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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "The court is giving up its ability to check another branch of government, and that should worry people”

That is a quote from a Terre Haute Trib-Star editorial, here as reprinted in the Washington Indiana Times-Herald, about the case that will be argued next next Monday before the Court of Appeals, William Groth v. Mike Pence:

TERRE HAUTE -- Pence now trying to shield his email from public scrutiny

Indiana government needs all of the transparency possible right now. Its one-party rule, cemented by the Nov. 8 election, complicates checks and balances on abuses of power.

As a result, an upcoming decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals holds particular importance.

The case involves the administration of Gov. Mike Pence, also now the vice president-elect, concealing the contents of an email sent to Pence by a political ally, according to the Indianapolis Star. Of course, there is deep irony of Pence working to shield email from public scrutiny after he and presidential running mate Donald Trump relentlessly hammered Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for hiding and deleting emails during her years as U.S. secretary of state. Hypocrisy was a cornerstone tactic of nearly all campaigns for national offices in 2016.

This situation, though, could affect open government practices in Indiana long after any flavor-of-the-month election argument subsides.

President Obama in 2014 issued an executive order as a partial remedy to longstanding immigration problems. He offered temporary legal status to nearly four million undocumented immigrants in the country, deferring deportation of parents of children born in the United States and of children who entered the country before age 16.

As with most actions taken or endorsed by the president, Pence and fellow Republican governors immediately objected and worked to fight Obama’s executive order. That reaction and challenge is fine and part of the nation’s important mix of opposing parties and voices of dissent. The governors’ revolt relied on a lawsuit instigated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Pence joined the lawsuit with an OK from Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, and hired Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg to represent Indiana on the case.

Later in 2014, an Indy attorney, William Groth, sought information on Pence’s choice to join the lawsuit and hire an attorney, and the cost to taxpayers.

Groth told the Star that the governor’s action “was a waste of taxpayer dollars, and the people have the right to know how much of their money was spent.”

In response, Pence supplied the documents Groth questioned, but with numerous redacted passages. Also, an attached document to an email from Abbott’s chief of staff to Pence and others around the country, was withheld. A Pence spokesman explained the email was shielded under “attorney-client privilege.”

In April, the Marion County Superior Court said the redacted elements could not be second-guessed by the court. Groth appealed that ruling, saying the law was misapplied by the lower court, the Star said. On Monday, Nov. 21, the Appeals Court will conduct oral arguments on the situation.

Beyond the administration’s withholding of this particular information, the greater concern is that an Appeals Court decision favoring the governor’s office could weaken the Access to Public Records Act in Indiana.

It could also remove a judicial branch check and balance on the executive branch. As an Indiana University legal expert told the Star, “The court is giving up its ability to check another branch of government, and that should worry people.”

As governor and vice president-elect, Pence should walk the campaign talk and release the email in question and let open government prevail.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 17, 2016 09:20 AM
Posted to Indiana Government