Iowa governor settles open records lawsuit filed by media groups

Jun 21, 2023, 3:25 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by journalists and open government advocates who sought to require her office to respond to public record requests, and a state panel agreed Wednesday to pay more than $100,000 in attorney fees.

Reynolds settled the lawsuit about two months after the Iowa Supreme Court refused to dismiss the case filed by two media organizations and a nonprofit advocacy group. The court unanimously rejected the governor’s argument that her office wasn’t required to respond in a timely manner to record requests and that she could bypass the state’s open records law by simply ignoring the requests.

The organizations filed the lawsuit in 2021, claiming the governor had violated Iowa’s open records law by ignoring government record requests. The reporters had emailed the governor’s office with eight different open-record requests between April 2020 and April 2021 and renewed each request at least once. In each case, they received no response until filing a lawsuit in December 2021.

In a statement, the governor’s office acknowledged the settlement but said problems stemmed from demands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 response put unprecedented demands on the governor’s team to meet the immediate needs of Iowans,” Kollin Crompton, the governor’s deputy communications director, said in a statement. “As a result, responses to requests were unintentionally delayed, which is not acceptable. Our office has assessed our internal processes and we continue to reevaluate the process to improve timeliness.”

Earlier Wednesday, the State Appeal Board approved $135,000 to cover legal fees for the organizations, though the one Democrat on the three-member board objected.

Auditor Rob Sand said state law intends that those who violate the open records law should pay fees related to the violation and a fine. The settlement, he noted, pays the fees with public money and doesn’t include a fine.

“These insiders have no shame,” Sand said in a statement. “They abuse your rights, and then want to use your money to pay for having abused you.”

The organization are the liberal-leaning Bleeding Heartland blog, Iowa Capital Dispatch and Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which focuses on open government issues.

The ACLU of Iowa, which represented the organizations, said the settlement will be official later this month when the court accepts the agreement. The ACLU said the agreement also required a year of judicial oversight over the governor’s office’s compliance with the state open records law as well as court fees.

The governor also settled separate lawsuits filed by an attorney who sued after not receiving records about COVID-19 testing contracts. The State Appeal Board approved about $40,000 to settle that case.

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Iowa governor settles open records lawsuit filed by media groups