Brick wall, meet head. Head, meet brick wall. Bang, bang, bang.
Honestly, some of the attorneys for cities in this state are unbelievable. I am the first lawyer in the world to admit I don't know everything. Heck, some days I think that I don't know anything. But at least I'm willing to read and try to find out the answer for my client. And I know enough to know that if I have a question about what a statute means, I need to go read the case law that relates to it, rather than claim that what I'm being told is wrong just because I don't see that interpretation in the words of the statute.
This week a newspaper in the state requested a copy of minutes of a city council meeting where a settlement was approved. There's no question that the settlement has been approved. In fact, a copy of the settlement has been released to the paper.
The paper asks for a copy of the minutes of the meeting where the settlement was approved. The city attorney says, No, those minutes have not been approved by the city council yet. The paper calls me. I tell them to go tell the city attorney that the draft minutes, which the paper has been told are still in handwritten form, are a public record and need to be released to the paper.
The city attorney responds, Where in the statute does the word "draft" appear? Is this the opinion of your attorney? I don't see anywhere in the law where it says draft minutes must be made public, he is adamant.
Right. The word "draft" is not there. Neither is the word "stupid." Does the statute have to say "read the cases" in order for you to understand that that's how statutes are interpreted? That's part of Law School 101, my friend.
And case law is clear; in fact there are two cases on this subject. One says a draft report of a federal agency is a public record. Another says a temporary record created by a sheriff's department is a public record if it is being retained by the public governmental body when the request for access to it is made.
Both cases are in the Sunshine Law book published by the Attorney General's office. Perhaps it might be a good idea for this attorney to go read those cases if he expects to advise a municipality about the sunshine law.
The training by our new Attorney General's office can't start soon enough. And be sure to invite municipal lawyers when you plan the events. At least one really needs the instruction!