The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday on behalf of seven media organizations, urging the Supreme Court of Indiana to recognize the public’s right to records of a legal settlement between an Indiana city and a former employee.
The newspaper, the Knightstown Banner, had requested from the Town of Knightstown a copy of a settlement agreement in a sexual harassment lawsuit, but the town argued that because it had drawn up the agreement through its private insurance company and the insurance company’s outside attorney, it was not required to release it under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.
“If it weren’t such a serious violation of the public trust, the City of Knightstown’s ludicrous efforts to hide this settlement would be laughable,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee.
The Indiana Court of Appeals recognized the town’s attempt to circumvent both the law and its underlying purpose, and ruled that the agreement had been created on behalf of the town and was subject to release under the law. In its brief, the Reporters Committee urged the Indiana Supreme Court to refuse to hear this case, allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand, or, to hear the case and adopt as law the interpretation of Indiana’s open records law set forth by the appellate court.
“Public bodies dealing with sensitive material cannot avoid public disclosure by simply delegating or assigning away delicate decisions,” the brief argues. “The Town’s argument that it did not create or keep records of the Settlement Agreement is an attempt to circumvent the purpose and intent of the APRA. . . . The Court of Appeals correctly saw through this flawed argument to what the Town was really attempting to do — preclude disclosure of sensitive documents it wished to remain confidential.”
Joining the Reporters Committee in the brief were the American Society of Newspaper Editors, E.W. Scripps Co., Hoosier State Press Association Foundation, National Newspaper Association, Radio-Television News Directors of America and the Society of Professional Journalists.