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Restraining order issued to keep sheriff's screen headers from public

By Sheryl Marsh 340-2437

Morgan County Circuit Judge Steve Haddock armed Sheriff Greg Bartlett with a restraining order in the sheriff's latest move to keep the public from knowing to whom he sent e-mails.

The order is apparently aimed at a request The Daily made Feb. 7 for a screen capture printout of e-mails sent by Bartlett, a jailer, a clerk and a captain in his office.

The screen capture would show the name of the sender, the recipient, a subject line, and the date and time. It would not show content of e-mails. The Daily requested information from April 1 through June 14, 2006. Those dates span the heated Republican primary.

The newspaper has some Web site screen captures from Bartlett, the clerk, the jailer and the captain. These were obtained last year and were from the county's e-mail server.

The Daily requested delivery of screen captures of Bartlett and his three employees; County Commission Chairman John Glasscock; Revenue Commissioner Amanda Scott and two employees in her office; by Thursday.

Earlier, Glasscock agreed to release the information. Court pleadings indicate Morgan County attorney Bill Shinn was busy in the background talking with Bartlett's lawyers.

Bartlett's attorneys Wesley Lavender and Donald Rhea filed a petition Monday seeking the restraining order against Glasscock and the other commissioners. That means records will not be released Thursday to The Daily as requested.

The restraining order is against Glasscock and all commissioners. It is not against the newspaper. The sheriff is also asking for a preliminary injunction and a declaratory judgment.

Bartlett argues that only he can say which e-mails can be released. He said documents could be released that are "privileged, law enforcement related, strictly personal, controlled by statute, not public, sensitive or otherwise not subject to public view."

A screen capture does not include such information.

Haddock issued the restraining order Tuesday morning and set a hearing for March 16 at 9 a.m.

That is the same time he previously set a hearing on a restraining order he issued Feb. 7 in a separate case for District 4 Commissioner Stacy George.

George has been attempting to view all e-mails on the server since Dec. 28.

The Daily's request was made to Glasscock as chairman of the commission and to David Hannah, the data processing manager and custodian of electronic records.

Haddock linked the two requests by setting a hearing at the same time.

Although Shinn represents the County Commission, he frequently supports issues involving the sheriff and Scott. He also contributed to Scott's election campaigns.

Lavender is a part-time assistant district attorney who worked with Bartlett when he was an investigator in the district attorney's office. He practices civil law and most recently represented the sheriff in his divorce.

Lavender and Chief Deputy Mike Corley represented Bartlett at the meeting. Lavender announced that Bartlett was out of town on business.

District Attorney Bob Burrell said he has no problem with Lavender representing the sheriff.

Shinn said he is not representing Glasscock, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark and Hannah, in the case George filed.

He urged commissioners to pay their attorney fees. All except George agreed to do so.

George said when Glasscock, Hannah and Clark denied him access to the server, he was acting as a commissioner. George's attorney Hubert Porter told the commission that it is not lawful for the county to pay an attorney for the three men.

After the meeting, Shinn said he based his advice on attorney general opinions.

George is paying Porter. Haddock required George to post $4,500 before he would issue a restraining order.

The money is to cover attorney fees of the defendants, if George loses.

Haddock said Bartlett did not have to post surety because he is a state constitutional officer.

During Tuesday's meeting, Shinn advised the commission to go into executive session to discuss Bartlett's litigation.

Afterward, the commission passed a motion for Glasscock to release the screen captures The Daily requested, if the judge does not issue a restraining order.

Clark voted against releasing the records. He is an ally of Scott and Bartlett and he regularly votes for their requests.

Shinn, Glasscock and Clark pushed to adopt a policy to govern public viewing of e-mails, which allows public officials to say when, where and how they will release electronic records.

George and District 3 Commissioner Kevin Murphy voted no. Glasscock broke the tie when he sided with District 2 Commission Ken Livingston and Clark to adopt the policy.

Murphy said the policy has too many holes in it, and he doesn't know whether it's in accordance with the state public records law.

Clark praised the policy, saying that Shinn had done a good job.

George quipped that Shinn had "worked hard for you (Clark) and others. This is all about accommodating you, Jeff, and your people."

The meeting was contentious at times. Two visitors commented aloud as George talked. They made taunting remarks to a Daily reporter taking notes.

Glasscock said after the meeting that he did not know the visitors were making the remarks.

George said the commission action toward public records will set a precedent.

"They're aiming to fix it so the public can't see public records," George said after the meeting. "They want these officials to be able to hide what they're doing."

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