Q&A: Access to legal settlements

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From The Indianapolis Star:

Q: The Indian­apolis Office of Corporation Counsel has denied the newspaper access to individual legal settlements. It considers the requested information to be attorney work product, which is privileged.

Additionally, the city says they are “[r]ecords that are intra-agency or interagency advisory or deliberative material, including material developed by a private contractor under a contract with a public agency, that are expressions of opinion or are of a speculative nature, and that are communicated for the purpose of decision making” [I.C. 5-14-3-4(b)(6).]. Is the city correct? 

A: The Knights­town Banner v. Town of Knightstown case in 2008 made it clear that the final settlements in legal action involving government agencies are records that should be made available for inspection and copying.

The (b)(6) exception only protects the opinion or speculation portions of documents created for decision-making purposes. It doesn’t include the settlement that’s been signed by both sides.

Once you’ve made a formal request for settlement records and been denied, I suggest you file a complaint with the Indiana public access counselor. Make sure you reference the Knightstown Banner case.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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