Governor’s office has 30 days to turn over sexual harassment records, judge says

Governor’s office has 30 days to turn over sexual harassment records, judge says
A judge has given the governor's office 30 days to turn over public records requested in connection with sexual harassment allegations against a former staffer. (Source: unsplash.com)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A judge ruled Wednesday, Oct. 23 in favor of a plaintiff who accused Governor John Bel Edwards’ administration of dragging its feet in turning over public records, but granted the administration 30 days to complete the request.

Virginia political consultant, Gary Maloney, filed the suit, hoping to get the records by Nov. 1. Hon. Wilson Fields instead allowed Edwards’ attorneys until Nov. 22 to produce the documents.

Maloney is working with anti-Edwards political group, Truth in Politics. Election Day is Nov. 16.

In a massive request in August, Maloney asked for copies of texts and emails between certain Edwards staffers. He did not specify a time period or limit portions of the request by topic, meaning Edwards’ attorneys have to sift through thousands of documents before releasing them to ensure no personal information or privileged data is accidentally released.

Sexual harassment allegations against former Edwards staffer, Johnny Anderson, are at the center of the request. The woman who accused Anderson of groping and assaulting her, Juanita Washington, contends the administration did not properly handle the case.

Immediately after Washington accused the former deputy chief of staff of groping and assaulting her, Anderson was asked to resign. Washington and Anderson later settled out of court, with neither party admitting wrongdoing.

Matthew Block, the administration’s executive legal counsel, argued in court that the volume of Maloney’s request contributed to the delay in turning over the records. Two attorneys in the governor’s office are responsible for sifting through records requests, in addition to their other legal duties.

“We have other responsibilities other than public records requests that take up a significant amount of our time,” Block said in an interview with WAFB. He testified the governor’s office requested help from the Division of Administration’s attorneys to complete records requests in a timely fashion.

In addition, Maloney asked for itemized expenditures made by the Governor’s Mansion over four years, and reimbursement reports for a trip to Los Angeles. Maloney also made nearly 50 other similar requests to the governor’s office as the October primary approached.

But the plaintiff argued a number of attorneys who work in the governor’s office could have pitched in to scan the documents before releasing them. He noted the governor’s office never contacted Maloney to clarify potentially vague elements of the 15-part request in question.

“There are several other lawyers in the governor’s office,” Washington said in an interview with WAFB. “I believe that this is a deliberate attempt to withhold my truth.”

“It’s clear that this is about the election and they are essentially weaponizing the public records request law so they can use public taxpayer dollars to do political research,” Block said.

Each side claimed Wednesday’s ruling as a sort of victory. Block called the new timeline “reasonable," and the plaintiff contended Hon. Fields ruled in their favor by granting the writ of mandamus.

The records do not have to be made public until after Election Day, though the governor’s office could release them sooner.

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