Q&A: Results of survey are public records

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From The Indiana Lawyer (Indianapolis):

Q: The Indiana Supreme Court held a public comment period earlier this year asking for feedback on a rule revision the court is considering. That period ended, and now a Supreme Court’s Rules Committee is considering the revision. The committee gathered public comments, and in addition to the comments sent by email, the Rules Committee also received about 300 from an online survey tool set up for that.

I wanted to review those public comments for a story, but a spokeswoman for the Indiana Supreme Court declined to release them. She cited a statutory exception on “intra-agency deliberative administrative records” as the reason. 

A: I don’t think the legislature intended to include survey results under IC 5-14-3-4(b)(6). That provision was intended to allow staff members or consultants to air opinions, play the devil’s advocate, float trial balloons, etc., without bringing down upon themselves a hail of public criticisms for trying to expand the discussion or think outside the box.

While the survey results are expressions of opinion by the participants, I don’t think a survey response would be considered intra-agency nor would the participants be considered private contractors for the court.

So I don’t think it falls under the provision that would allow the comments to be kept confidential.

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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