Circuit Judge Tim Fox today dismissed Matt Campbell’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Secretary of State Mark Martin. The case has a long and somewhat tortured history, beginning with the secretary of state’s usual petty responses to FOI requests, but it boiled down to this:
The secretary of state’s office office ultimately provided all that Campbell (who authors Blue Hog Report) requested except one document. Campbell challenged redactions the office had made to the document He wanted a version showing editing changes. This all arose, by the way, from his inspection of records about Martin’s use of outside legal counsel without first obtaining the statutorily required approval of the attorney general’s office.
To fully judge this matter it’s worth remember that the secretary of state’s office first claimed not to have documents Campbell sought then produced some after he sued.
Said Martin’s spokesman, Alex Reed:
We are happy to see that these issues have been resolved in favor of our office. We remain committed to following the law.
Matt Campbell said today:
He dismissed the suit because I didn’t call a witness. I pointed out that this was entirely a question of law, for the court to decide, and for which no witnesses were needed. Apparently, he’s willing to pretend like there can never be a hearing or a successful case without witnesses, despite the fact that, if that were true, you could never have a successful motion for judgment on the pleadings or motion for summary judgment.
It’s not even clear what testimony he thought there should be. What, I’m going to put someone on to say “they should give him the PDF”? That still ultimately comes down to a question of law for the court to decide, and the pleadings in this case are voluminous — including verbatim copies of emails between me and Alex Reed — so there was nothing that testimony would have added.
Not to mention, the burden in an appeal from a denial of FOIA rights is not on me. It’s on the Secretary of State’s office to prove that the records were properly withheld. Asking me for my witnesses, without making them make a case, ignores the presumption in favor of disclosure in the FOIA.
Nonetheless, Mark Martin can claim a full victory. Campbell probably went too deep into the weeds on this. He could have claimed victory when his lawsuit produced documents that previously were said not to exist. He also won a victory in Fox’s earlier ruling disqualifying outside lawyers, including a Republican lawyer who serves with Martin on the state Election Commission, from representing Martin in the FOI case. But the record shows case dismissed. There was no reference to Fox’s earlier ruling from the bench disqualifying Martin’s outside counsel.
Campbell said he will appeal Fox’s dismissal.