The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 3:31 am

House brings in lawyer for fight over records

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House has hired an outside attorney costing $440 an hour to defend its contention that the legislature doesn’t have to follow the state public records law. 

There is no cap on the cost of the legal fees, and the money will come out of the Indiana House budget. The engagement letter also notes the House is paying for co-defendant Rep. Eric Koch’s legal fees and expenses as well.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office would usually defend any lawsuits, but House Speaker Brian Bosma asked to hire outside counsel, which Zoeller approved.

The parties will be represented by Geoffrey Slaughter, whose rate is $440 an hour. A second lawyer is assisting at $345 an hour. Both are with the Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm in Indianapolis. 

Slaughter has been representing the Indiana House Republican Caucus and Koch, R-Bedford, since May 26 in the case. According to his firm’s website, he has constitutional litigation experience. He was a finalist for an open Indiana Supreme Court Justice position in 2012.

The Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Energy and Policy Institute and Common Cause Indiana sued in April over an open records request for correspondence between Koch and various utilities regarding a bill about solar power.

The suit came after the House denied the request, saying the Indiana General Assembly is exempt from Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. The state’s Public Access Counselor disagreed and ruled the legislature must comply with the state law.

A second request was drafted to more directly specify what records were sought. But the Indiana House still balked, continuing to claim it isn’t required to by law but also now referencing a work product exception in denying the request.

The Indiana Access to Public Records Act provides one specific exemption for "the work product of individual members and the partisan staffs of the general assembly." But there is no definition of what "work product" is. Instead, the Indiana House changed its employee handbook after session to essentially classify all communications as work product.

Bosma has said in the past that the issue is about protecting constituents’ ability to interact with legislators on private issues without fear that it will end up in the media. 

The agreement points out that the proper defendant in the case is the Indiana House – not the Republican caucus specifically. It also says the attorneys are not currently aware of any conflict between the interests of the Indiana House and Koch. 

"We believe that Taft is able to provide competent and diligent representation to both," the engagement letter said. 

The letter said if disagreements arise between Koch and Bosma on the case, they must be worked out between the two parties without the attorneys involved. If that is not possible, the joint representation will be terminated.

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