Monday, April 18, 2016
Ind. Gov't. - "Legal fee to fight open records suit is more than $160,000"
That is from the headline to an April 5th Fort Wayne Journal Gazette story by Niki Kelly. Some quotes:
INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosier taxpayers have paid $160,000 in legal fees to shield Indiana House and Senate communications from public view in just eight months.Here is a long list of ILB posts on the case, CAC v. Koch. An April 8th editorial in the South Bend Tribune begins:
The final tab will be higher because the most recent tally from the Indiana Auditor’s Office doesn’t include a bill covering the March 17 oral argument before the Indiana Supreme Court. * * *
The suit came after the Indiana House denied the request, saying the Indiana General Assembly is exempt from Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. The state’s Public Access Counselor disagreed and ruled the legislature must comply with the state law.
A Marion County judge dismissed the case on separation-of-powers grounds, since the Supreme Court previously has ruled the judicial branch of government must not interfere in the internal workings of the legislative branch.
Instead of using the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to handle the legal challenge, Bosma hired the Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm in Indianapolis. Specifically, attorney Geoffrey Slaughter, whose rate is $440 per hour, and a second lawyer assisting at a rate of $345 per hour.
Slaughter –a finalist for a spot on the Supreme Court – argued the justices should defer to the legislative branch on questions of process. But he also said if the court does intercede, the request should be denied under a legislative work product exception.
The costs for the case are being split with the Indiana Senate and paid out of legislative General Fund dollars. So far the billing covers from May 2015 to the end of February 2016. The highest single bill was $36,000.
Indiana taxpayers are paying the price for their legislators’ insistence on keeping the public’s business private.
So far, the tab is at $160,000 and still running.
A lawsuit from the Citizens Action Coalition, Common Cause Indiana and Energy and Policy Institute lies at the heart of this taxpayer-funded battle. The nonprofit groups are seeking emails between Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and utility companies regarding his solar power bill. The House had denied an open records request for the correspondence, saying the General Assembly is exempt from Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.
Adding insult to injury, rather than use the state’s attorney general office to defend the lawsuit, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma hired Indianapolis law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister. As revealed last year, the outside attorney charges about $440 an hour; a second lawyer assisting charges $345 an hour.