Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry recipient of Black Hole Award
Haisten Willis, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair, 317-927-8000, email@example.com
Ashlynn Neumeyer, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-361-4133, firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS —This year, the Society of Professional Journalists is giving its annual Black Hole Award to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry for his attempt to block a Louisiana Freedom of Information Act request of public interest by filing a lawsuit against the reporter who made the request. The Black Hole Award is bestowed upon government institutions or agencies for acts of outright contempt of the public’s right to know during Sunshine Week.
"This was an egregious attempt to not only intimidate a reporter, but to intimidate all future FOIA requesters with fear of legal action for simply trying to learn what is happening inside their government," SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair Haisten Willis said. "Open — truly open — records are crucial to maintaining our fragile democracy, and all citizens benefit from transparency in government. Attempting to bully someone out of holding government officials accountable has earned the Louisiana attorney general a well-deserved Black Hole Award."
Landry took issue with a public record request filed on Dec. 14 by Advocate and Times-Picayune reporter Andrea Gallo for copies of sexual harassment complaints against Pat Magee, who heads the Louisiana Department of Justice’s criminal division.
Gallo was originally stalled in receiving the documents and told a common phrase from agencies withholding information: The files are protected due to an “ongoing investigation.” Then the reporter was hit with a lawsuit from Landry for “demanding information which will compromise the rights of our employees and could lead to litigation over the violation of those rights.”
The case went to trial, with Judge Tim Kelley of the 19th Judicial District ruling in favor of Gallo. Kelley said relevant records must be released after making redactions that might identify witnesses, victims or bystanders.
This case had the potential to chill any future efforts to obtain open records, especially those from smaller newsrooms, freelancers or individuals who may fear the financial burden of a similar lawsuit.
Dishonorable mentions include Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, Seattle Police Department and Seattle Detective Michael P. Magan, for their attempt at forcing local news stations to turn over unpublished images to convict protesters, and Trenton government officials, for repeatedly violating New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act and Open Public Records Act and attempting to criminalize journalism.
Nominations for the Black Hole Award come from journalists, open government advocates and the general public.
Previous recipients of the Black Hole Award include President Donald Trump and his administration, the Connecticut State Police, the U.S. Virgin Islands Government and Oklahoma State University.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.