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Judge rules for Oklahoma governor in records dispute

Gov. Mary Fallin withheld a number of documents relating a decision on Obamacare. Tuesday, a judge ruled the documents were covered under deliberative process privilege.
by Nolan Clay and Rick Green Modified: June 17, 2014 at 10:24 pm •  Published: June 18, 2014

An Oklahoma County judge ruled Tuesday in Gov. Mary Fallin’s favor in a dispute with the news media over the openness of records.

The judge ruled the governor can lawfully withhold from the public documents covered by a deliberative process privilege.

At issue in the dispute are 31 documents about a 2011 decision involving Obamacare.

“The court finds the deliberative process privilege is recognized under common law in Oklahoma, and it is supported by Supreme Court rule as an exception to the Oklahoma Open Records Act,” District Judge Barbara Swinton ruled.

“The court finds the deliberative process privilege thus may be used by the defendant to protect the content of the documents withheld.”

An appeal is expected eventually.

“This is only the beginning of our work and we look forward to the next steps in the process to ensure that our client and the people of Oklahoma have the transparency they are afforded by the law,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.

The ACLU of Oklahoma last year sued the governor for the records, on behalf of The Lost Ogle, a satirical online news site.

“We are pleased by the court’s ruling,” said Alex Weintz, a spokesman for the governor.

He said the ruling is expected to be “just the first step in a longer legal process.”

“The governor welcomes the chance to resolve this issue in court and provide clarity as to the provisions and limits of the Open Records Act,” the spokesman said.

“While the legal process plays out, our office continues to be committed to transparency and openness. We have, to date, released over 100,000 pages of documents in response to open records requests, more than all other Oklahoma governors combined,” Weintz also said.

Fallin in 2011 rejected a $54 million federal grant that would have paid for the creation of an online exchange, or marketplace, in Oklahoma for purchasing private health insurance plans.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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by Rick Green
Capitol Bureau Chief
Rick Green is the Capitol Bureau Chief of The Oklahoman. A graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., he worked as news editor for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City before joining The Oklahoman.
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