Open Records Act lawsuit filed against Muskogee County district attorney, who claims IT department cannot search emails for requested documents
The operator of an online news service filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore of violating the Open Records Act by not producing documents concerning courthouse security and surveillance when they were requested.
Leif Wright's lawsuit also asks a judge to order Moore to provide requested emails on the subject.
Moore has told Wright's attorney that the IT department housing the emails cannot search them for the requested records.
In September, the Muskogee County Bar Association filed a complaint against Moore accusing him and others in his office of having access to live audio and video feeds of courtrooms while defense lawyers privately consulted with clients, the Muskogee Phoenix reported.
In October, Wright, who operates Muskogeenow.com, requested from Moore's office all records related to the recording of video and audio in the Muskogee County Courthouse.
Moore responded in a letter to Wright's attorney, Ronald E. Durbin II of Tulsa, that most of the records did not exist.
Durbin responded in writing that he found it "extremely difficult to believe that, given the nature of the controversy related to this issue, that no emails and/or text messages exist" and that he had reason to believe they did.
Moore subsequently provided a number of the documents.
However, in a Nov. 7 letter to Durbin, Moore said the District Attorneys Council Information Technology Division, which stores his office emails, "did not have the technological capability to conduct such [a] search for e-mails or text messages."
Wright's lawsuit contends that Moore's office does have the capability to search emails and asks a judge to order Moore to do so.
The lawsuit also accuses Moore of violating the Open Records Act by not providing documents when they were first requested.
Moore told the Muskogee Phoenix Thursday night that had not seen the petition but that he and his office had complied with Wright's request.
"We have given him what he has requested under the Open Records Act," Moore told the newspaper. "You can't give them what you don't have. We've searched the records to the best of our ability and have found nothing else."
But Wright counters in a column this morning:
Moore said he isn't obligated to give the public those public documents, since he has no way to search them.
We believe it is, however, his obligation to do so, and it stretches credulity to say that, in 2012, somehow emails are completely unsearchable.
The most basic home computer has the ability to search emails, why doesn't the agency in charge of making sure those emails get archived have the ability to search them once they're archived?
Darn good question.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.