Utah A.G. Sean Reyes’ official calendars must be available to the public, judge rules

Republicans in the Utah Legislature changed the law regarding calendars on the same day Judge Patrick Corum ordered they be released.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes introduces Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to speak at the Davis County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Layton on Saturday, February. 24, 2024. A judge ruled Tuesday that Reyes' official calendar must be made public.

Third District Judge Patrick Corum ruled Tuesday that Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ official calendars are subject to the state’s open-records law and must be turned over to news outlets.

Hours after the ruling, however, Republican lawmakers gave final passage to a bill that would change the law and, going forward, allow any elected official or government employee to keep their calendars appointments secret in the future — regardless of whether they contain official meetings or personal appointments.

Judge Corum ruled Tuesday morning that, while state law exempts “personal” calendars from Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, Reyes’ calendar contained official meetings, was created and maintained using taxpayer resources and was used by others in the office to plan his time and track his availability, “taking it outside of any conceivable definition of personal use”

“The court finds and concludes, based on the undisputed facts, that it does not meet that definition,” Corum said in ruling for KSL investigative journalist Annie Knox.

Reyes plans to appeal the ruling.

“Today’s ruling means that the daily calendars of all state, county, and city employees would be subject to GRAMA. That is contrary to the intent and clear language of the statute,” the office said in a statement following the ruling. “While we respect the legal process, we disagree with the ruling and the attorney general’s office intends to appeal.”

Attorney Dave Reymann, who represented Knox, said Corum considered the evidence carefully and reached the correct conclusion, but was dismayed that Reyes plans to appeal.

“I think its unfortunate that the attorney general’s office, which gives lip service to being transparent, has fought at every turn this request to release this basic information,” Reymann said. “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that they have decided to continue this losing fight to keep the public from knowing how he is doing his job.”

But the victory for public access to official calendars may also be short-lived. Late Tuesday night, House Republicans gave final passage to a bill that would allow any calendar of any government employee — from the governor on down — to be kept secret, regardless of whether or not they contain official activities carried out at taxpayer expense.

Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, argued that calendars have never been subject to GRAMA and that the bill merely affirms long-standing policy.

In reality, The Tribune and other media outlets have obtained official calendars for more than a decade without facing legal challenges.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, spoke in favor of the change as a way to stop “slanderous” attacks from a dishonest news media.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” she said. “The media wants to exploit us. We do not have an honest journalism system with a few exceptions in this state. ... The majority of our media wants to criticize and make something out of nothing.”

Birkeland said if constituents want to know what legislators are doing, they can ask. Birkeland also sponsored legislation this session that enables elected officials to scrub the internet of an official’s identifying information at taxpayer expense.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, argued that the level of secrecy in play engenders mistrust from the public.

“I can’t imagine what good reason exists for us not being willing to disclose the records of our daily activities as legislators — not our personal records — our records of our activities as legislators,” King said. “Why shouldn’t we disclose that upon request to our constituents? To the extent that we don’t choose to do that? Does anybody in this chamber wonder why they’re suspicious? I wouldn’t, if I were them.”

The bill passed the House 52-22, with 52 Republicans voting in favor and all of the Democrats and seven Republicans opposed. Because it received more than 2/3 of the legislative vote, the bill would take effect immediately, assuming Gov. Spencer Cox signs it into law.

It would not impact the Reyes calendar case, since it was passed after the request was filed, but would restrict access to public officials’ calendars in the future.

The Reyes case stems from a records request Knox filed in 2022 seeking several months of the attorney general’s calendars. His office refused the request, arguing that calendars are not subject to GRAMA. Knox appealed to the State Records Committee which ruled unanimously in her favor.

At that point, Reyes sued the records committee, seeking to overturn the ruling and keep the records private.

The Salt Lake Tribune, which has also requested access to Reyes’ calendars as part of an investigation into his frequent campaign travel and stays in lavish resorts, filed a brief supporting their release.

The attorney general’s office argued that no calendars should be subject to the open records law.

Corum disagreed, reasoning that, because the statute exempts a “daily calendar or other personal note prepared by the originator for the originator’s personal use or for the personal use of an individual for whom the originator is working,” the Legislature only intended to allow personal calendars created for personal use to be withheld from the public.

The judge directed the attorney general’s office to redact personal meetings from the calendar and to give the requested records to Knox — but since the attorney general’s office says it is now appealing the matter, it is unclear when or if the records will be made public.