City of Nashville declines records request that could help show judges’ hours at courthouse

The city of Nashville declined part of a recent public records request by The Tennesssean that would have shown the time of day Davidson County judges used their access cards to enter or exit a courthouse or its parking garage.

The request was part of a larger one by the media company for access card data that the newspaper used to analyze how many days judges showed up to work compared with each other and a state average. The city released which days the judges used their access cards, but would not release the times of day when the access cards were swiped.

“Under Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-504(i)(1), the specific times that a judge’s card was swiped are confidential,” Assistant Metro Attorney Cynthia Gross wrote to Tennessean reporter Brian Haas. “That information could allow a person to gain unauthorized access to government property, because a person could follow a judge into a government parking garage or building if there was a pattern as to when the judge arrived or left.”

Here is Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-504(i)(1):

(i)(1)Information that would allow a person to obtain unauthorized access to confidential information or to government property shall be maintained as confidential. For the purpose of this section, “government property” includes electronic information processing systems, telecommunication systems, or other communications systems of a governmental entity subject to this chapter. For the purpose of this section, “governmental entity” means the state of Tennessee and any county, municipality, city or other political subdivision of the state of Tennessee. Such records include:

(A) Plans, security codes, passwords, combinations, or computer programs used to protect electronic information and government property;

(B) Information that would identify those areas of structural or operational vulnerability that would permit unlawful disruption to, or interference with, the services provided by a governmental entity; and

(C) Information that could be used to disrupt, interfere with, or gain unauthorized access to electronic information or government property.

The newspaper published a story reporting the number of days the judges went to the courthouse, but because the other information was denied, it was unable to report with any more specificity the number of hours between arrival and departure which could have been a better gauge for the judges’ hours at the courthouse.

Brian Haas

Brian Haas, reporter with The Tennessean

“Judges showing up to work is only part of the story. I think readers need to know that they’re putting in a full workday most of the time as well. That’s why I had asked for more detailed card swipe data,” Haas said. “And some judges agreed with me. In fact, 11 judges volunteered their full swipe card data, showing their full hours, from the first swipe in the parking garage each morning to their last swipe in the evening.”

Circuit Court Judge Philip Smith was quoted in the story, saying he disagreed with Metro’s decision to hold back the more detailed information.

“I felt like the request was an appropriate public records request,” Smith told The Tennessean. “And the public has a right to know if its elected judges are working.”

You can read the newspaper’s two stories here:

Tennessean: Some judges take months off, while others put in work

Tennessean: Metro refuses to release judges’ work hours

What do you think?