Ada County won’t appeal Idaho Press Club public records lawsuit

From the Idaho Press

BOISE — The Ada County Board of Commissioners will not appeal a judge’s ruling that the county failed its legal responsibilities to provide public documents.

The board voted 2-1 Monday not to appeal the ruling, with Commissioners Kendra Kenyon and Diana Lachiondo voting against appealing the ruling and Commissioner Rick Visser voting for the appeal according to county spokesperson Elizabeth Duncan.

“While the Board understands Judge Deborah Bail’s decision that the county can be more transparent and timely in releasing public records, it is important to note that under the current board’s direction, internal improvements in process and procedures were already underway long before the judge’s ruling,” a press release from the county said Monday, and noted training for Ada County’s public records custodians “is currently being implemented county wide.”

“We have already taken steps that are improving the way Ada County handles public records requests,” Ada County Commission Chairwoman Kendra Kenyon said in the release. “We have hired a Director of Communications, provided even more clarity on our website, and we directed our staff, and encouraged the attorneys, to be more open and timely in responding to public records requests.”

The Idaho Press Club released a statement Monday in response to the board’s decision not to appeal the ruling.

“The judge’s ruling was crystal clear: Ada County’s delays, denials, over-redactions, excessive fees and vague excuses for withholding public records didn’t stand up in court, and public agencies in our state must comply with the Idaho Public Records Act,” the Press Club’s statement reads. “We look forward to working with them on that basis in the future, and hope the court’s timely reminders of the need to follow this important law resonate with every public agency in our state.”

The Idaho Press Club, a nonprofit trade association of working journalists from all media in Idaho, brought the case on behalf of all of its members, including four journalists whose requests were improperly denied by Ada County.

The lawsuit, involving Idaho Statesman reporters Cynthia Sewell and Katy Moeller, Idaho Public Television reporter Melissa Davlin and Idaho Education News Managing Editor Jennifer Swindell, contended county officials repeatedly violated the state public records law by wrongly denying access to some documents, over-redacting others and otherwise mishandling public information requests.

In Friday’s ruling, 4th District Judge Deborah Bail wrote that the county’s approach to the public records requests it had received from the journalists was so far removed from the requirements of the state law that it was as though the county were doing the opposite of what the Idaho Public Records Act required.

Bail said all of the documents requested by the journalists, with the exception of just a few, must be turned over to them. She also ordered Ada County to pay the Idaho Press Club’s attorneys fees.

“Ada County’s approach to handling the Idaho Public Records Act requests in this case was troubling,” the judge wrote. “The Act favors timeliness, narrow exclusions and openness; Ada County’s approach emphasized delay, unsupportable interpretations of privilege and secrecy.”

From the Idaho Press

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