In Arizona, it appears that the state’s attorney general has carved out an open-records law exception for “gossip” and “rumors.”
The Arizona Capitol Times reports that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office released documents from its internal probe of media leaks. But the office removed memos that detailed rumors of a sexual relationship between Attorney General Tom Horne and a subordinate, questions about the work performance of one of Horne’s political allies, along with disparaging remarks about Horne’s ally.
The contents of the redacted material was revealed when the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office released documents from an investigation it conducted with the FBI into alleged campaign violations by Horne and his political ally. The county’s records had the complete documents the state blacked out, according to news reports.
Arizona Solicitor General David Cole, in an Associated Press article, stated that the redactions were justified under Arizona law barring the release of public information.
“In responding to public records requests, it is the policy of this office to redact information that is known to be defamatory and false. It is also the policy of this office to redact extraneous gossip, innuendo, rumors, and hurtful remarks that have nothing to do with the legitimate functions of the agency and that can cause damage to individuals and the agency,” Cole said.
Most open-government experts acknowledge that government can hold back private information, but withholding public documents because they reveal embarrassing information is not a justifiable ground for censorship.
* Hat tip to Charles N. Davis and The Art of Access blog.