The following questions were submitted by News and Tribune (New Albany), Pilot News (Plymouth), LaGrange Standard and LaGrange News, The Brookville Democrat and The Brookville American:
Request settlement agreement details for student’s claim from school district
Q: Plymouth Community Schools recently entered into a settlement agreement with a former student who had filed a tort claim against the corporation. The settlement was through the corporation’s insurer, Liberty Mutual. (At least that’s who employed the lawyers.) How do I go about finding out the terms of the settlement? If I file an Access to Public Records Act request, should I file it with the corporation, the attorney for the insurance company, both?
I’ve also called the plaintiff’s attorney, but am not optimistic about a response.
A: You are correct that the plaintiff would have a copy and could release if the attorney wants to do so (unless one of the terms was the plaintiff couldn’t release or would forfeit the settlement amount).
As to the school district, even if the insurance company handled, it did so as an agent of the school district. I would argue that settlement agreement is a disclosable public record. Indiana courts have ruled on this matter in Knightstown Banner v. Knightstown. In that case, Knightstown council said they didn’t have a copy because it was done by attorney hired by insurance agency. Court said Knightstown had to get copy from attorney and make available to newspaper because it was documenting a final action (agreement to settle) of the governing body.
Make the request to the school district.
Don’t accept notice that just states “executive session” without any explanation
Q: Union County Board of Commissioners want to have an executive session. They have not produced a code citation authorizing it. Off the record, I was told it concerned a former health board member who recently resigned, but wants to come back on the board. Can the commissioners have the closed-door session. The county attorney later gave me a reference to the Indiana Open Door Law as justification.
A: Assuming there’s a vacancy on the board or it’s the time of year where the county commissioners make appointments to a board, such as the county health board, then the county attorney is correct that the commissioners could under I.C. 5-14-1.5-6.1(b)(10) have an executive session to develop a list of people to consider for the upcoming appointments or if they have an application process for the board, look at those applications. They can even take the list or applications behind closed doors and cut the choices down to no less than three for a particular vacancy or seat up for reappointment.
You should know that if they do make a cut, then they have to make available identifying information as to those remaining in contention after the cut. You should also note that they can’t interview prospects behind closed doors, so they couldn’t invite the former board member who wants to rejoin the health board into this executive session.
The other thing to note is that if they give notice of an executive session, it should include the statutory basis for the closed-door meeting. [See I.C. 5-14-1.5-6.1(d).] You shouldn’t have to ask for the basis for an executive session and you should never accept a notice that just states “executive session” without any explanation concerning topic and statute authorizing the secret meeting.
Notice of Administration public notices only need to be published twice
Q: I have a Notice of Administration public notice prepared for an attorney. I know the law requires it be published twice, one week apart. The attorney’s office asks it be published three times with each notice a week apart. Can we do this and what should I charge for the notice publication?
A: You are correct that Indiana law only requires two publications a week apart, so the attorney’s request is above and beyond the Indiana legal obligation. (He may be publishing to satisfy a Kentucky law, which could be different than Indiana’s statute requirements.)
I suggest you point out that Indiana law only requires two publications and that is what the newspaper’s flat rate is based upon. You can say you’re more than happy to publish it as requested in three consecutive weeks, but the cost will be $xxx to cover the third publication.
I’ll let you determine the upcharge. Keep in mind whatever you charge may be a precedent that he or other lawyers would expect in the future.
Ask postal officials for “source document” to explain mailing changes
Q: I have been made to understand by our local postmistress that newspapers (periodical mail) are to be handled the same as market mail (the old third class or standard mail) both on the intake side and delivery side. Is this true? I don’t recall any postal changes in our mailings since we started to use Interlink software in the early 1990’s.
A: As I suspected, neither Max Heath or Tonda Rush of the National Newspaper Association have not heard a peep about any such change in prioritization of periodicals mail. They suggested you ask your postmistress for the “source document” that she is relying upon to not give your periodicals product preferred treatment over standard mail. While First class might have a slight edge over Periodicals, she should still be giving the newspaper its due as a time-sensitive piece of mail.
I’m betting she has no document, but will say it was something she picked up at a conference or thinks she read in an email. If she doesn’t have any document to rely upon, she should go back to giving you the preferred priority over standard mail, and first class equivalent treatment.
Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, firstname.lastname@example.org