Judge denies Iowa governor’s request to dismiss public records lawsuit

By: - May 9, 2022 2:00 am

Some of the requested records pertained to the use of the governor’s mansion. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A lawsuit brought by Iowa Capital Dispatch and others against Gov. Kim Reynolds that alleges her office repeatedly failed to comply with the state’s Open Records Law will proceed, a judge ruled Friday.

Reynolds sought to dismiss the lawsuit, in part because her office provided some of the records after the lawsuit was filed in December and argued the issue was now moot.

District Judge Joseph Seidlin disagreed: “If this was true, then there would be no enforceable obligation to turn over public records until the responsible party or entity is sued.”

45 public information requests

The suit, filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of Iowa Capital Dispatch, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and Bleeding Heartland, alleges that the governor’s office failed to respond to a total of 45 public information requests or renewed requests in the past two years.

Clark Kauffman, deputy editor of Iowa Capital Dispatch, had sought documents pertaining to a dinner at the governor’s mansion that served as a fundraiser for Des Moines Christian School. He also requested communications regarding improper wages paid to the former director of the Iowa Veteran’s Home.

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council and its executive director Randy Evans had requested information about the deployment of Iowa State Patrol employees to Texas to aid border security.

And Laura Belin, publisher of Bleeding Heartland, a political news site that features progressive commentary, had asked for videos the governor’s office might have produced for meatpacking employees near the start of the pandemic, records about the private use of the governor’s mansion and communications about certain legislation.

‘Waited far too long’

Assistant Attorney General Samuel Langholz had argued for the lawsuit’s dismissal because “all records responsive” to those requests had been provided less than three weeks after the lawsuit.

However, Leah Patton, attorney for the ACLU of Iowa, said not all of the requested records have been provided and the governor’s office waited far too long to comply with those requests.

The Open Records Law gives government officials 20 days to determine whether they will provide requested records.

Reynolds has 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.