NewsChannel 5 has filed a public records lawsuit after it was denied access to travel reimbursement and phone records related to former acting TBI director Jason Locke’s alleged affair with another state official.
The Nashville news station’s chief investigative reporter Phil Williams also was denied access to email communications between Locke and the official, Sejal West, who was the deputy commission of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
In denying access to the records, Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter cited Tennessean v. Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County and noted that the Nashville district attorney had opened a criminal investigation into the activities of Locke and West.
State officials and Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk have confirmed an investigation into misuse of state funds by Locke related to an affair with another state official.
The station’s attorney, Ron Harris, argues in the lawsuit that Williams made his request before an investigation was open and the records were not generated in connection with any investigation.
Williams had requested access to all travel reimbursement and per diem requests by Locke and West since November 2016, all logs of calls made on any mobile phone assigned to them since that time, and all emails between the two in the same time period.
From the NewsChannel 5 story:
On June 15, NewsChannel 5 Investigates submitted public records requests for travel and phone records, as well as email communications between the two state officials. The investigative team later asked for electronic calendars, purchase card expenditures and text messages.
Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter denied those requests, saying the records were of interest in a criminal investigation opened by the Tennessee Highway Patrol at the request of Gov. Bill Haslam.
In a petition filed Wednesday in Davidson County Chancery Court, NewsChannel 5 lawyer Ron Harris argued the initial requests were made before an investigation was ever opened and that those records do not fit the legal definition of “investigative records.”
That petition notes that “these records were generated and held in the normal course of these state agencies’ regular business. These records were not generated or prepared in connection with any investigation.”
“The Attorney General’s office is arguing for an unwarranted and substantial expansion of prior court decisions — an expansion that is contrary to the public records law and the clearly stated policy of that law,” Harris wrote in an accompanying memo.
NewsChannel 5’s petition asks the court to order the two agencies to promptly allow the station to review the requested records. It also asks that the agencies be required to reimburse the station for court costs and attorney fees.
A hearing has been set August 14 before Chancellor Russell T. Perkins.