LouisianaVoice is launching its third fundraiser during the month of May and while past support has been appreciated more than you could ever know, this one has a greater sense of urgency to it than before.
Where the previous fundraisers helped defray the costs of travel and paying for public records, etc., this one will be used for an even more expensive—and more important—endeavor: covering mounting legal costs.
We are currently engaged in a court battle with the Division of Administration (DOA) over DOA’s pattern of delay in complying with the state’s public records laws (R.S. 44:1 et seq.).
To illustrate DOA’s tactics, here is one glaring example:
Last October 14, we made an official FOIA request for information pertaining to the $350 million contract between the Office of Group Benefits and a California company called MedImpact.
Believing DOA was deliberately stalling in complying with our requests, we had a friendly (but unidentified) legislator make the identical request through the House Legislative Services Office. That request was submitted the same day (Oct. 14, 2014) as our request.
On Oct. 21, 2014, we received the following response to our request:
- Pursuant to your public records request, we are still searching for records and/or reviewing them for exemptions and privileges. Once finished with the review process, all non-exempt records will be made available to you. It is estimated the records will be available on or before October 31, 2014.
The House Legislative Services Office spokesperson received the following response to its request from DOA two days later, on Oct. 23, 2014:
- You requested the MedImpact contract, Notice of Intent to Contract, ratings, and recommendations for awarding the contract. Please note the contract contains some proprietary and/or confidential information that has been redacted under La. R.S. 44:3.1. We have scanned these records. They are too large to email, so I can bring a CD over. I heard you’re out of the office. Do you want me to drop it off for you or wait until you get back?
So we were promised the records eight days later than the House Legislative Services Office and while that illustrates a deliberate delay on DOA’s part, it was not completely unreasonable and was hardly a basis for litigation. It didn’t even upset us that DOA would hand deliver the records to the legislature but require that I drive in from Denham Springs to review them.
But the fact is we never received the records—until, that is, after we filed our lawsuit in January of 2015. Once the lawsuit was filed, of course, they were immediately delivered to our attorney’s office—nearly three months after they had been delivered across the street to the legislature.
That was just the most egregious case, but we actually filed our lawsuit on the basis of shorter but nevertheless unnecessary—and purposeful—delays in compliance with other several other requests.
The records we have requested are for actions by agencies of the state which affect you, the taxpayer. Because most media outlets are concerned with only the surface treatment of news stories, we attempt to pry deeper into the cause and effect aspect of state government—relationships between vendor and vendee, between elected officials and campaign donors, between contributions and contracts and board appointments. In short, we follow the money.
Government in general is uncomfortable with this and this administration in particular abhors scrutiny. That’s why DOA had instituted a deliberate strategy of delay when it comes to complying with our records requests. One former employee of DOA told us that it was common practice for DOA to get the records we request and then simply let them sit in a corner for weeks at a time before finally allowing us to inspect them. This is not the way to build trust between the government and the governed.
And it is not acceptable to us.
That is the reason we filed suit.
Our lawsuit is scheduled for trial this month and no matter which way the judge rules, the decision is quite likely to move to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. It’s that important to us if we lose and apparently, it’s equally important that the administration hide its actions from public examination.
Either way, it has already cost us a lot of money in terms of legal fees. And an appeal is going to cost a lot more. If we win, DOA will appeal in an attempt to make it cost-prohibitive to fight them by forcing us to continue paying legal costs until our resources are exhausted and we allow the case to abandon. That’s what happened with the case of a dentist who was pursuing legal action against the State Dentistry Board. DOA has attorneys on staff being paid with your tax dollars; it’s not costing Kristy Nichols a dime to stay in the game.
That is why we need your help now more than ever.
Please click on the button near the top right part of our web page to donate by credit card.
If you prefer to mail checks or money orders, please make payable to:
Capitol News Service/LouisianaVoice
P.O. Box 922
Denham Springs, LA. 70727
Whichever way you choose to contribute, your help in our fight to make state government more transparent and accountable is both needed and appreciated.