Congress School District v. Warren (defense of parents seeking public records)

Posted on March 09, 2010 | Type: Case
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Case Background:

The Congress Elementary School District has a history of violating Arizona public records law and other state and federal laws that guarantee parents the right to see school records about their children. These violations have been documented by the state attorney general and the state ombudsman. The violations were brought to attention of state officials over the past decade because of actions by parents and taxpayers such as Jean Warren, Barbara Rejon, Cyndi Regis and Renee Behl-Hoge. At different times, these taxpayers have requested to see various documents widely considered to be basic public records, including agendas and minutes of school board meetings. Rejon, Regis and Behl-Hoge also have asked to see records about their children when they attended school in the district. However, Behl-Hoge’s family no longer lives in Congress and she hasn’t requested to see any school district records in more than six years.

In January 2010, the Congress school district filed a lawsuit against Warren, Rejon, Regis and Behl-Hoge. The district claims illegal harassment by the various requests for public records. The lawsuit also seeks to prevent the four women from requesting investigations by state agencies even if they suspect state sunshine laws have been violated. A strong proponent of transparency in government, the Goldwater Institute decided to represent the four taxpayers and has asked Yavapai Superior Court to dismiss the case.

On April 5, 2010 the Goldwater Institute argued the case should be thrown out for several reasons during a Motion to Dismiss hearing. Ten days later, Judge David L. Mackey agreed with the Goldwater Institute's position and threw the case out. Congress School District appealed and on March 31, 2011 the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to dismiss the case.

The Stakes:

• Transparency in government: Any court injunction would suggest that local governments can ignore sunshine laws and use the legal system to turn away taxpayers seeking access to public records and other information. Governments could use the threats of lawsuits to prevent the public from learning about poor spending decisions and mismanagement.
• Family values: No government should interfere with a parent’s ability to raise children by shutting off access to school records.
• Democracy in action: Voters unable to educate themselves about their government lack the ability to wisely select leaders and to participate fully in constitutional governance.

Case Documents:

October 26, 2010 Reply/Response on Summary Judgment to Compel the Release of Public Records

August 24, 2010 Appellate Brief

August 24, 2010 Motion for Summary Judgment to compel the release of public records

Decision on Motion to Dismiss

Reply on Motion to Dismiss

Motion to Dismiss

Amended Complaint

Case Timeline:

January 28, 2010: Congress Elementary School District files complaint in Yavapai County Superior Court

April 5, 2010: Hearing on Motion to Dismiss. 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom 304 at Yavapai County Courthouse, 120 S. Cortez Street, Prescott, Arizona.

April 15, 2010: Judge rules to grant motion to dismiss.

May 11, 2010: Congress School District files an appeal.

February 22, 2011: Oral arguments in front of Arizona Court of Appeals. 1501 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, Courtroom #1 at 2:45 p.m.

March 31, 2011: The Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously rules to dismiss the Congress School District's appeal.

News Releases:

Rural School District Seeks to Silence Parents with Lawsuit

Media Coverage:

Congress, Ariz. school district sues taxpayers to stop questions

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