A recent appellate court ruling significantly erodes Georgians’ power to seek public records from individuals and entities, including government employees and contractors working on behalf of government agencies. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is supporting a petition asking the Supreme Court of Georgia to review that decision.

The foundation has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling in Milliron v. Antonakakis could significantly damage the public’s right to access government documents under the state Open Records Act.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals held that members of the public cannot ask private companies or individuals to turn over public records in their possession. Instead, requests for those records must go to a government agency’s designated open records officer, even if the agency does not have custody of the records.

This could shield from disclosure any public records held by a private person or business.

The Court of Appeals’ ruling also left in place a troubling trial court decision that the plaintiff did not have “substantial justification” to sue to obtain public records held by an individual, and therefore must pay the defendant’s attorney fees.

The foundation’s brief encourages the state’s high court to review that trial court decision, as well, arguing that if the fee award stands, it will discourage valid open records lawsuits.

The chilling effect is particularly concerning because the Georgia Attorney General’s Office operates under an inherent legal conflict. The AG’s office is charged with enforcing the state’s Sunshine Laws and also charged with representing state agencies accused of violating those same laws. That leaves private lawsuits as the only viable mechanism for enforcing Georgia Open Records Act violations by state agencies.

>>> LEARN MORE: At a legislative committee meeting on Jan. 18, 2024, Attorney General Chris Carr tells lawmakers that his office cannot mediate Georgians’ open records and open meetings complaints against state agencies.