Judge affirms News Sentinel’s right to emails

A judge sided again with the Knoxville News Sentinel in an open records request for emails sent to or by county officials. Here is the full article, published by the Knoxville News Sentinel last week and reprinted here with permission:

Judge: Knox County should turn over emails

By Gerald Witt, Knoxville News Sentinel

For the second time, a judge told Knox County legal staff Monday to turn over emails requested by the News Sentinel.

Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan said during a hearing that nine emails sent to or by county officials, including Mayor Tim Burchett, should be made public.

In October, he directed the county to release the records, but Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong filed a motion to amend Duggan’s judgment.

Armstrong’s argument focused on whether an individual or an entity could request public documents, among other points. He said that Duggan’s earlier ruling broadened the interpretation of public records law.

“If I were to rule as Knox County wants, I would create a constitutional issue,” Duggan said, “a thing a judge should not do.”

He repeated his prior decision and denied Armstrong’s motion to amend.

“These are so clearly public documents,” Duggan said.

Armstrong said he’s “looking at the possibilities,” on whether to appeal.

The paper had focused on 13 emails sent to and by county officials from November 2010 to July 2012. The nine that Duggan ordered released:

Five emails from Allison Burchett to her then-husband, Tim Burchett, that appear to be tied to his 2010 campaign accounts, which had irregularities he attempted to reconcile in fall 2012.

Two emails between state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and county Chief of Staff Dean Rice that also appeared to involve campaign fund reporting.

One email from Knox County Communications Manager Michael Grider that included the subject line “FW: Campaign.”

One email from Turkey Creek developer John Turley to Burchett with attachments labeled as involving a facade grant application.

Emails that should remain private, Duggan found, include one to County Commissioner Jeff Ownby that appeared to be a joke, and three emails from former county finance director Burton Webb on a personal finance issue.

“We appreciate the judge’s thoughtful ruling,” News Sentinel Managing Editor Tom Chester said, “and look forward to the county’s release of the emails as quickly as possible.”

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