OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office refused Friday to release dozens of documents surrounding decisions she made connected to the federal health care law, citing exemptions to the state's Open Records Act that media experts say do not exist.
In response to a request from several media outlets, including The Associated Press, the governor's office released in digital form more than 50,000 pages of documents relating to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
In a letter accompanying the release, Fallin's General Counsel Steve Mullins said 31 documents consisting of 100 pages of materials were withheld from the press based on a claim that they "fall within a privileged category."
"In this document production, the governor has invoked several legal privileges, including ones involving senior executive branch officials who are offering advice and counsel to the governor," Mullins wrote. "These privileges are frequently referred to as the executive and deliberative process privileges."
But media law experts said there is no reference in the Open Records Act, Oklahoma Constitution or existing case law to such privileges.
"To my knowledge there is no exception in the Open Records Act, nor is there any case law, affording an executive officer in Oklahoma, a public official in the executive branch in Oklahoma, for some kind of executive privilege or deliberative process privilege that is being exerted," said Bob Nelon, an attorney for the Oklahoma City firm Hall-Estill who specializes in media and intellectual law. "They are creating that, in my view, out of whole cloth. They're making it up as they go."
A telephone message left with Mullins was not returned Friday, and Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz declined to comment further on the release of the records.
"Our on-the-record statement is the letter we released with the records," Weintz wrote in an email to the AP.
Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University and an expert on Oklahoma's open government laws, said the governor's refusal to release the documents sets a dangerous precedent for transparency and the public's right to know.
"She's creating secrecy that hasn't existed for the governor's office," Senat said. "There has been no court decision on that. It does not exist.