FOIA worked, for a change
September 7, 2010 - Jim Smith
Far too often the use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain what is considered public information held by public officials doesn't bring forth the requested information.
But last week filing FOIA requests with the 911 Office and the Wood County Prosecutor's Office did result in obtaining nearly everything that was requested concerning a 911 call that resulted in a Wood County sheriff's deputy being dispatched to the home of a Wood County Circuit Court judge on an initial report of a domestic issue.
Initially public officials declined to say much about the incident, presumably because it involved a sitting circuit court judge. The judge, though, did respond to the News and Sentinel's questioning of the incident involving the 26-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend who was staying at his home while she studied for the bar exam. The woman also spoke to the newspaper about the incident and their versions agreed.
The newspaper filed FOIA requests to verify the accounts and thus kill the rumors about the incident that were spreading throughout the community.
While neither party directly involved in the incident lied when discussing it with the newspaper, the sheriff's department report indicated there had been an altercation that resulted in the woman getting a bloody nose when the judge used his arm to fend off her attack. The report also indicated the woman had been drinking and neither party wished to file charges.
In this case, the FOIA resulted in rounding out the versions originally offered, leaving the public with a better understanding of what happened .... which exactly is what FOIA requests are supposed to do.
Unfortunately, far too often public officials see public record as being something they must hide from the public, and that just leads to the public being left in the dark.
Prosecutor Jason Wharton was right to release the public records, and for that the public should be appreciative.