Senate committee: Both sides entitled to attorney fees in Open Meeting Act lawsuits

A public body that successfully defends itself against an Open Meeting Act lawsuit is entitled to its reasonable attorney fees if the court finds that the suit was "clearly frivolous," a state Senate committee agreed Tuesday. I was surprised that a House committee version approved last week lacked that language.

The Open Records Act already allows public bodies and officials to recover their reasonable attorney fees if the court finds that the records lawsuit was "clearly frivolous." (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.17(C))

However, I cannot recall a public body winning its attorney fees under that provision.

Even with the language, SB 1497 only passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 6-3 margin.

Voting for the bill were its sponsor, David Holt, R-OKC, and Sens. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa; AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie;  Tom Ivester, D-Sayre; Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa; and Anthony Sykes, R-Moore.

Three Republicans voted against the bill: Mark Allen of Spiro, Patrick Anderson of Enid and Rob Johnson of Kingfisher.

The good news is that the Senate and House committees have agreed with what the Court of Civil Appeals had said in July:

Anyone who believes a public body has violated the Open Meeting Act may file a civil lawsuit asking a judge to declare its action invalid without having to prove that he or she was individually injured by the alleged violation.

Public bodies -- supported by your tax dollars -- are fighting this legislation.

Please tell your legislators which side you support.


Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor 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.