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Friday, December 07, 2012

Ind. Gov't. - "AG's office faces criticism over violations of Access To Public Records Act"

Kara Kenney of WRTV6 had this story and video last evening:

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Attorney General’s office is facing criticism for several violations of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.

Greg Zoeller’s office is known as a champion of public records and open meetings, and holds training seminars around the state on the topic.

“When citizens can participate and readily access their government records and attend government meetings as the law intends, the system is more transparent and accountable,” Zoeller said in a Nov. 20 news release.

Illinois-turned-Hamilton-County, Ind-resident Paul Straughn told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney it’s been a nightmare getting records from the Attorney General’s office.

“I think it’s pretty disgusting frankly,” said Straughn, a retired federal government worker.

Straughn said his father Max, a World War II disabled veteran, was mistreated by two Indiana doctors.

“I have a very deep and abiding respect for all veterans,” said Straughn, choking back tears. "The victim in this case was a disabled World War II veteran, disabled because of his military service, and was left crippled for 66 years."

His father has since passed away, but Straughn filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office in November 2011 asking the agency to investigate the mistreatment allegations.

Straughn said the agency closed the complaint without interviewing key witnesses.

“I’m the lead witness in this case, and I’ve never been interviewed,” said Straughn.

Frustrated, Straughn filed a request for documents on his father’s case under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

“I contend the Attorney General never fully investigated my complaint,” said Straughn. “So the APRA was my last resort to find out the information.”

Straughn said he still did not receive the information, and thus, filed an appeal with the state Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage.

In advisory opinions dated July 25 and Aug. 8 , 2012, Hoage found three separate violations of the APRA, including failing to preserve records and failing to meet its burden for redacting, or blacking out, information.

“I’m like wow, holy smokes,” said Straughn. “What can I say? I was dumbfounded. I find it refreshing -- the integrity of the public access counselor’s office.”

Straughn met last week with the Chief Deputy Attorney General in an attempt to resolve the matter.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney asked to interview Zoeller about the violations, but spokesman Bryan Corbin declined, saying an interview was not necessary.

“We strive to complete all public records requests promptly and we have a good working relationship with the Public Access Counselor’s Office -- in fact, the state’s original public access counselor now works for our office as a Deputy AG -- but whenever an individual makes a complaint, the Counselor is required to issue an advisory opinion regardless of the complaint’s merit,” wrote Corbin in an email to Kenney. “We always address complaints fully. The Public Access Counselor's opinions are advisory only; there is no penalty or even a requirement for us to comply with them."

Corbin also pointed out the AG’s office has spent more than 40 hours of staff time on Straughn’s requests and has not charged him copying fees.

“It also should be noted that the AG’s Office has received 123 records requests from the public in 2012,” wrote Corbin. “Of those 123, Mr. Straughn made five complex multilayered requests that included a total 58 parts and a total 140 sub-parts.”

The story links to the July 25 (12-FC-174)and August 8 (12-FC-180) opinions of the Public Access Counselor.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 7, 2012 09:23 AM
Posted to Indiana Government