Tuesday, July 3, 2012

No Reason for "Rule of Reason" in Public Records Requests

Last week’s NM Supreme Court Opinion to narrow the use of executive privilege to deny public records requests is being hailed by Attorney General King as a welcome clarification of the privilege’s application in the Inspection of Public Records Act context.  The AG is responsible for enforcing IPRA and a discussion of the effect of the Court’s ruling will be included in the published update of the law that the AG’s office provides to public bodies, including state agencies.

The Court’s opinion also concluded that release of public records cannot be denied by government officials who claim that disclosure is protected by the “rule of reason,” a court-created doctrine under a prior version of IPRA.  Essentially, the “rule of reason” was used to claim that the release of certain documents was not in the public interest, even if they were not specifically exempted by IPRA.  The NM Legislature has since amended IPRA to enumerate specific exceptions to disclosure; exceptions that can be granted only if they fall under the exclusionary provisions in IPRA or if they are otherwise exempt from disclosure by provisions of law.  In simple terms, the Court says there is no longer any reason for the “rule of reason” regarding release of public documents.

AG King says this case makes it clear that any exemptions to IPRA lie squarely within the purview of the Legislature.

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