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Investigative journalist sues Louisiana Department of Public Safety, alleges failure to provide public records

2 months 2 weeks 4 days ago Monday, April 29 2024 Apr 29, 2024 April 29, 2024 2:28 PM April 29, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE — An investigative reporter out of New Orleans sued the Louisiana Department of Public Safety on Monday, alleging it had failed to respond to public records requests.

Nick Chrastil, a journalist with nonprofit news outlet The Lens, sued after the agency would not disclose records associated with its hiring of a private law firm, WilmerHale, to provide legal services to the state in connection with consent decrees and the federal government, a statement from the Tulane University School of Law's First Amendment Law Clinic said.

“This is about government accountability and transparency. The public has a right to understand how taxpayer money is being spent, what services are being provided, and whether decisions are made in the public interest," said Melia Cerrato with the Tulane First Amendment Clinic.

Chrastil said he filed a public records request with the agency, which oversees the State Police, on March 13. DPS claimed that the contract is exempt pursuant to an exemption for attorney work products. In response, Chrastil sued DPS for illegally withholding the records.

“The state refusing to turn over a contract for outside legal services sets a troubling precedent. Every year, our state and local governments spend millions of taxpayer dollars paying lawyers. The public deserves to know what they are up to and how much they are getting paid,” Chrastil said.

A spokesperson for State Police was unable to comment on the pending suit.

The lawsuit comes a few weeks after a bill backed by Gov. Jeff Landry was introduced into the state legislature that would limit media organizations' access to public records. The bill, SB 482, drew criticisms from free speech advocates and journalists, who called it "disingenuous, misleading and potentially catastrophic."

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