If a government agency in Idaho violates the Idaho Public Records Law, there’s only one thing you can do: Go to court. Under the law, that’s the “sole remedy.” You get a lawyer and file a lawsuit. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s obvious why not: Getting a lawyer and going to court is a costly and difficult proposition.
But it’s happening right now, with the Idaho Press Club suing Ada County over repeated violations of the law, citing four separate instances since February involving multiple Idaho journalists from multiple news organizations.
“Ultimately, our only recourse is to sue, and unfortunately that’s what it came to,” said Melissa Davlin, Idaho Press Club vice president and 1st Amendment Committee chair. “We’re hoping that it effects change not just within Ada County … but statewide. We’re hoping government entities pay attention to this and see that the Idaho Press Club is serious about them following the law.”
Davlin also is a reporter, host and producer at Idaho Public Television. (And full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Press Club.) The four journalists named in the suit are Davlin; Idaho Education News reporter Jennifer Swindell; and Idaho Statesman reporters Cynthia Sewell and Katy Moeller; all are Idaho Press Club members.
All filed public records requests with Ada County, and the responses they received failed to follow the law in an array of ways.
Deborah Ferguson, lead attorney for the Press Club in the case, said journalists are seeking access to government information “that is just absolutely essential to them doing their job and doing it well, so that we have a well-informed public. They need this information, and they are entitled to it.”
“What I found very compelling here, when approached by the Idaho Press Club, is that this is not an isolated instance," she said. "This is a pattern and practice. They are basically not following the Idaho Public Records Act." You can read my full column here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up today's Sunday/Monday edition of the Idaho Press.