One thing Scott Pruitt’s done since becoming the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is create a flood of Open Records requests at the office of Oklahoma Attorney General.
National and state news organizations want to know more about Pruitt’s dealings when he was attorney general. They started making their Open Records requests when Pruitt was a nominee waiting to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“We had 115 requests when I got here,” said Terri Watkins, Communications Director for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. “We now have 68 pending.”
She joined Hunter’s office in March 2017.
And it means thousands of pages of documents have to be reviewed before they are released to the countless news organizations making the requests.
“We have one lawyer and one paralegal handling them,” explained Watkins in an interview with OK Energy Today. “They have to go through what’s lawyer-client and what’s not.”
Every time a new ethics question is raised about Pruitt and his methods of operation at the EPA, another request is made. And Pruitt has a long list of claims against him ranging from his penchant to fly first-class to having aides do personal chores for him.
When Pruitt was still Attorney General, he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and the Center for Media and Democracy for failing to comply with the state’s Open Records Act. The suit was filed after the Center for Media and Democracy submitted seven different requests for public documents with the Attorney General’s office since January 2015.
Even then, the lawsuit claimed Oklahoma had an average response time of 68 days to requests of public records. But the Center claimed it had waited two years for a response to its requests.
The lawsuit, CV-2017-223, is still alive and just last month, Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons issued an order for an in camera inspection and show cause hearing regarding 8,000 documents provided by the Attorney General’s office.
The judge complained in the order that documents were supplied by the AG on a CD disc which “is non-functioning and is corrupted with regard to the PDF of the largest bulk aggregations of the documents.”
She had more criticism.
“Further, the privilege objections to the documents are categorized in such a manner that each document must be searched for within the 8,000 documents produced in a piecemeal fashion which is unnecessarily unproductive and is wasting of judicial resources,” wrote the judge, prompting her to order the AG to turn over the documents in paper form.
Further, the judge is considering the appointment of a Special Master to review the AG’s submission of documents. But the AG and the Center for Media and Democracy disagree over who should pay the cost.
The Attorney General says the Center should pay for half of the expense, claiming the Center’s original records request was broad and vague.
“This argument is a red herring and is disingenuous,” replied the Center in its court response. It argues that shifting the cost of a Special Master to the individual making the Open Records request “would have a chilling effect on citizens seeking judicial relief to compel compliance with the law.”