OKLAHOMA CITY – Following many attempts to convince the Office of the Governor to comply voluntarily with the Oklahoma Open Records Act, The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today against Governor Mary Fallin and the Office of the Governor in Oklahoma County District Court.
The suit was filed on behalf of Vandelay Entertainment, LLC, parent company of local news and satire outlet The Lost Ogle, who joined with numerous major news organizations this past four months in pressing the Governor to release documents relating to her reversal of position on a state health care exchange and rejection of medicaid expansion funding that could have made health coverage available to approximately 200,000 poor Oklahomans.
The Governor’s Office released a large number of documents on March 29, but it withheld thirty-one records at the direction of Steve Mullins, the Governor’s General Counsel. Mullins has cited “executive privilege,” a doctrine that has never been part of Oklahoma law, to argue that the Governor can legally conceal public records at her choosing. His assertion has received nearly universal condemnation from freedom of information experts and advocates for government transparency.
“Mr. Mullins has repeatedly told the press and the people of Oklahoma that Fallin’s privileged position entitles her to disregard parts of the Oklahoma Open Records Act,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director of ACLU of Oklahoma, “in other words, that as Governor, she is above the law.”
Oklahoma’s current Open Records Act was enacted in 1985. It requires records created or maintained at public expense to be open to public inspection so that citizens may obtain free information about their government. In the law’s nearly thirty-year history, no prior governor or other executive official has claimed any type of executive privilege against complying with its requirement of free access. “Mary Fallin is the first Governor of Oklahoma to challenge the people’s right to be fully informed about their government,” Henderson said, “we filed this lawsuit to make sure she also will be the last.”