ACLU Raps RI AGs on Open Records Prosecutions; Kilmartin Disagrees

Feb 21, 2013

A new report by the state chapter of the ACLU says Rhode Island's last three attorneys general -- Sheldon Whitehouse, Patrick Lynch, and Peter Kilmartin -- have prosecuted violations of the state's open records law less than four percent of the time from 1999 to last June.

The report points out that the AG’s failure to pursue vigorous APRA [Access to Public Records Act] enforcement occurred regardless of who had been in office during the time period studied. The report also acknowledges that until the 2012 amendments were adopted, the Attorney General faced a high standard – a finding of a “knowing and willful” violation of the law – in order to obtain financial penalties against a public body. Nonetheless, the report argues, “since so many of the violations have been so clear, even this standard should have led to a much stronger track record in pursuing legal action and thereby helping to deter future violations by public bodies.”

Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for AG Peter Kilmartin says the findings are "myopic" and "one-sided.":

The fact is that Attorney General Kilmartin recognized the statutory limitations of the Office and therefore sponsored the recent changes to APRA statute, something the ACLU had been unable to accomplish for many, many years. 

It is ironic for the ACLU to criticize this Office, when they went before the General Assembly to support a measure to have the Office of Attorney General train public bodies on APRA, recognizing the Office as the expert on open government issues.

Rather than selectively criticize the Office, the ACLU should be applauding the Office for its past efforts, the fact that all opinions are available to the public, the proactive measures the Office takes in educating and training public officials on how to comply with the APRA and the OMA [Open Meetings Act],  and its initiative in making substantive amendments to the statute.

Advocates for open records called the changes last year to the Access to Public Records Act an overall improvement in the fight for the public's right to know.