What is it with some government agencies and refusing to release public records? Public records are just that. Records that the public is entitled to under state law. Don’t like it? Too bad. That’s the law. Judges are in the business of enforcing the law. So refuse to follow a judges order to release public records at your own peril.
The big news last week was State Auditor Stacey Pickering refusing to turn over records to the Sun Herald pursuant to an order by Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel. Instead, Pickering’s staff drove the documents to Jackson over night and gave them to federal prosecutors.
Pickering says his office had cover because federal prosecutors issued a grand jury subpoena for the documents–after the judge issued her order to produce the records to the newspaper. Does a federal subpoena trump a Mississippi law and state court order? Not according to Judge Schloegel.
Late Friday afternoon Pickering and his attorneys requested a lifeline and asked for a conference call with U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett. Judge Starrett rejected Pickering’s request for help and informed them that Judge Schloegel’s order was the law. I smell a motion to recuse Judge Starrett.
Earlier last week, Pickering flailed around trying to get Judge Schloegel to recuse herself before asking the feds for help.
What are people on the Coast privately asking? They are asking what Pickering is hiding. That’s not good… for Pickering.
It’s not just Pickering. Jackson Jambalaya reported last week about the new City of Jackson administration not releasing public records.
What’s the deal? My guess is that not releasing public records makes people feel powerful. And for many peopl, feeling powerful feels good. Or maybe they are just stupid. Who knows?
But here’s a tip for anyone who ever is ordered to do something by a judge. Do it. Just do it. The Order is your cover. Don’t play Mr. Fancy Pants. Judges really don’t like people playing games with them.
And as Pickering is finding out, judges don’t like it when you don’t follow their orders.
In Pickering’s case, what he should have done was told the feds that Judge Schoelgel had made her order and he was going to comply unless the feds could get the judge to withdraw her order. That would have forced the feds to either enter the fray in state court, or go away.
Yea, he could have filed a motion for protective order, but if he wants to pretend he’s only trying to help the feds then he can let the feds carry their own water.
Instead, Pickering’s office played Mr. Fancy Pants and tried to make an end run around a state court judge. As always, the cover up is worse than the crime. No matter what happens from here, Pickering is a huge loser in this.