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5:02 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Congress School District loses court appeal

The Arizona Court of Appeals on Thursday unanimously denied the Congress School District's appeal of a Yavapai County Superior Court decision regarding access to public records.

In January 2010, the school district filed a lawsuit against four residents to prevent them from requesting public records, suing the district or complaining to outside agencies about the district.

The lawsuit alleged that Jean Warren, Jennifer Renee Hoge, Cyndi Regis and Barbara Rejon harassed the operation of the district by repeatedly submitting public records requests.

On April 5, following oral arguments, Superior Court Judge David L. Mackey threw out the lawsuit against the four women. Mackey ruled that requesting public records does not amount to a public nuisance, which generally applies to an "interference with the use and enjoyment of the plaintiff's land." He also said the women did not harass the district.

Mackey added that to grant the school district's request to forbid the women from requesting public records documents without the permission of a third party would require rewriting Arizona's Public Record law.

The Congress School District appealed Mackey's ruling to dismiss the case.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals stated, "The core purpose of our public records law is to give the public access to official records and other government information so that (it) may monitor the performance of government officials and their employees."

Court of Appeals Judge Sheldon Weisberg affirmed "the Superior Court's ruling that the district failed to show a public interest sufficient to overcome the presumption favoring disclosure of public records. Accordingly, we also affirm dismissal of the district's complaint."

Independent government watchdog group The Goldwater Institute represented Warren, Rejon, Regis and Hoge in this case through its Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

"This is the second court to tell the Congress School District that it has no case," said Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute's litigation director. "Hopefully, district officials will stop trying to silence these women and instead will start following the law."

The four women have sought records during the past 10 years ranging from school board meeting minutes and agendas to their own children's school records.

Warren said, "This is a great day for people who have children in school and are taxpayers. This has returned my faith in the justice system. The only thing better would be for the court to order personal fines for each board member."

A call to the school district's attorney about the district's next course of action was not returned by press time.