The Public Record

An audit of the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust should remain closed to the public, the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told a court Wednesday.

The audit is at the center of a public records fight at the Oklahoma County District Court, where Washington D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability has sued the state for access to documents. The state auditor's findings reportedly implicated people involved with the cleanup of Tar Creek, the site in northeastern Oklahoma that was once home to a massive lead and zinc mining operation.

The attorney general's office said in its response to the lawsuit that the audit report is an investigatory file, and therefore can remain closed to the public. Oklahoma law allows law enforcement entities to keep investigation files confidential.

In 2011, then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked the auditor's office to investigate possible criminal activity with the LICRA Trust and its contractors. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones submitted the results of the audit and, in 2015, Pruitt declined to file charges. He refused to release the audit publicly because the "office is concerned about publication of unsubstantiated criminal allegations against private citizens."

Jones publicly questioned the decision because, in a letter to Pruitt, “We are not aware of any unsubstantiated claims, and believe the audit report represents an accurate account of our findings resulting from a considerably extensive and thorough investigation of the matter.”

In the filing Wednesday, the attorney general claimed several reasons why the report should remain closed. Revealing the audit report could risk the identities of crime victims, could have a chilling effect on other states' willingness to participate in multistate litigation, would violate the attorney-client privilege and shake the confidence of whistle blowers and informants.

"Disclosure of records created in response to an investigation initiated by the (office of attorney general) would undermine the state of Oklahoma's ability to engage with confidential informants in uncovering and developing cases against people involved in such activities as fraud, bribery, public corruption, unlawful denials of access to housing or employment and similar affronts to the citizens of this state," wrote Assistant Attorney General Lauren Ray. "The willingness of people to put themselves in danger of reprisal and retaliation for the greater good is something that must be protected by the state because the state benefits from those individual acts of courage."

Jones also filed a response to the lawsuit, but succinctly asked for the records to be made public, and also noted his belief that the audit report was shown to the LICRA Trust's attorney in 2014.

"The auditor's response completely vindicates our position and demonstrates why this audit should be released to the public immediately," said Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Daniel Stevens.

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Source : http://newsok.com/oklahoma-ag-asks-court-to-reject-public-records-lawsuit/article/5580092

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