Friday, September 21, 2012

State FOI Law: Should it be for citizens only?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Ken Swindle, the attorney who's waging a Freedom of Information Act fight against West Memphis police so that parents of children killed in the West Memphis Three case can see evidence in the case, now officially closed.

The latest obstacle to the effort is West Memphis' contention that plaintiff Mark Byers has no standing to sue because he's not an Arkansas citizen, as the law requires. I've long hated this provision of the law and have frequently volunteered to stand in the place of others seeking public documents from out-of-state.

Swindle has now filed an answer arguing that the Arkansas provision limiting application of the FOI to citizens of the state is unconstitutional. He cites federal case law that the Arkansas attorney general has also cited in supporting openness even for non-citizens.

If a record is open to anyone, it should be open to all. West Memphis should acknowledge that simple truth, whether required or not. The legislature should fix this problem.

UPDATE: Lawyer John Burnett reminds that, because of a settlement of a lawsuit in which he sued state agencies, the auditor and Highway and Transportation Department are OBLIGATED to honor FOI requests from citizens and non-citizens alike. West Memphis is going to lose this fight and have to pay attorney fees in the process, sounds like to me. Why not just open the damn files?

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