ACLU Sues Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery Over Public Records

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Friday, May 24, 2019 - 12:55pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 28, 2019 - 10:12am

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The ACLU and the ACLU of Arizona are suing Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery over public records.

They say the county attorney’s stonewalling and delay tactics in response to a large public records request submitted by investigative journalist Sean Holstege is illegal.

ACLU of Arizona hired Holstege to collect information about policies, procedures, budget and employees from several county attorneys in the state. They say other offices have at least partially complied but Montgomery’s Office has not.

The County Attorney’s Office sees it differently. Their representative said in a statement that the request was six pages long, with over 200 discrete items in it over a six-year period.

The offices says the request is not being ignored but that it will take some time to fulfill, especially since their office has received an increasing number of public records requests in recent years.

Montgomery's office sent photos of their records office, which show boxes lining two of the walls.

Joseph Russomanno, a First Amendment expert and professor of media law at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, joined The Show to discuss public records law.

A spokesperson from Montgomery's office issued the following response:

"As with previous attempts to publicly grandstand by the ACLU, the organization reached out to media outlets before serving MCAO with any lawsuit. This is the most obvious sign that they are more interested in generating negative headlines about this office, as they have with other prosecution offices across the nation, than with factual representations or truly working to reach resolutions.

"As for the public records request they are referencing, I hope you are aware of the six page long request with nearly 200 discrete items over a six-year period by their in-house 'journalist.' Since it is a custom data request and not just a request for a few documents or a single case, it will take time to fulfill. The information requested is part of a national campaign by the Open Societies Foundation and affiliated groups to attack prosecution agencies and generate opportunities for litigation by the ACLU.

"The office has incurred an increasing number of public records request in the past few years which has led to increasing response times, especially since the office answers requests in the order they are received. There is no other way for us to try and fairly respond to requests from a multitude of outlets. Please note the custodian of records has identified and has provided some documents in response to specific items in Mr. Holstege’s request, so while he may not appreciate the time to provide all he has requested, he is not being ignored. We are working to fulfill a very large and broad custom data request, which necessarily also requires a redaction review to avoid releasing private and or otherwise protected information. We cannot expect Mr. Holstege or the ACLU to abide by privacy laws if we inadvertently gave them information we should not have released.

"Additionally, I ask that as you cover this story and forthcoming stories generated by the ACLU and the groups also funded, backed, and directed by George Soros with their synchronized operation in mind. There should be no doubt that this is a part of a larger agenda. Prosecutors across the country, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal, have been a focus of the Soros campaign."

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