The Post sues D.C. Council for allegedly violating open information laws

The Washington Post is suing the D.C. Council for withholding information requested under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act.

The 10-page complaint filed in the D.C. Superior Court Sept. 25 comes nearly one year after The Post requested records in October 2018 that detail Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evan’s appointments with people and businesses in 2015 and 2016. The Post is asking the Council to declare all documents requested through FOIA as public, share the documents with The Post and pay any legal fees The Post might owe for bringing this case.

“The requested records concern issues of the highest public importance: unethical and potentially criminal misconduct by a democratically elected lawmaker,” the suit states.

Evans fell under multiple investigations last January after possible connections between his political decisions and private financial interests came to light. A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ethics committee found that Evans failed to disclose a $50,000 consulting agreement with Colonial Parking, even though Evans held a relationship with the company’s chief executive officer.

Anyone can request access to public records, but not every record sought will be disclosed, and a person can seek judicial review if the response to their request does not meet their needs, according to the D.C. FOIA website.

A Post reporter first requested Evans’ calendars, appointment books and schedules along with any other time-management records last October, according to the complaint. The Council sent the reporter copies of Evans’ Microsoft Outlook calendar entries in November and provided copies of calendars in Microsoft Word – from which the Council attests Evans’ personal information was redacted – in December, the complaint states.

The Council then requested that The Post limit its search of records for the Word calendar entries to only a few businesses or individuals, according to the complaint.

But the Council’s general counsel wrote to The Post’s counsel April 29 that results of the narrowed search were involved with a federal grand jury subpoena, which exempts the Council from providing the files, the complaint states.

The Post claims that Evans’ pre-existing records should not be covered under FOIA exemptions, but the Council’s general counsel replied to the paper in August that the subpoena “rendered the records exempt from disclosure” and that, because Evans is the subject of a Council investigation, his calendar entries are unobtainable.

The Post’s complaint states that the Council’s refusal to relinquish the public records it requested violates FOIA.

“The District to committed to a transparent, open and democratic form of government: by default has a right of access to all public records,” the suit states. “Access to information relevant to the alleged wrongdoing of an elected lawmaker, as well as information, relevant to assessing the council’s and WMATA’S official activities, are at the very heart of the democratic accountability that FOIA is designed to serve.”

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