Iowa Supreme Court Sides With Reporters in Records Case

April 14, 2023 by Dan McCue
Iowa Supreme Court Sides With Reporters in Records Case
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at the Gathering Place in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Matt A.Johnson)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The office of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds deliberately ignored the state’s open records law during the coronavirus pandemic, regularly failing to release requested information about the state’s response, the Iowa Supreme Court said on Friday.

With that, the court denied an appeal from the governor, who sought a dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, the Iowa Capitol Dispatch and Bleeding Heartland.

The plaintiffs filed suit against Reynolds’ office in December 2021, citing a number of records requests that often went unanswered for several months.

They are seeking a court order forcing the governor’s office to comply with the state’s Open Records Law, as well as payment of their court costs and attorneys fees.

The governor’s office responded to the lawsuit by addressing all outstanding Freedom of Information requests, and then went to the court, arguing that a) there is no timeliness requirement in the open records law, and b) that because the responses had by then been made, the litigation was moot.

However, the justices of the Iowa Supreme Court disagreed, noting that timeliness is a key factor in responding to open records requests and to encourage the free and open examination of such records.

The court then went on to say that even in cases where the governor’s office appeared to respond in a timely fashion, it did so in such a way — redacting portions of some records, refusing to release others at all — that left it open to legal challenges.

Now that the Iowa Supreme Court has weighed in, the case is going back to the state district court for further deliberations.

In a written statement, Reynolds recalled that during the early stages of the pandemic, the public health emergency consumed vast amounts of municipal resources.

“Accordingly my office shifted its entire focus to help Iowans navigate that difficult period,” she said.

“During that time, there was an unprecedented number of open records requests and many of those went unfulfilled for a period,” Reynolds continued. “While we disagree that this lawsuit should continue, my office has eliminated the backlog of open records requests and is committed to upholding our responsibility to respond to any new requests in a timely manner.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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  • COVID-19
  • Freedom of Information
  • Iowa
  • public records
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