By BRIAN SLODYSKO
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana court has rejected an argument by former
governor and Vice President-elect Mike Pence that would have exempted his
office in practice from complying with the state's public records law.
civil case decided by Indiana's Court of Appeals was brought by Democratic
Indianapolis attorney William Groth. He sued in 2015 after the Pence
administration denied a request for un-redacted records, including a
document related to Republican efforts to stop President Barack Obama's
immigration executive order.
court ruled Monday that Pence could refuse to release the un-redacted
records, as well as a paper written by GOP state officials in Texas
outlining a legal strategy for the successful challenge to Obama's executive
the three-member court said Pence went too far in arguing that the Indiana
governor's office could police its own compliance with the law and the
courts had no authority to intervene.
would "in effect render (the public records law) meaningless as applied to
him and his staff," the court said in the ruling. The law "does not provide
for any such absolute privilege."
Pence has presented himself as a champion of a free press and the First
Amendment. That's a contrast to President-elect Donald Trump who made
attacks on reporters a hallmark of his campaign and refused to release his
tax records as other modern presidential candidates have done.
Pence, whose gubernatorial administration ended Monday, has also resisted
the public release of emails and other documents that could shed light on
his tenure as governor. In some cases, his office has withheld documents,
delayed responses or denied public records requests filed by The Associated
Press and other news organizations
That's at odds with public positions Pence has taken on similar matters. In
March, he vetoed a bill that would have exempted private universities from
releasing some police records, calling it "a disservice to the public and an
unnecessary barrier to transparency." And on the campaign trail he
aggressively criticized Democrat Hillary Clinton for refusing to release
emails sent from a private server she maintained while secretary of state.
While the court ruled against Pence's assertion that the governor's office
can police their own compliance with the public records law, his attorney,
Joseph Chapelle, said Tuesday that he was "very happy" with the decision.
And he said whether or not Pence is exempt from the law is "still a little
bit of an open issue."
thought that was a valid argument, but our main thrust was that this
material was protected," said Chapelle. "In many ways the judges agreed with
While all three judges in the case decided Monday agreed that Pence was not
exempt from the public records law, two agreed that attorney client
privilege, among other public records exemptions, protected Pence from
releasing of the white paper.
Chief Judge Nancy H. Vaidik in a dissenting opinion said the immigration
paper, authored by the chief-of-staff to now-Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, was not
protected. She wrote that attorney-client privilege had not been established
because the email including the paper was circulated to many Republican
governors and amounted to a solicitation to join the case against Obama.
Pence's attorneys had argued during a November hearing that the governor's
office acted within its rights by refusing to release the records, which
they say are "work product" that is "deliberative" in nature and also
protected by attorney client privilege. But they also said an Indiana
Supreme Court ruling in April, effectively exempting the state's General
Assembly from releasing emails, should also apply to them.
Groth said Tuesday that the court's ruling this week was akin to losing a
battle but winning the war. He has not yet decided if he will appeal, but
noted that the appellate court ruling set a precedent that strengthened the
state's public records law.
"That may be an argument in favor of leaving it alone," he said.