After more than a year of litigation, American Oversight on Monday announced a settlement with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office regarding the handling of open records requests. The settlement will enhance public access to government records, requiring the secretary’s office to provide open-records training for staff and to ensure requesters receive better information about costs, time estimates, and the status of their requests.
“Today’s win means that the secretary of state’s office cannot ignore Georgia’s robust open records law,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “This agreement includes much-needed reforms designed to remedy the inconsistencies, delays, and breakdowns in communication that prevent records requesters from accessing what is rightfully theirs. This is a step away from routine secrecy towards systemic transparency. But only constant vigilance will ensure the government meets its commitments.”
American Oversight has released a memo outlining the specific improvements in the settlement, which will benefit future requesters as well as the general public.
After more than a year and a half of delays and lack of communication — in which the secretary of state’s office failed to respond to more than 30 requests — American Oversight filed suit in October 2020. Many of the records requests had gone largely or entirely unanswered, even after American Oversight had paid fees associated with the records’ release. Documents released by Raffensperger’s office in response to the lawsuit revealed the office’s inconsistency in producing records to American Oversight and other public interest groups.
“American Oversight’s lawsuit against the secretary of state was not just about obtaining important public records, it was also meant to incentivize the secretary’s office to change its open records procedures,” said Sarah Brewerton-Palmer, associate with Caplan Cobb LLP, who represented American Oversight in its litigation. “The settlement announced today is an important step towards that goal, and we are hopeful that these reforms will make it easier for members of the public to get records from the secretary.”
“We at the First Amendment Foundation are very pleased to see the secretary of state’s office agree to meet the basic requirements of the Open Records Act — but unfortunately, it’s what the secretary of state should have been doing all along,” said Richard T. Griffiths, president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “The fact is that open, public records are absolutely key to the public’s trust in government institutions. As we’ve seen in survey after survey, trust in government is at all-time lows in the U.S., and when records are withheld, especially in violation of the law, the public’s trust is further eroded.”
The settlement is part of American Oversight’s broader investigation into efforts to suppress voting rights and to undermine democracy nationwide. More information on our investigations into election management in Georgia is available here.
Part of Investigation: