Louisiana AG Sues Journalists To Keep Them From Obtaining Documents Detailing Sexual Harassment By Top Prosecutor

from the The-Man-says-The-Man-will-not-be-releasing-records-about-The-Man dept

Another public official is attempting to make the public records request process even more aggravating and expensive than it already is.

In many cases, the public does what it's allowed to do: request records. And, in many cases, governments refuse to do what they're obligated to do. So, people sue. They dig into their own pockets and force the government to do what they were always supposed to do. And when they do this, the general public digs deep into their own pockets to pay government agencies to argue against the public's interests.

This is diabolical enough. It's also, unfortunately, the standard M.O. for government agencies. Pay-to-play. Every FOIA request is a truth-or-dare game played on a field slanted towards the government, which has unlimited public funds to gamble with.

But when just being dicks about isn't diabolical enough, government agencies and officials go further. When it's simply not enough to engage in litigation as defendants and argue against accountability and transparency, these entities go on the offensive.

That's right. Government agencies and officials occasionally engage in proactive lawsuits, daring the defendants (i.e., citizens making public records requests) to prove they're entitled to the documents. This shifts the burden away from the government and onto the person with limited funds and almost nonexistent power. It's no different than demanding millions for the production of PDFs. It's an option deployed solely for the purpose of keeping everything under wraps.

The latest participant in the "fuck the public and our obligations as public servants" is Louisiana's Attorney General.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry on Friday sued a reporter for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune over a public-records request she filed, asking a judge to issue a declaratory judgment denying the request and seal the proceedings.

The unusual action came a few days after the newspaper warned Landry that it intended to sue him if he didn’t turn over the requested records.

Welcome to Louisiana -- a state where government officials and employees don't even need to camouflage their desire to screw the people they're supposed to be serving because a whole bunch of local laws encourage this screwing. In this case, the AG undid the lawsuit threat -- one predicated on the state's refusal to hand over requested documents -- by firing off a lawsuit of his own. And just like that, the burden of proof needed to keep these documents out of the public's hands has been shifted to the public, as represented by the Times-Picayune.

One has to ask why the AG would need to keep these records hidden. There's alleged malfeasance afoot, and the sooner the public has some straight answers, the sooner this can be taken care of. The AG's decision to insert himself and his disingenuous lawsuit into the proceedings makes everyone involved look guilty... especially since the malfeasance is coming from inside the house.

The matter dates to Dec. 14, when the reporter, Andrea Gallo, first filed a public records request with Landry’s office seeking copies of sexual harassment complaints against Pat Magee, the head of the office’s criminal division, and records of how the complaints were handled. Magee was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation that day.

It's a terrible move in terms of optics. But it's a brilliant move if you care less about optics than protecting your government brothers (and, to a much lesser extent, sisters).

This is the sort of thing that would be greatly served by proactive transparency. Maybe the allegations are false. Maybe they're substantiated. But deciding to sue records requesters rather than turn over documents suggests it's the latter. And it suggests a cover-up in the works -- one that, at the very least, will allow the accused to resign before it can affect the accused's career or pension.

Optics matter. And they matter even before the facts are in. Being upfront with the people you serve generates goodwill -- something that's valuable to have in your pocket when government employees screw up. Suing the public before they can sue you says the public is subservient to their supposed public servants. It says the government would rather anger people and drain them of their money than engage honestly with the problem and carry out their obligations to the public.

This is garbage. But it's the same overheated garbage we've seen for years. And nothing will change as long as government agencies can use tax dollars to pay for legal arguments against transparency and accountability.

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Filed Under: foia, jeff landry, journalism, louisiana, pat magee, sexual harassment, transparency


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  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 4:37pm

    One thought

    Would be to require DAs (and other public agencies) to take the money out of their personnel budgets and bonuses, instead of general fund monies.

    Also, you gotta wonder why Attorney General Jeff Landry is covering for Pat Magee's sexual harassment complaints. Does Landry have skeletons?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 4:47pm

    No-one hides exculpatory evidence

    Because nothing says 'those allegations of sexual abuse are definitely bogus and we only just learned about the issue so we're as surprised as you are' quite like suing to keep relevant records away from the public.

    With this move they might as well have paid for a hundred foot tall neon sign in the state's capitol to tell the world that there is most certainly some really damning information in those documents that the AG don't want made public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2021 @ 7:55am

      Re: No-one hides exculpatory evidence

      Well ... DAs seem to hide exculpatory evidence all the time. It's called a Brady violation and seems to be one of the top reasons for overturning of convictions, often decades later when it comes to light that the DAs may not have played the trial game straight.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 6:37pm

    Optics matter.

    Would said optics perhaps involve a glass belly button, the kind that distorts one's vision??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 7:19pm

    They realize that they can't use the standard exceptions, so they are pinning their hopes on

    a constitutional right to privacy and policies within the Attorney General's office and state Civil Service that call for confidentiality in such investigations.

    Good luck with that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ChristopherClarkMucend (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 11:52pm

      Re:

      Interesting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Feb 2021 @ 2:10am

      Re:

      Hopefully they get slapped down hard on that one because if that excuse flies then damn is it going to be easy for DAs or prosecutors to hide in-house skeletons, all they'd need to do is claim that they're investigating something and like that it's out of reach of people who might actually want wrongdoing to stop.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 7:36pm

    We, the people, can’t properly hold civil servants accountable if we can’t have a full accounting of what they do while they serve us. We have a right to know what our elected officials — and the people hired by those officials — are doing on the taxpayer’s dime. That includes both good deeds and ill.

    No one should stand above the law. No one should sit beyond accountability. Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum — let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 12 Feb 2021 @ 6:30am

      Re:

      No one should stand above the law. No one should sit beyond accountability. Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum — let justice be done, though the heavens may fall

      The U.S. courts take the opposite view for government functions, using the rubric ``qualified immunity''. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993). Step outside of your function, and there may be some risk, but the courts will take a broad view of what your function is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 12 Feb 2021 @ 7:31am

        Re: Re:

        The U.S. courts take the opposite view for government functions, using the rubric ["]qualified immunity["].

        And in that regard, the courts are wrong.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2021 @ 7:57am

        Re: Re:

        I'm pretty sure sexual harassment is not part of their function... but then again this is Louisiana, so maybe I'm wrong.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 12 Feb 2021 @ 6:17am

    One suggestion

    Would be to require DAs (and other public agencies) to take the money out of their personnel budgets and bonuses, instead of general fund monies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NoLongerBreathedIn, 12 Feb 2021 @ 9:18am

    It’s a good thing that the burden of proof in declaratory judgement cases falls on the same party as in the theoretical non-declaratory case. At least, that’s what the FRCP say. Louisiana may be insane on this one too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Feb 2021 @ 8:21pm

    any records that are eligible for PUBLIC RECORD should be placed online free of charge for ALL to see. none of this hiding shit or denying records because it may give them a black eye!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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