First Amendment, FOIA doesn't apply in Arizona? 

Jean Warren is a resident of a small town just north of Wickenburg, AZ, who happens to want to keep an eye on the spending practices of the local Congress Elementary Public School district. So she files requests for documents from the school system, using her state's public records law.

So far, nothing special about that, right? Well, not according to school officials, who have filed a lawsuit against Warren and three of her fellow citizens, claiming they abused the state public records law, and asking the court to declare them no longer eligible to file such requests.

Yes, you read that right - school officials have asked a judge to unilaterally declare that a duly passed law that applies to all citizens of the state of Arizona no longer applies to these four individuals.

“The whole thing is based on trying to shut us down so that nobody has any rights,” Warren told Mark Flatten, an investigative reporter with the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona think tank. “Just because you live in a small area does not mean you don’t have rights. Everything I believe about the Constitution and what it means to be a citizen of the USA is being shot down.”

Flatten adds that "the school district has a history of violating state laws mandating government transparency, according to investigations dating to 2002 done by the Arizona attorney general and state ombudsman. In 2002 and again in 2007, the district was found to be in violation of the state’s open meeting law by the Attorney General’s Office. In June 2009, the state ombudsman’s office admonished the district for its slow response to public records requests."

Flatten asked Liz Hill, Arizona's assistant state ombudsman for public access, about the lawsuit. Hill said she knew of no similar lawsuits in which a government agency sought to block a particular citizen's right to use the public records law.

“There’s a lot of talk about entities going and getting injunctions or other kinds of protective orders not to have to respond to certain individuals or certain requests,” Hill said. “But I haven’t actually been aware of any specific case, just more the theory of it. This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone go and attempt to do it.”

Flatten is associated with Watchdog.org. Go here for more from Flatten on an amazing illustration of local government officials seeking to quash the public's right to know.

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Mark Tapscott

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