Saturday, August 17, 2013
GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — The Sun Herald is asking a judge to add state Auditor Stacey Pickering and his office as defendants in a public records lawsuit the newspaper filed against the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
The Sun Herald reported (http://bit.ly/15P4vMY) Friday that it requested certain records from DMR in November and December. The auditor's office subpoenaed the same records about the time the newspaper asked to pick them up.
DMR denied the newspaper's request for records. The newspaper sued DMR in Harrison County Chancery Court, seeking access to the documents under the state Public Records Act.
DMR attorneys say they can't give copies of the records to the newspaper because the auditor has them.
Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel concluded at the end of a hearing April 23 that the newspaper would need to add the auditor's office as a defendant to its public records lawsuit against DMR.
David Huggins, the auditor's director of investigations, told The Associated Press on Friday that the records can't be released now because they're part of the auditor's probe.
"They're not entitled to the records of the investigative file," Huggins said of the newspaper.
The Sun Herald on Friday filed a motion asking the court to accept its amended complaint, adding the auditor's office and Pickering as defendants. The Sun Herald's amended complaint says, in part, that since the April 23 hearing "decisions have been made and settlements reached by defendants behind closed doors concerning misuse of public funds" at DMR.
"Consequently, important public policy is being made by the government as it denies its constituents, the public and press, the records which would rightly inform the public about the basis of policy and settlement," the complaint says. "Denial of access to these records erodes the foundation of our democracy, which is an informed citizenry."