Iowa Supreme Court denies appeal from Gov. Reynolds in Open Records case

(ABC 6 News) – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds was denied an appeal by the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit claiming her office systematically ignored Iowa’s Open Records law and hid public information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December 2021, journalists from the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, Iowa Capitol Dispatch and Bleeding Heartland sued the Governor’s office citing several records requests that went unanswered, in some cases up to 18 months, regarding Iowa’s COVID-19 response. The lawsuit seeks an order for the Governor’s office to comply with Iowa’s Open Records law as well as court costs and attorneys fees.

Less than three weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the Governor’s office responded to all outstanding requests and claimed that the Governor is not subject to scrutiny about the timeliness of her responses to public open records requests.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument, allowing the lawsuit against the Governor’s office for violating the state’s Open Records law to proceed.

“In short, the Governor believes that the “reasonableness of her response time” can’t be litigated without violating our constitution,” the Supreme Court ruling states. “We disagree.”

The Court states timeliness is a factor when responding to open records requests to meet the stated purpose of the law for to “encourage the ‘free and open examination of public records.’”

The ruling also states the Governor’s office has not clearly fulfilled all of the requests. Several were denied or redacted and, therefore, open to a legal challenge on whether the denial or redaction is legal.

Gov. Reynolds released a statement on the Supreme Court opinion by stating:

“The initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic consumed every aspect of our daily lives, and accordingly my office shifted its entire focus to help Iowans navigate that difficult period. During that time, there was an unprecedented number of open records requests and many of those went unfulfilled for a period. While we disagree that this lawsuit should continue, my office has eliminated the backlog of open records requests and is committed to upholding our responsibility to respond to any new requests in a timely manner.”

Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds

The lawsuit now heads back to the district court where a trial date has not been set.