Ga. Supreme Court rules against restrictive interpretation of Sunshine Laws

Agencies can release information that qualifies for Open Records exemptions

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled this week that public information that otherwise might qualify for an Open Records Act exemption may be released if a government agency wants to disclose it.

“The justices’ unanimous decision makes clear the Georgia Supreme Court continues to be strongly committed to the value of open records,” said Georgia First Amendment Foundation President Richard T. Griffiths. “The open records law places no restrictions on public entities that want to be open and transparent, providing the best information to the public.”

In February, the foundation joined a friend-of-the-court brief in the case — Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and Campaign for Accountability v. Consumer Credit Research Foundation. The brief asked the state’s high court to overturn an appellate decision that had the potential to hobble Georgia’s Open Records Act.

The case began with a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Credit Research Foundation. CCRF, which is funded by the payday lending industry to support academic research on consumer finance, sought to block an open records request filed by the Campaign for Accountability. The Campaign for Accountability was asking for correspondence between CCRF and a Kennesaw State University professor who had received CCRF research funding.

Kennesaw State said it was willing to release the correspondence. CCRF then sued to block the release. A Fulton Superior Court judge ruled for Kennesaw State, concluding that although academic research exemptions gave KSU the authority to withhold the information, the university also had the right to release it. The Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed that decision, relying heavily on a 1995 case involving tax information that determined the state Open Records Act “mandates the nondisclosure of certain excepted information.”

The Supreme Court ruling on Monday overturned the appellate decision. “This is great news for the public’s right to know,” Griffiths said.

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