Attorney General's office faces criticism over violations of Access To Public Records Act

Public access counselor cites AG 3 times

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Attorney General’s office is facing criticism for several violations of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.

Greg Zoeller’s office is known as a champion of public records and open meetings, and holds training seminars around the state on the topic.

“When citizens can participate and readily access their government records and attend government meetings as the law intends, the system is more transparent and accountable,” Zoeller said in a Nov. 20 news release.

Illinois-turned-Boone-County, Ind.-resident Paul Straughn told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney it’s been a nightmare getting records from the Attorney General’s office.

“I think it’s pretty disgusting frankly,” said Straughn, a retired federal government worker.

Straughn said his father Max, a World War II disabled veteran, was mistreated by two Indiana doctors.

“I have a very deep and abiding respect for all veterans,” said Straughn, choking back tears. "The victim in this case was a disabled World War II veteran, disabled because of his military service, and was left crippled for 66 years."

His father has since passed away, but Straughn filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office in November 2011 asking the agency to investigate the mistreatment allegations.

Straughn said the agency closed the complaint without interviewing key witnesses.

“I’m the lead witness in this case, and I’ve never been interviewed,” said Straughn.

Frustrated, Straughn filed a request for documents on his father’s case under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

“I contend the Attorney General never fully investigated my complaint,” said Straughn. “So the APRA was my last resort to find out the information.”

Straughn said he still did not receive the information, and thus, filed an appeal with the state Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage.

In advisory opinions dated July 25  and Aug. 8 , 2012,  Hoage found three separate violations of the APRA, including failing to preserve records and failing to meet its burden for redacting, or blacking out, information.

“I’m like wow, holy smokes,” said Straughn. “What can I say? I was dumbfounded. I find it refreshing -- the integrity of the public access counselor’s office.”

Straughn met last week with the Chief Deputy Attorney General in an attempt to resolve the matter.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney asked to interview Zoeller about the violations, but spokesman Bryan Corbin declined, saying an interview was not necessary.

 “We strive to complete all public records requests promptly and we have a good working relationship with the Public Access Counselor’s Office -- in fact, the state’s original public access counselor now works for our office as a Deputy AG -- but whenever an individual makes a complaint, the Counselor is required to issue an advisory opinion regardless of the complaint’s merit,” wrote Corbin in an email to Kenney. “We always address complaints fully. The Public Access Counselor's opinions are advisory only; there is no penalty or even a requirement for us to comply with them."

Corbin also pointed out the AG’s office has spent more than 40 hours of staff time on Straughn’s requests and has not charged him copying fees.

“It also should be noted that the AG’s Office has received 123 records requests from the public in 2012,” wrote Corbin. “Of those 123, Mr. Straughn made five complex multilayered requests that included a total 58 parts and a total 140 sub-parts.”

Straughn said he only filed the records request as a last resort after the agency failed to properly investigate his complaints.

“I’ve brought allegations there are Indiana licensed physicians violating professional licensing standards,” said Straughn. “Why isn’t the Attorney General’s office looking into these allegations?”

Straughn is hopeful after his Nov. 29 meeting with the Chief Deputy that the Attorney General’s office will investigate.

“My goal is I just want my complaint to get a fair shake,” said Straughn. “If the AG’s office does a proper and thorough investigation of my complaint using qualified staff, let the chips fall where they may.”

Update: The Attorney General's Office sent this response to our story Friday:

The doctor’s medical treatment of Straughn’s father was investigated by the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office.  The liaison from the Medical Licensing Board notified the Attorney General’s Office that the liaison did not consider this to be a standard of care issue and that the physician did not commit any violations that would merit bringing him up on a disciplinary licensing action before the board.  The Attorney General’s Office has already provided to Straughn all the records he sought. Two violations noted in the Public Access Counselor’s opinion did not involve medical-investigation records, but rather the personnel records of two employees of the AG’s Office that Straughn had sought to obtain.  In a third opinion on November 16, the Public Access Counselor found that the Attorney General’s

Office had complied fully with the Access to Public Records Act and found no violation.  That opinion is at this link: http://www.in.gov/pac/files/12-FC-312.pdf

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