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Secrecy rules carry court to 'black hole'

From Staff Reports Modified: March 18, 2008 at 7:01 am •  Published: March 18, 2008
The Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision to limit Oklahomans' access to court records on the Internet has earned the panel FOI Oklahoma's inaugural Black Hole Award, it was announced Monday during a ceremony at the state Capitol.

The justices received the award for roadblocking freedom of information by establishing new rules addressing content on the Internet. When the rules go into effect June 10, online access to court documents in the Supreme Court and district courts will be limited to court dockets only.

Besides eliminating Internet access, the order puts new restrictions on what information the public can access from legal documents filed with court clerks.

Justice Yvonne Kauger did not vote with the majority, and said, "The court made this decision with input only from the court clerks. Others directly affected by the decision — the bar, the bench, the Legislature, the public — were not consulted.”

Honorable mentions for the Black Hole Award went to the city of Mannford for efforts to frustrate freedom of information, the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges, and former House Speaker Lance Cargill.

FOI Oklahoma honored retired newspaper executive Ben Blackstock and Senate staffers Malia Bennett and John Warren for promoting the free flow of information.

Blackstock, the former head of the Oklahoma Press Association, won the award named in his honor for his years of service in the Legislature and throughout the state to promote the idea of open government and the free flow of information.

Blackstock was instrumental in establishing the state's Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act while also working to police those laws since their passage.

Blackstock, through OPA, continuously lobbied the Legislature to adapt and adhere to the open meetings and open records laws.

Honorable mentions went to Shannon and Krista Duhon, publisher and managing editor, respectively, of the Miami News-Record, and Mark Thomas, the executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, for his continued lobbying efforts for freedom of information with the Legislature.

The Sunshine Award was presented to Bennett and Warren of the Oklahoma Senate staff for their work to create a system that provides a live feed over the Internet for real-time action on the Senate floor and in Senate conference rooms at the Capitol.

This allows the public and reporters to monitor Senate action.

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