Judge dismisses DCCR open records complaint

Staff writer, DCCR, June 6, 2023 — After a show cause hearing held on April 11, District Judge Mary Deganhart dismissed a complaint made by Delta County Citizen Report (DCCR) concerning four requests for open records from Delta County government officials. Deganhart wrote in her ruling, “the Court cannot find that the County denied the right to inspect any record requested by Plaintiffs in CORA requests 1 to 4.” The court also found that the complaint was not frivolous, vexatious, or groundless and did not award attorney fees to the County.

“At the end of the day, DCCR was unable to make a case that partial records and exorbitant cost constituted an affective denial,” said DCCR Board President JoAnn Kalenak who testified at the hearing.

DCCR had been seeking credit card records for County Administrator Robbie LeValley from October 2012, when she was first hired, to November 2018, when the County claims LeValley first had access to a credit card. The complaint alleged that, while some records were provided, others were omitted. Extreme cost variations between the four open records requests were also at issue.

Judge Deganhart wrote “no evidence was introduced that Ms. LeValley ever actually used another credit card prior to that date [November 2018] and the meaning of “associated with” is vague and subject to interpretation.”

“Sadly, Judge Deganhart’s interpretation seemed limited to a single question: Did the County provide records? Never mind that they were not what we’d asked for,” said Kalenak.

Kalenak added, “Both Robbie LeValley and Margret Davey, former County Accounting Director, testified to the existence of a “common card” used by LeValley and other managers during the dates in question. Those are the records we are seeking and those are the records that have not yet been provided.”

Deganhart further wrote in her ruling that Leone Anderson, the county’s current accounting director, “testified about how she arrived at the cost estimate [in CORA 3], including her belief that there would be extensive investigation and research that would have to be done to locate the records.” Anderson estimated the cost to fulfill CORA 3 at between $4,120 and $4,620.

“The cost estimate for CORA 3 didn’t make sense to us since the records we asked for were the same as those asked for in all four CORAs,” said Kalenak. “We believed the high-cost estimate to be another stonewalling tactic.”

The County provided some 750 pages of documents in answer to the fourth and final CORA request made by DCCR. Kalenak testified that those documents do not include the records sought by DCCR and that she believed the flood of information to be yet another tactic. Judge Deganhart found that “the fact that the actual cost associated with CORA 4 was only $99.00 does not make the estimate for CORA 3 or the request for the advance deposit unreasonable.”

The deadline to file an appeal was yesterday, June 5. Kalenak said that the DCCR board considered appealing the ruling but opted not to due to the high-risk often associated with these types of cases.

“Cost was also a factor,” said Kalenak.