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Less-public records? House endorses GRAMA revision

Published February 18, 2009 8:55 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A bill that would change Utah's public records act passed the House on a 43-27 vote Wednesday.

http://le.utah.gov/~2009/htmdoc/hbillhtm/hb0122.htm">HB122 would allow some records to be classified as private or protected if prepared for pending litigation -- lawsuits already filed -- and anticipated legal action as well.

The measure has been opposed as a significant dilution of state open records law by a coalition of media organizations, which includes The Salt Lake Tribune .

Sponsored by Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, the measure was amended to block attorney-work product or attorney-client records from being released unless "clear and convincing" evidence shows that the public interest outweighs private interest.

Under current Utah Supreme Court rulings, the law favors public access over privacy when the two interests are of equal weight.

"This brings GRAMA into line with court rules on discovery and attorney-client privilege," Aagard said. "Attorney-client privilege is being circumvented by GRAMA to get records you wouldn't normally get."

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, questioned the definition of anticipated litigation.

"One thing that lawyers are good at is being creative, and a lot of things can be anticipated," King said. "You might be surprised at the breadth and scope of what can be anticipated."

Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, unsuccessfully attempted to cut the bill in half by removing the heightened requirements for protected records.

"The second part raises the bar and causes significant concerns and does a disservice to the public," Dougall said.

The bill moves to the Senate for further debate.

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HB122 Access to public records

Gives greater privacy protection to records classified as attorney-client privilege or attorney work product. It also requires proof the interest of public access outweighs privacy concerns.