Tuesday, March 10, 2009

’Tis But a Flesh Wound!’

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 5:08 AM

In a statement that’s sure to draw howls of laughter, New Orleans City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields is claiming victory in the Nagin’s Administration’s ongoing fight with WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurik over the reporter’s public records requests for the mayor’s calendar and emails from 2008. Nagin was unavailable for comment Monday night, but Moses-Fields sent WWL-TV an email Monday night after Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet excoriated Nagin and Moses-Fields for a “flagrant violation of the law they have been sworn to uphold,” namely the Louisiana Public Records Law.

 

 

After concluding that the administration ignored Zurik’s request for two months and acted in a manner that was “unreasonable and arbitrary,” Ledet imposed the maximum fine of $100 a day (excluding weekends and holidays) against the city, Nagin and Moses-Fields. More important, Ledet ruled that Nagin and Moses-Fields are liable individually and “in solido” with the city for those fines — which means that Zurik can pursue collection of the fine against the mayor personally instead of waiting nearly 10 years for the city to get around to paying adverse judgments.

 

Nevertheless, Moses-Fields is claiming “mission accomplished.” In an email to the station, she wrote that the city “overwhelmingly prevailed” because Ledet did not hold the mayor and/or the city in contempt for producing “redacted” copies of Nagin’s 2008 calendar on Feb. 18.

 

Here is most but not all of Moses-Fields’ statement:

 

“[T]he Court has issued judgments in which the City prevailed in the most significant parts and did not prevail in other areas.

 

“The Court flat out rejected Plaintiff’s request that the City be held in contempt of court for not producing the Mayor’s calendar without redactions. In doing so, the most important aspect of the court’s ruling was the court’s recognition of a “security privilege,” which before the court’s ruling, had never been recognized by a Louisiana Court.  Plaintiff had argued that if the exception did not specifically exist in the public records act, the exception did not exist at all. The court expressly rejected plaintiff’s argument and agreed with the City that the Mayor’s security staff was clearly entitled to take necessary precautions to ensure the Mayor’s safety. On this point the court held:

‘Additionally, although not a recognized exception under Louisiana’s Public Records Law, the Court finds that a real and present security risk exist in publicly disclosing the location of regularly scheduled meetings the Mayor and the city officials that establish a pattern …. In this instance, security concerns outweigh any public interest concern of Mr. Zurik beyond disclosure these meetings are scheduled.’

 

“The security privilege redactions made up more than half of the total amount of information redacted from the Mayor’s calendar. Additionally, the court recognized that the mayor was allowed to redact personal information from his calendar as well.  Personal information consisted of another quarter of the information redacted. Therefore, the City overwhelmingly prevailed in rejecting Plaintiff’s request to have the City held in contempt, and in validating three fourths of the City’s redactions.”

 

That’s a generous reading of Ledet’s ruling. In truth, the judge ordered production of an UNREDACTED copy of Nagin’s 2008 calendar with the exception of the following redacted information: [Quoting from the order, below]

 

1. center headings at the top of the daily calendar

 

2. 7:00 a.m. entries

 

3. 6:00 p.m. entries

 

4. telephone numbers

 

5. 2:00 p.m. entry on July 4, 2008.

 

The court also allowed Nagin to produce a calendar redacting the location of regularly scheduled bi-weekly meetings on the mayor’s calendar. That is, Nagin can black out the location but not the meetings themselves.

 

If, as Moses-Fields claims, the above-cited redactions constitute three-fourths of Nagin’s calendar, then clearly his 2008 calendar was even “lighter” than his minimalist 2007 datebook. That’s hardly something to crow about.

 

Furthermore, claiming that Nagin and the city won most of the issues when the judge ordered both the mayor and the city attorney to be held personally responsible for nearly $7,000 in fines is like Japan saying it really won WWII because Pearl Harbor was such a smashing success for Emperor Hirohito.

 

Actually, her email reminds me of that hilarious “Black Knight Fight” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 

Yeah, right: ’Tis but a flesh wound!

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