LPA questions public records exemption

by Heather Miller

More government emails could be shielded from state public records laws.

A Louisiana attorney general opinion and recent court ruling that exempts certain government emails from the state's public record laws have raised the eyebrows of the state's official media trade organization.

According to the Baton Rouge Business Report's website, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has weighed in on the email issue in a published opinion that says "purely personal nature sent on a public e-mail account with no relation to public business are not public records subject to disclosure."

The opinion from Caldwell was sent to Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham, the Business Report writes, and comes after a state district court judge ruled that Murphy Painter, former Alcohol & Tobacco Control commissioner, was not allowed access to his former employee's personal emails sent from her state government email address. That same employee, Kelli Suire, is suing her former boss Painter for stalking and sexual harassment. Painter also reportedly performed illegal background checks on almost 1,500 people before he resigned amid scandal.

The ruling that sought to protect Suire's privacy has many, including the Louisiana Press Association, concerned about the "scope" of the decision and its potential to shield public information through a loose interpretation:

Both the court ruling and the attorney general's opinion could more broadly limit public access to the correspondence of thousands of other elected officials and government employees throughout Louisiana. LPA Executive Director Pam Mitchell tells the Business Report that the organization will take up the issue when its executive board meets next week at the LPA conference in Marksville.