Judges stand up for open records

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

To: Public Employees-All.
From: The Idaho Statesman editorial board.
Date: May 8, 2007.
Re: BTW …

… if you’re a public employee using a public e-mail account on taxpayer time, you have generated a public record.


Believe it or not, the Idaho Supreme Court was actually asked to settle this. IMHO, the court probably had more serious legal issues to deal with, but what do you do?

Kootenai County commissioners went to the Supreme Court because they didn’t want to release more than 1,000 e-mails between Prosecutor Bill Douglas and Marina Kalani, who used to run a federally funded juvenile drug court in Kootenai County.

A newspaper, the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., wanted the e-mails so it can figure out what went wrong with the court’s drug program, which was shut down in 2005. The county argued the e-mails were private, and Kalani argued that they should be treated the same as personnel records. Douglas told the Spokesman-Review that the e-mails “constitute nothing more than innocent sarcasm, bantering and joking between myself and a subordinate.”

We’ll judge for ourselves. The court certainly did. “It is clear the e-mails contain information relating to the conduct and administration of the public’s business,” says Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick. He was speaking on behalf of the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-0 Friday to release the e-mails.

FYI, the court got this absolutely right.

The five justices read the law. Especially this part: “There is a presumption that all public records in Idaho are open at all reasonable times for inspection except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.”

Take it from the court: There’s no exemption covering “innocent sarcasm, bantering and joking.”

The court gets it. Douglas doesn’t seem to. Here’s what he told the Spokesman-Review after the court ruling. “There is no privacy right in private e-mails between government employees, and I feel that is unfortunate.”


When public employees use their public e-mail accounts to communicate, what exactly is private about that?

We hope the Supreme Court decision clarifies any conclusion. If you have questions, do not hesitate to e-mail. But be careful what you write. Taxpayers could be reading. It’s their right, you know … 😉

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

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