Friday, May 22, 2015
A stronger statute giving teeth to the Office of Information Practices could have saved taxpayers $115,272
“The Star-Advertiser was able to see this through to the end, even while the governor ordered appeals that delayed the outcome. But the state’s reaction to our suit is bound to give pause to those who might think about pursuing open records in government on their own.” --Dennis Francis, President and publisher of the Star-Advertiser
by Larry Geller
The Star-Advertiser reported this morning that Governor Ige has signed an appropriation that pays attorneys fees in the paper’s successful lawsuit to break loose the names of nominees for a state judgeship on the list former Governor Abercrombie received from the Judicial Selection Committee.
A total of $115,272 will be taken from our wallets and purses to end this wasteful exercise. Who is to be blamed? Well, first and foremost, Gov. Abercrombie. According to the article, he still thinks he was right. And it was the state’s appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court that drove up the legal fees.
But there is a larger issue. Were the Office of Information Practices able to issue a binding opinion, a court battle could have been either eliminated or the costs reduced. As things stand, though, the OIP is a toothless tiger in situations such as this.
The OIP has assisted me many times over the years in obtaining records or information that was denied by a state agency. I’m grateful they are on the job and willing to stick up for citizen’s rights (and may their staff be increased…). But mere helpful advice would certainly not sway Abercrombie, who apparently thinks he knows better even than a judge. It would have taken stronger powers than the legislature has granted them to have been able to replace the need to go to court.
That $115,272 could have been better spent. Each of us might think of how it could have been used. Looking forward, though, citizens who are concerned with access to information or who have benefited from the OIP’s assistance might work to change and strengthen our laws so that matters such as this one need not necessarily end up before a judge.