JAY - A Delaware County judge said he'd try to make a decision by Thursday on what one attorney termed a “gray area” in the Open Records Act.
At the crux of the case are written requests for records by a Kansas City-based firm, Gold Fields Mining, to John Sparkman, director of the Picher Housing Authority.
The Oklahoma Open Records Act doesn't specifically require that governmental agencies respond to written requests for records - but does mandate records be available for on-site inspection or photocopy during normal business hours, said Tony Lazaire, attorney for the housing authority.
“What about out-of-state people? The Open Records Act doesn't state that you have to darken their door,” asked Andrea Cutter, attorney for Gold Fields.
Gold Fields maintains their written requests to Sparkman for a copy of his employment contracts with the housing authority and a private law firm went unanswered until the firm filed a civil lawsuit in Ottawa County District Court.
The Speer law firm, representing Sparkman, claims it can't determine if the housing authoirty is required to respond under the federal Freedom of Information Act or the Open Records Act.
Attorney Tony Laizure pointed out that the authority receives total federal funding for its existence and therefore is a quaisi-state agency that must follow federal public information guidelines.
“That's a red herring,” Cutter told the judge.
She advised that PHA was created under state legislation, has a board appointed by Mayor Sam Freeman of Picher and must comply with the Open Records Act.
If the authority were a federal agency, it wouldn't need to receive federal grants, Cutter said, adding that “A Department of Justice lawyer would be here if it was a federal agency. They take care of these things.”
The mining company is seeking a contract or any type of records relating to Sparkman's sideline job where he's paid $15,000 per year as a consultant, creating a video production for the Speer Law Firm.
That video was created as evidence in federal cases where numerous Picher families, as well as the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, have sued lead mining companies for health problems incurred as a result of environmental contamination within the Tar Creek Superfund Site.
Sparkman is slated to testify in that federal case.
Laizure told Associated District Judge Barry Denney that the local civil lawsuit is being used only to circumvent” a federal order limiting Gold Fields' access to Sparkman's testimony.
Gold Fields is also seeking Sparkman's employment contract with PHA to determine if he's allowed to moonlight.
Lazaire contends at Sparkman's contract with the Speer Law Firm is personal in that a “record does not mean nongovernmental personal effects.”
Gold Fields maintains that if the contract with Speers was presented to the PHA board of directors, it became a matter of public record. “When you submit personal information to a public body, the law is crystal clear. It becomes a public document,” Cutter said.
Gold Fields attorneys offered in writing to pay reproduction costs as well as appear in person to inspect the documents, but received no response, attorney Robert J. Joyce wrote to the court.
On Thursday, Cutter asked that Judge Denney appoint a neutral third party to inspect the PHA records to determine if the requested documents exist, as well as pay their attorney fees.