Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry on Friday filed a lawsuit against a journalist at The Advocate, the state’s largest daily newspaper, for making a public records request which sought copies of all sexual harassment complaints filed against one of Landry’s top deputies, the paper reported Friday.
The complaint stems from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by reporter Andrea Gallo on Dec. 14 asking the office of the attorney general for copies of sexual harassment complaints against Deputy A.G. Pat Magee and details regarding how the complaints were handled. Magee, the head of the office’s criminal division, had been placed on leave earlier that day pending an investigation into the allegations.
“The only complaints against Mr. Magee are part of the ongoing investigation,” Landry’s office wrote in an initial response to the request, per The Advocate. “As long as the investigation is still open, the records are considered confidential and cannot be disclosed at the moment. Once the investigation has been officially closed, the records will be available for review.”
After the internal investigation conducted by attorney Vicki Crochet concluded that the deputy A.G. had “engaged in inappropriate verbal conversations,” Magee returned to work on Jan. 19, but the records still were not produced.
Three days later, Landry’s office told the news outlet that the records would be sent within the next week, but soon thereafter claimed that the complaint could not be publicly released because of privacy concerns and policies that required confidentiality.
The Advocate’s attorney, Scott Sternberg, responded in a Feb. 2 letter. He said the news outlet “would invite redaction of the initial complaint to protect the identity of the victim, but that is the only privacy interest even arguably applicable.” He received no response until Landry’s office filed the lawsuit.
“Mr. Landry is using taxpayer dollars and the power of his office to punish a citizen for demanding public records about public employees,” Sternberg said. “His office’s actions are a perversion of the law and the system. We stand behind the request, and believe the judge will agree with Ms. Gallo that Mr. Landry’s actions are arbitrary and capricious.”
Landry’s attorneys are asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment rejecting Gallo’s request and seal the proceedings.
“You have demanded information which will compromise the rights of our employees and could lead to litigation over the violation of those rights,” Landry’s attorneys wrote. “Allegations of sexual harassment that turn out to be unsupported, inaccurate and unfounded can destroy marriages, damage employee’s children, wreck families and ruin reputations.”
Peter Kovacs, the Advocate’s editor, said the lawsuit was like nothing he’d ever experienced before.
“In my 40 years as an editor, I’ve never seen a journalist get sued for requesting a public record,” he said. “We’re not intimidated. In fact, we’re more determined.”
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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