The Local Legal Initiative provides local news organizations with direct legal services to pursue enterprise and investigative stories in their communities.
As Oklahoma news organizations find it more difficult to wage legal battles for access to government information, journalists in the state say public officials have become increasingly resistant to news media demands that they comply with open records and open meeting laws. Journalists specifically cited agencies’ penchant for delaying responses to records requests.
Since launching in Oklahoma, Reporters Committee has:
- Intervened on behalf of the Muskogee Phoenix to secure the release of a 911 call recording related to a high-profile murder case, and secure public access to the preliminary hearing transcript associated with the case;
- Helped a journalist obtain critical COVID-19 data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which had previously denied the reporter’s numerous related requests;
- Filed an Oklahoma Open Records Act lawsuit on behalf of the McCurtain Gazette against the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Kevin Clardy for records related to the death of Bobby Barrick following a violent encounter with local law enforcement. The lawsuit resulted in the release of body camera footage and other requested records;
- Successfully represented The Frontier in an Oklahoma Open Records Act case through appeal for records, including jail surveillance video and incident reports, related to the death of Ronald Gene Given following a violent struggle with jailers;
- Settled an Oklahoma Open Records Act case filed on behalf of Oklahoma Watch and reporter Jennifer Palmer, securing the release of more than 14,000 documents from Epic Charter Schools;
- Represented the Osage News in two Osage Nation Open Records Act cases in Osage Nation tribal court, resulting in the release of the requested records in both matters;
- Filed an Oklahoma Open Records Act case on behalf of Oklahoma Watch and reporter Paul Monies against a state agency to obtain records about applications for federal COVID-19 relief funds. Using records obtained through the litigation, the nonprofit news outlet published an investigation revealing which agencies, businesses, and nonprofits requested billions of dollars in pandemic relief aid and what they wanted to fund;
- Filed a public records lawsuit against Oklahoma’s governor and attorney general on behalf of journalist and author Rebecca Nagle seeking emails and other communications between current and former public officials related to a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning Native American land and Indigenous rights, resulting in the release of more than 700 pages of email communications;
- Sent a successful demand letter to the Oklahoma State Department of Health on behalf of a journalist seeking records related to the state’s response to COVID-19 and the privatization of Oklahoma’s public health lab;
- Filed an Oklahoma Open Records Act lawsuit on behalf of Oklahoma Watch and reporter Whitney Bryen for records related to the violent arrest of an elderly woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma;
- Provided pre-publication review assistance to journalists and news organizations, including those behind “Bad Press,” a documentary film chronicling the long fight for a free press on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation in Oklahoma. The film premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival where it received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Freedom of Expression;
- Published a primer on press freedom and information access in the nearly 40 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma;
- Assisted dozens of journalists across the state with their legal questions or issues through the Reporters Committee’s hotline;
- Educated roughly 100 journalists and others through virtual presentations or trainings.