said, "That is why friends of open government come to the Capitol every year trying to get exemptions removed.

"We've always contended there are too many exemptions."

Republican legislators wanting more information about communications with the court have now focused on Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office, and made at least eight requests for records.

Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said the requests were fair because Morris said that before Nuss disclosed the discussion, Morris had mentioned to Sebelius at a meeting that Morris had communicated with the court.

Sebelius said she didn't take Morris' comment seriously when he said it because it was an off-hand remark, and legislators often have said they believe they know what the court wants in the long-running legal battle. The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered lawmakers to increase school funding to make up for inadequate funding of low-income school districts.

But Huelskamp said he was suspicious because Sebelius initially expressed outrage over Nuss meeting with Morris.

And Huelskamp and some other Republicans have long complained that Justice Donald Allegrucci should have removed himself from the school case because he is married to Joyce Allegrucci, who is Sebelius' former chief of staff.

In addition to Huelskamp, a number of Republican legislators have filed anonymous open records requests for Sebelius' records through the Legislative Research Department.

Several Democrats have said Republicans are trying to divert attention from the debate over how much to fund schools, and the fact that the controversial discussion occurred between GOP senators and a Republican-appointed justice.

Sebelius' office said that the requests for open records are so broad they will take a long time to complete.

Anstaett, with the newspaper group, said the current controversy shows that exemptions carved out of the Open Records law for the Legislature and judicial branch are problematic.

"All of a sudden," he said, "everyone else is seeing the light."

Comments

justthefacts 8 years, 7 months ago

The Kansas Open Records Act was first passed into law in 1982/83, and became effective in1984. The original version contained the still current language under which there are exceptions to the definition of public agency and public record, under which judges are not public agencies and the records of individual legislators (INCLUDING local officials who pass laws, e.g. city council members and/or county commissioners) are not considered public records. So, the exceptions in question are nothing new.

What may be new is how desparate record seekers are to get their hands on the records of judges and/or law makers. However, before the press and people who would like to see such records get too excited, just remember; in order to change current record laws to allow access to the records of judges and law makers, you will have to convince a MAJORITY of current lawmakers that it's a good idea to open up their records. Good luck with that. There is/was a reason the first legislature put in the exceptions in question (and many other states have similar exceptions). In order to overcome the bias towards closing the records in question, those reasons will have to be refuted.

P.S. For those who would like to read the actual laws in question, just go to www.kslegislature.org and where it asks for statute # put in 45-217. The pertinent exceptions are in (f) and (g).

P.P.S. The other exceptions to the KORA are in 45-221...Note there are 46 now (and there were 34 originally). Each time an exception to openness was adopted, it was only after much debate over the competing goals; The public's right to know what it's government is "up to" versus the privacy rights of individuals and/or the harm done to the general good by making some information open (at all or prematurely). It took years to get the exceptions passed. It will probably take as many years to get any repealed.

moderation 8 years, 7 months ago

just turn over the records!!!!

Let us see what you have been doing.

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