Judge reverses his decision on requiring form to view records

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Loudon County Chancery Court Judge Frank Williams ruled Tuesday that County Mayor Doyle Arp’s assistant did not violate a court order by requiring citizen activist Pat Hunter to fill out a form to view public records.

Williams reversed his Aug. 24 decision on an appeal by Arp’s attorney in what could bring to an end a yearlong public records battle.

The judge also decided that both parties would split court costs of about $1,000.

The judge amended his earlier decision that Brenda Bright, Arp’s secretary, had violated a December 2006 ruling when in March she required Hunter to fill out a form before viewing public records.

County attorney Robert Bowman argued in his appeal that the order in question did not go into effect until May 2007.

Although no penalty had been assessed for violating the court order, Bowman said it was important to Bright’s reputation that she not be charged with violating an order that to her knowledge was not yet in effect.

“The judge said he saw nothing wrong with having citizens fill out a form before viewing public records,” Bowman said.

Hunter’s attorney, Ann Barker, was quick to point out that regardless of the judge’s personal opinion about filling out the form, the order that prohibits use of the form remains in place.

“I think it’s supported in case law that the county cannot require citizens to fill out a form to view public records,” Barker said. “That was one of the victories for the citizens of Loudon County in this case.”

Overall, the residents of Loudon County can be thankful there is now case law supporting Hunter’s contention that there should be no charge for viewing public records, Barker said.

“As a result of the trial, the charge for copying records has also been substantially reduced,” Barker said.

The decision to split court costs was another indication that the county had not won on all issues related to the case, she added.

Cost to the county for defending the case has been estimated at more than $30,000. Hunter paid her own legal fees.