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Court: No jurisdiction over lawmaker emails

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Posted at 2:57 PM, Apr 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-19 14:57:39-04

The Indiana Supreme Court said Tuesday it does not have jurisdiction over a battle regarding access to state lawmaker emails and records.

Common Cause, the Citizens Action Coalition and the Energy and Policy Institute originally filed a lawsuit against the Indiana House Republican Caucus and Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) alleging they violated the Indiana Access to Public Records Act by not providing  access to lawmaker emails.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit.

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In an opinion handed down Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the Energy and Policy Institute, Citizens Action Coalition and Common Cause Indiana filed a briefs in the Indiana Supreme Court arguing the Indiana House Republican Caucus and Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) are subject to the Access to Public Records Act.

The controversy stems from public records requests submitted by the Energy and Policy Institute out of Washington for emails, documents and other correspondence between Rep. Eric Koch and various groups.

Chief Counsel for the House Republican Caucus, Jill Carnell, denied the requests.

The House has said the public records laws do not apply to them, and have pointed to an existing exemption in the law for lawmakers’ work product.

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The Supreme Court decision said the Indiana Access to Public Records act does apply to the Indiana General Assembly, including the members and groups that make up the General Assembly.

The Supreme Court said whether lawmaker emails should be exempt from disclosure as legislative “work product” could not be decided by the court.

The Supreme Court opinion said the General Assembly should have the discretion to disclose or not disclose its work product.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said he interpreted Tuesday’s opinion to force the legislature to define “work product.”

“It holds their feet to the fire a little bit as far as having to define their work product and coming up with a justification for withholding their emails,” said Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.

It appears that for the time being, lawmakers can disclose their emails as part of a public records request, but they don’t have to do so.

RTV6 is working to get reaction from both sides of the issue.

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