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In strip-club case, typically closed records were released, GOP tipped off

Source: 
Lawrence Journal-World
Author: 
Karen Dillon
Date: 
Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Karen Dillon wrote:

"The Legislature closed those records to the public more than 30 years ago, and if members of the public want incident reports and investigative files, they typically have to sue to get them. The cases can be expensive: Some have cost $25,000 or more.

So media law experts found it 'amazing' when they learned that Montgomery County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Dierks released investigative files from 1998 last month with just a records request.

'That is unusual,' said Mike Merriam, veteran media lawyer who works with the Kansas Press Association. 'They have denied releasing records routinely over and over and over again.'

The files contained important information for the hotly contested gubernatorial race: Gov. Sam Brownback’s Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, of Lawrence, had been in a strip club years ago during a drug raid.

And before giving the records to the newspaper that had requested them, a county official alerted Brownback’s campaign. He wanted to 'help out' a Republican, he said.

. . . 

The silver lining could be that in the strip club case, the county attorney unwittingly set a new legal precedent that law enforcement should make police files more accessible to the public in the future, said Mike Kautsch, a Kansas University law professor and former journalism school dean.

'This is a fine precedent,' he said. 'This is a model of how the law is intended to work. The records custodian exercised discretion in favor of openness, and the requester doesn’t have to take legal action to be informed.'"