by Clancy DuBos
In a statement thats sure to draw howls of laughter, New Orleans City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields is claiming victory in the Nagins Administrations ongoing fight with WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurik over the reporters public records requests for the mayors calendar and emails from 2008. Nagin was unavailable for comment Monday night, but Moses-Fields sent WWL-TV an email Monday night after Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet excoriated Nagin and Moses-Fields for a flagrant violation of the law they have been sworn to uphold, namely the Louisiana Public Records Law.
After concluding that the administration ignored Zuriks request for two months and acted in a manner that was unreasonable and arbitrary, Ledet imposed the maximum fine of $100 a day (excluding weekends and holidays) against the city, Nagin and Moses-Fields. More important, Ledet ruled that Nagin and Moses-Fields are liable individually and in solido with the city for those fines which means that Zurik can pursue collection of the fine against the mayor personally instead of waiting nearly 10 years for the city to get around to paying adverse judgments.
Nevertheless, Moses-Fields is claiming mission accomplished. In an email to the station, she wrote that the city overwhelmingly prevailed because Ledet did not hold the mayor and/or the city in contempt for producing redacted copies of Nagins 2008 calendar on Feb. 18.
Here is most but not all of Moses-Fields statement:
[T]he Court has issued judgments in which the City prevailed in the most significant parts and did not prevail in other areas.
The Court flat out rejected Plaintiffs request that the City be held in contempt of court for not producing the Mayors calendar without redactions. In doing so, the most important aspect of the courts ruling was the courts recognition of a security privilege, which before the courts ruling, had never been recognized by a Louisiana Court. Plaintiff had argued that if the exception did not specifically exist in the public records act, the exception did not exist at all. The court expressly rejected plaintiffs argument and agreed with the City that the Mayors security staff was clearly entitled to take necessary precautions to ensure the Mayors safety. On this point the court held:
Additionally, although not a recognized exception under Louisianas Public Records Law, the Court finds that a real and present security risk exist in publicly disclosing the location of regularly scheduled meetings the Mayor and the city officials that establish a pattern . In this instance, security concerns outweigh any public interest concern of Mr. Zurik beyond disclosure these meetings are scheduled.
The security privilege redactions made up more than half of the total amount of information redacted from the Mayors calendar. Additionally, the court recognized that the mayor was allowed to redact personal information from his calendar as well. Personal information consisted of another quarter of the information redacted. Therefore, the City overwhelmingly prevailed in rejecting Plaintiffs request to have the City held in contempt, and in validating three fourths of the Citys redactions.
Thats a generous reading of Ledets ruling. In truth, the judge ordered production of an UNREDACTED copy of Nagins 2008 calendar with the exception of the following redacted information: [Quoting from the order, below]
1. center headings at the top of the daily calendar
2. 7:00 a.m. entries
3. 6:00 p.m. entries
4. telephone numbers
5. 2:00 p.m. entry on July 4, 2008.
The court also allowed Nagin to produce a calendar redacting the location of regularly scheduled bi-weekly meetings on the mayors calendar. That is, Nagin can black out the location but not the meetings themselves.
If, as Moses-Fields claims, the above-cited redactions constitute three-fourths of Nagins calendar, then clearly his 2008 calendar was even lighter than his minimalist 2007 datebook. Thats hardly something to crow about.
Furthermore, claiming that Nagin and the city won most of the issues when the judge ordered both the mayor and the city attorney to be held personally responsible for nearly $7,000 in fines is like Japan saying it really won WWII because Pearl Harbor was such a smashing success for Emperor Hirohito.
Actually, her email reminds me of that hilarious Black Knight Fight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Yeah, right: Tis but a flesh wound!