Oklahoma's governor stands behind executive privilege claim

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin says her office has the right to withhold emails that offer confidential advice, despite no such provision existing in the state Open Records Act.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: December 13, 2012
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Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday her office has an executive privilege to withhold certain documents, even though no specific provision is found in the state Open Records Act.

“We do believe that,” she said. “It's been held under other court systems. We certainly want to be as open as we can with materials and documents that we've used to make decisions, but people have given me pros and cons under different issues. … We think that it's more disruptive than it is productive in helping us help the state of Oklahoma function as a government.

“We want to be open and transparent as humanly possible without being disruptive to people being able to candidly and openly express their opinions about an issue,” the governor said.

She said she didn't know whether the stalemate would end up in a legal challenge and the matter decided by the courts.

“We're working towards trying to find a resolution so that we can all function and do our jobs, whether you're in the press or whether I'm a public policy official trying to get good information from my staff in a candid way that won't be misconstrued or twisted around,” she said.

Fallin said her office has released documents that don't contain advice she considers confidential or that fall under the attorney-client privilege.

The governor echoed what her general counsel, Steve Mullins, said last month. He cited executive privilege and attorney-client privilege in stating that releasing electronic communications that pertain to state deliberations on public policy decisions could hurt policymakers' abilities to have productive internal discussions.

His remarks came in response to a records request filed by The Oklahoman for emails that could explain how Fallin decided to create a state health insurance exchange and then later changed her mind.

Fallin said her office has received about a dozen requests for similar records.

“Everybody's kind of piling on, wanting hundreds of thousands of documents which will take time … It's not an overnight process,” she said.