In refusing to hear the appeal of a lower court's ruling that said dashboard video cameras in police cars can be considered open records, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said plenty about the importance of government transparency.
Justices on Monday declined to hear an appeal in a case brought by the city of Claremore. The city had lost this spring before the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, which said dash-cam videos are indeed subject to release under the state's Open Records Act. The case stemmed from efforts in 2011 by defense attorneys to obtain videotape and audiotape of the arrest of a client charged with drunken driving. The city said no, arguing that the videotape was evidentiary and thus could be withheld. In overturning a lower-court ruling, the Court of Civil Appeals said the Open Records Act contained no such exemption.
This week the state's highest court bolstered that finding, with all nine justices in accord. “It's a big win for open government, again,” attorney Josh Lee, who sought the records along with two other attorneys, told the Tulsa World.
Lee's perspective is interesting because he's a former police officer in Vinita. As an attorney, he became frustrated with Claremore's practice of requiring that requests for a dash-cam video be made through the district attorney's office. The police department determined which videotapes to provide to the DA. “They (prosecutors) can only give me what they've been given,” he said earlier this year.
Now two courts have cleared the way for easier and greater access, although Claremore's police chief says he hopes the Legislature will “take a look at this loophole” in 2014. Here's hoping the Legislature does nothing of the sort. If anything, lawmakers ought to revisit a bill passed in 2006 that exempted Oklahoma Highway Patrol dash-cam videos from the state's open records laws. There's no reason to have two sets of rules for law enforcement.