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Judge orders Department of Education to pay thousands for witholding public records

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BATON ROUGE- Taxpayers are on the hook for thousands of dollars tonight, after the State Department of Education refused to turn over public records.

Last week a judge ordered the Department of Education to pay a hefty settlement and assessed a penalty of $100 per day since February 17. Our calculations revealed that amount has reached approximately $32,000 and is continuing to grow each day.

Last month we showed you the Department settled three lawsuits involving public records for thousands of dollars.

Mike Deshotels is a former educator. He currently writes blogs and requests data from the Department of Education. He's sued at least five times for records state officials refused to turn over.

"It doesn't make sense, and it does make you wonder why the data isn't being produced," Deshotels said.

The Department of Education declined to do an on-camera interview. A spokesman said they just received a copy of the settlement today. That spokesman did say the Department of Education turned over some suppressed information to Mr. Deshotels, and that's his whole point of contention. He doesn't want suppressed information.

"This has been typical practice from the Department of Education," Deshotels said. "Even when I had to sue them before and receive a settlement and they were ordered to produce data, it was a struggle to get the data even after the judge ordered it."

Jason France is a former employee at DOE. He said routinely he was told not to fulfill public records requests.

"We were told not to fill them, and we would only fill the ones that were cleared by higher ups," France said.

As Deshotels chalks up another legal win against the state, he wonders how much longer they'll continue to withhold public documents at the taxpayers' expense.

"What I'll do is if I have any money left over is set it in a fund in case I need to sue the state again," Deshotels said.

A fifth lawsuit is currently pending in the 19th Judicial District Courthouse. It is also in the process of being settled. The Department of Education claims it is protecting student information, but they have been unable to convince a judge about that argument. 

The state provided the following statement to WBRZ, "When the initial request was made, the Department promptly produced a suppressed version of the record to protect student information in accordance with all applicable state and federal laws. We received the judgment today from Judge Hernandez and are discussing appropriate next steps."

 

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