A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SPJ Report: SPJ gives $1,000 to Utah paper for legal battle

By Quill

SPJ has awarded $1,000 from its Legal Defense Fund to the Deseret Morning News to defray legal costs associated with filing a brief in the Utah Supreme Court. The case, Deseret Morning News v. Salt Lake County, involves the paper’s right to obtain government records, which county government had sealed.

Marcia Rice, a former county clerk’s office employee, filed a complaint and lawsuit in 2003 alleging that a chief deputy clerk sexually harassed her in the workplace while the county clerk knew of the situation, but did nothing.

At issue is whether independent investigative reports into allegations of misconduct by high-ranking government officials are public records under the Government Records Access Management Act.

After more than 100 hours of investigation, and at the expense of more than $11,000 in taxpayer funds, two private attorneys released their report to the district attorney. The district attorney provided a summary to the victim, but refused to release the full report.

A district judge has ruled that the records are private, protected and public disclosure would have a “chilling effect upon witnesses’ and victims’ participation” in future investigations.