INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Lawyers for Indiana Governor and Republican Vice President-elect Mike Pence
argued in court Monday that the state’s judicial branch has no authority to
require him to comply with Indiana’s public records law.
The civil case
before Indiana’s Court of Appeals was brought by Indianapolis attorney
William Groth, who 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.
Pence has long
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.
In March, Pence
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.
gubernatorial administration has argued against 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 flatly denied
public records requests filed by The Associated Press and other news
On Monday, Pence
attorney Joseph Chapelle told the judges that the separation of powers
established under the state’s constitution should prevent the court system
from forcing Pence and his immediate staff to comply with the open records
law if they are sued.
“Inquiry into the
personal papers of the governor would (interfere) with the affairs of the
governor’s office,” Chapelle said. “He’s different than other state
The appellate court
took up the case after a lower court ruled that Pence did not have to turn
over emails, billing invoices or a document authored by the chief-of-staff
to now-Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The documents, sought by Groth, outlined
legal arguments for the GOP’s successful challenge to Obama’s immigration
administration released 57 pages of emails with some redactions, as well as
redacted invoices to Groth, a Democrat. But it declined to provide an
attached document that Abbott’s staff had emailed to many Republican
governors while trying to recruit other states to join the legal challenge.
argue 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 Pence’s attorneys also argued that an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that
effectively exempted the state’s General Assembly from releasing emails
should also apply to them.
The state’s highest
court ruled in April that that it could not order the Legislature to release
lawmakers’ email correspondence because it would violate the state
constitution’s separation of powers between the legislative and judicial
branches of government.
ironic because hidden emails were a hot topic during the presidential
campaign,” said Julia Vaughn the policy director for the government watchdog
group Common Cause Indiana.
“He could set an
example by walking the walk and not just talking the talk. Sadly I don’t
expect him to do that.”
A ruling in the
case against Pence is not expected immediately. But government watchdog
groups say that if the courts ultimately agree with Pence’s interpretation,
the Indiana governor’s office would police itself when it comes to the
release of public records, seriously weakening the law by limiting the
ability to sue for records.
Appeals Court Judge
Edward W. Najam, Jr. aggressively questioned Pence’s attorney, asking
Chapelle if he could point to a specific passage in the state’s open records
law that exempted the governor’s office.
“No, your honor,”