Oklahoma Supreme Court sides with Gov. Fallin in open records lawsuit filed by ACLU
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has issued a ruling in a high-profile case that questioned exactly what information state leaders were allowed to keep private.
The case was filed earlier this year by The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma on behalf of the owners of the popular Oklahoma news and satirical blog ‘The Lost Ogle.’
‘The Lost Ogle’ and several news outlets across the state had filed open records requests to obtain documents from the governor’s office that talked about her decision related to the Affordable Care Act.
Following the requests, the governor released thousands of documents.
However, Gov. Fallin withheld certain papers she claimed were protected under her ‘executive privilege.’
Fallin claims that she did not disclose the documents due to attorney-client privilege, executive privilege. and deliberative process privilege.
In June, Oklahoma County District Judge Barbara Swinton ruled that Fallin could withhold documents under ‘executive process privilege.’
The ‘executive process privilege’ is an exception to the Oklahoma Open Records Act that is supported by the Supreme Court.
The ACLU of Oklahoma then filed an appeal, asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s decision, which allowed Gov. Fallin to withhold some of the records from the public.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of the governor, saying she does have a special ‘executive privilege’ to protect confidential information given to her by top officials while deliberating policy and making executive decisions.
Even though the court ruled in favor of Gov. Fallin, the ACLU believes it is a victory for the people of Oklahoma.
This decision limits any claim of executive privilege to a very narrow set of confidential communications between the Governor and senior officials. More importantly, it places the burden on the Governor to prove in court that any disputed claim of privilege is valid, guaranteeing judicial oversight and scrutiny of the Governor’s claim. Finally, it provides a balancing test in which a court can decide whether the public interest more strongly favors disclosure of confidential communications that the Governor seeks to keep secret, and order their release over the Governor’s objections. Because of this, our rights to government transparency and accountability are now stronger than they were before this decision was issued. Governor Fallin’s practice of unilaterally withholding documents without accountability or oversight is at an end.” – Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director
“Despite recognizing a privilege that does not appear in the Open Records Act, today’s opinion represents a victory for our client and for the people of Oklahoma. From the outset of this case, we have maintained that the Governor does not have the authority to unilaterally hide records without justification. In this opinion, the Supreme Court revoked the Governor’s self-issued blank check, shifted the burden of proof to the executive branch, and affirmed our insistence upon judicial oversight. As a result,We are very grateful to our client for having the courage to challenge an unchecked practice of twisting the law to keep the people of Oklahoma in the dark about the politics behind consequential policy decisions.” – Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director