Judge refuses to force Iowa Senate to release detailed records of legislators’ phone calls
IOWA — The Iowa Senate does not have to produce detailed records of legislators’ telephone calls under the state’s open records act, a state trial court in Des Moines ruled in mid-May.
In March 1993 the Des Moines Register and Tribune requested all state Senate telephone records from 1990 to 1993. The Senate furnished the total telephone charges for each telephone, but refused to release detailed reports showing the time, destination and duration of each long- distance call.
In September 1993, the Senate adopted a policy requiring “unfettered public access” to all telephone records that do not contain itemized call details, but keeping confidential all records that reveal such details.
The Register and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council sued for access to the records in the Polk County District Court in Des Moines in the fall of 1993. They argued that the Iowa Open Records Act required the release of all of the telephone records.
The Senate moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Iowa Constitution gave the Senate exclusive authority to determine whether the requested information should be disclosed. The Senate further argued that the court should refrain from ruling on issues involving the conduct of legislative business under the “separation of powers” doctrine.
Judge Robert A. Hutchinson ruled in favor of the Senate in mid-May, finding that the alleged failure of the Senate to comply with the open records law is a political question that must be addressed in the political arena rather than by the judiciary.
(Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. v. Dwyer; Media Counsel: Michael Giudicessi and K.J. Walker, Des Moines)