State court upholds release of arrest records
OKLAHOMA — The state Supreme Court ruled in late December that the city properly released its records of a legislative nominee’s arrest on charges of drunken driving under the Oklahoma Open Records Act even though the town’s municipal court had expunged court records of the nominee’s guilty plea.
In 1992, Lawton City Council member Minette Page was in a hotly contested runoff election for Democratic nomination for the Oklahoma legislature against Ron Kirby and sought records of drunk driving charges against Kirby in 1981, 1982 and 1991. The city did not provide Page with a copy of Kirby’s 1991 guilty plea because the court had expunged that from the record, but it complied with her request for other records of the arrests.
Kirby won the runoff and general elections.
After the election he sued the city for $100,000, claiming that the city had failed to give him notice and a chance to give his views on whether his arrest records should be released to Page. In the district court in Lawton he cited a 1987 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in a suit brought by the Tulsa Tribune, holding that before releasing public records, records custodians first must contact persons whose interests would be affected by disclosure.
The city of Lawton asked the district judge to dismiss the case. The Oklahoma legislature in 1988 had specifically amended its open records act to change the court’s rule in the Tulsa Tribune case, the city said. The amended open records law requires release of records unless a state or federal statute mandates confidentiality, the city said.
When the judge refused to dismiss the case, the city appealed to the Supreme Court in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Press Association filed a friend of the court brief urging the high court to rule in the city’s favor.
The high court ordered the case dismissed in late December. Expungement by a court of a sentence does not authorize expungement of arrest records, the court said, noting that the city had no obligation to give Kirby notice or a hearing on release of the arrest records.
(City of Lawton v. Hon. Peter Clinton Moore; Media Counsel: Michael Minnis, Oklahoma City)