George's $4,500 secures records
By Sheryl Marsh
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Morgan County Circuit Judge Steve Haddock put a $4,500 price tag on a temporary restraining order that a county commissioner is seeking so he can view public electronic records.
The fee requirement is not uncommon, an attorney for the Alabama Press Association said.
Haddock issued an order stating that District 4 Commissioner Stacy George is entitled to immediate issuance of a restraining order to protect the public records.
Haddock declined to comment on the case, but referred to a judicial rule of procedure.
The rule states that no restraining order or preliminary injunction shall be issued without the petitioner providing security. The judge uses his discretion to set an amount.
George paid $4,500 cash Tuesday to Circuit Clerk John Pat Orr.
"We're committed to this, and I believe the people of Morgan County are also," George said.
Dennis Bailey, general counsel of the Alabama Press Association, said it's common for a judge to require security.
"Most TROs are usually entered with a bond," said Bailey.
He said when a judge issues a restraining order judicial rules dictate that he should order the plaintiff to post a bond, and it is not unusual in a case such as George's.
Orr said during his 12 years in office he does not recall a case involving someone seeking public records.
The restraining order George is seeking would "enjoin the defendants (Chairman John Glasscock, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark and data processing manager David Hannah) from causing or allowing the destruction of any electronic records."
Haddock's ruling states that George is acting as a citizen and taxpayer, not in his capacity as commissioner. Haddock ruled that George must personally post security with the circuit clerk in the amount of $4,500, which would cover damages and attorney's fees if either defendant were wrongfully restrained.
In the petition George filed a week ago, he alleged that Glasscock, Clark and Hannah violated the state's open records law by denying him access to the public electronic records.
George asked the judge to order the defendants to provide a disk that Hannah took to the Sheriff's Department about four weeks ago and to let him view the records on the disk that are not excluded by law or sealed by a judge.
Haddock denied that request in his ruling saying it's unclear what records, if any, would not be open for inspection.
"There currently is no evidence before the court from which it can determine, for example, how and where different types of records and information are electronically stored; whether some, all or none are specifically protected by law from disclosure."
The ruling further states that it's unknown where and how George plans to inspect the records, and "whether or not the disclosure of certain records or information clearly would result in adverse effects to the public's interest."
Haddock said a hearing is inevitable to make such determinations and to give both sides an opportunity to address legal issues regarding George's petition.
He said once Orr notifies him that George has posted the money, he will issue another order.
The commission majority ended an e-mail investigation Dec. 28 of inappropriate e-mails on county computers. Commissioners Ken Livingston, Kevin Murphy and Clark denied George's request to let a computer expert examine the e-mail server, which is one of seven.
A sexually charged e-mail that the former human resources director sent to Glasscock prompted the investigation. That e-mail was leaked to a television reporter.
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