The Bulletin sues Flaherty

District Attorney refused to disclose new prosecutors' job applications

By Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin

The Bulletin has filed a lawsuit against Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty alleging he broke Oregon's public records law and asking the court to order the disclosure of records.

The complaint, filed in Deschutes County Circuit Court on Wednesday, alleges Flaherty erred in refusing to release job applications submitted to the DA's office by Mary Anderson and Lillah McBride, two attorneys hired in July.

“We believe that the public should know the background, the skills and experience that someone brings to a position of great authority and trust,” Bulletin Editor-in-Chief John Costa said. “Patrick Flaherty would not give it to us, and our only recourse was to go to court to get it.”

According to the complaint, Bulletin reporter Hillary Borrud hand-delivered the records request to Flaherty on July 13.

“The public has a clear interest in knowing the professional background and specific work experience of these two public employees, and that information is normally laid out in job applications,” Borrud wrote.

Flaherty, who did not return calls for comment, denied the records request on July 21. In his denial letter, Flaherty did not provide an Oregon statute he believed made the record exempt from disclosure. Instead, he simply wrote that “the requested information is exempt from disclosure under Oregon law.”

In his response, Flaherty suggested another way to get the information Borrud sought.

“You might consider requesting an interview with them to discuss their professional background and specific work experience,” he wrote. “In the event that they decline to speak with you or you have reason to believe that they have not accurately answered your questions, I will reconsider your request.”

A month later, on Aug. 22, Bulletin attorney Duane Bosworth wrote to Flaherty asking him to reconsider the denial. Flaherty responded two days later, again failing to provide the specific state statute he believed allowed the exemption and writing that Borrud had failed to show why the information was in the public interest.

The request “carefully explained that (it) did not seek phone numbers or home addresses, or other personal information such as driver's license numbers,” the complaint states.

In February, Flaherty objected to the county's decision to release to The Bulletin applications of recently hired employees in the District Attorney's Office, some of which contained driver's license numbers. Flaherty convened a grand jury, subpoenaed several county employees and sent a letter to The Bulletin accusing county employees of breaking the law by releasing the information.

Some public records - like Social Security numbers, trade secrets, personnel disciplinary actions and information provided to the state's housing authority — are exempt under the Oregon Public Records Law, unless the public interest requires disclosure.

According to a reference guide published by Open Oregon, a nonprofit organization designed to educate the public about Oregon's public records and meetings law, “the guiding principle of the records law is that every public record is subject to disclosure unless it is specifically exempted. However, most exemptions do not prohibit disclosure; they merely exempt the public body from the law's mandate to disclose public records.”

The law also requires elected officials, like Flaherty, to respond to a public records request within seven days.

“We believe this is clearly a public record and that taxpayers have a right to read it,” Costa said.