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Louisiana attorney general sues over journalist's public records request

“In my 40 years as an editor, I’ve never seen a journalist get sued for requesting a public record,” editor Peter Kovacs said, according to The Advocate. “We’re not intimidated. In fact, we’re more determined.”

February 7, 2021 3:02pm

Updated: February 8, 2021 9:36am

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who on Friday lodged a lawsuit regarding a journalist filing a public records request, is seeking to have the request rejected and the proceedings sealed.

“In my 40 years as an editor, I've never seen a journalist get sued for requesting a public record,” newspaper editor Peter Kovacs said, according to The Advocate. “We're not intimidated. In fact, we're more determined.”

When Andrea Gallo—a journalist with The Advocate and The Times-Picayune—filed a public records request in December with Landry's office to obtain sexual harassment complaints about criminal division leader Pat Magee,  Magee was put on administrative leave, according to The Advocate. The request also asked for records on how the complaints were handled.

"The only complaints against Mr. Magee are part of the ongoing investigation," Landry's office had responded, according to The Advocate. "As long as the investigation is still open, the records are considered confidential and cannot be disclosed at the moment. Once the investigation has been officially closed, the records will be available for review."

But even though Magee went back to work on Jan. 19, the records were not given to the journalist. 

"Magee returned to work Jan. 19 after an investigation found that he had 'engaged in inappropriate verbal conversations,' used sexual slang and made unprofessional comments over the appearance of employees," according to The Advocate. "Landry's office ordered Magee to take a one-time $20,559 salary reduction and directed him to take courses on workplace professionalism and conflict management," the outlet reported.

While Landry's office on Jan. 22 said that the information would be supplied in the next week, the outlet reported that the message soon changed as lawyers said they would not provide the requested information.

"His lawyers said they had located the complaint filed against Magee, but that they would not release it publicly," the outlet noted. "Rather than relying on an exemption in the state public records law, Landry's lawyers said they were withholding the complaint because of a constitutional right to privacy and policies within the Attorney General's office and state Civil Service that call for confidentiality in such investigations."

An attorney for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune in a Feb. 2 letter to Landry's office said that the media operation would accept redactions for the purpose of concealing the victim's identity: "We would invite redaction of the initial complaint to protect the identity of the victim, but that is the only privacy interest even arguably applicable," the attorney's letter noted.

But the state attorney general's office did not respond to the lawyer's letter, which also warned of legal action, until the filing on Friday, according to The Advocate.

"You have demanded information which will compromise the rights of our employees and could lead to litigation over the violation of those rights," Landry’s attorneys said Friday letter to Gallo, according to the outlet. "Allegations of sexual harassment that turn out to be unsupported, inaccurate and unfounded can destroy marriages, damage employee’s children, wreck families and ruin reputations."

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