Freedom Of Information Request To Be Heard In District Court Today

A request for records of the DeSoto Clerk of Court Jeremy Evans is headed to court.  The case is set for a court hearing on Friday, August 4, at the DeSoto Parish Courthouse with Judge Nicholas Gasper presiding.

Suit was filed by Coy Fortenberry, a recent graduate of LSU in political science.  Fortenberry is researching the local Clerk’s office and filed a request for information under the state’s public records law.  Having been bit by the political bug volunteering on local campaigns, Fortenberry accepted the opportunity to work on a private research project about government accountability and transparency.  And that lead to the request for information from Evans.

In a media release, Fortenberry said, “A seemingly ordinary request asking for salaries, expenses for travel and entertainment, advertising, and legal fees did not get the results I was anticipating.” Instead, his request was delayed for weeks, which became months.

“First they told me they would provide the records in 30 days. Then, when that date came and went, I followed up with them both by phone and email on numerous occasions. They responded by saying ‘we are gathering the information’, or ‘we are waiting on the CPA to get us the records’,” said Fortenberry.

Louisiana law and the state constitution require public bodies to make available to the public most records, unless explicitly excepted in the statute. The records must be made available within five business days of the initial request or immediately thereafter as soon as the records are found.

After nearly four months of delays and still not receiving the records, Fortenberry filed suit in the 42nd Judicial District Court, demanding Evans to perform his duties and make available the requested public information.  “I felt that if I didn’t file this lawsuit, I would not get the records in any reasonable amount of time. That leads me to question their motives for not complying as the law requires,” said Fortenberry.

When the suit was filed on June 30, Evans’ attorney immediately responded to say they had the records all along, but they were misplaced in his office. And the records were redacted to shield the names of the employees’ salaries including the clerk himself.

In the correspondence from Evans’ attorney, Fortenberry was challenged as to if his “need for the records is even legitimate.” However, the public records law specifically prohibits public bodies from inquiring or questioning the purpose of a records request.

“We finally got a portion of the records, but they were not complete and the names of persons receiving payments from the office were hidden. Very suspicious, to say the least. For example, one record shows an employee, whose name was redacted and instead titled ‘Employee #18’, receiving $1.1 million during the two terms Jeremy Evans has served as clerk of court. Also, he spent over $230,000 in legal fees to Shreveport attorneys, with no indication as to the purpose of these expenses. These extravagant expenses question the integrity of the operations of the office and the people’s money,” said Fortenberry.

“It is clear to me that this office is not being transparent with their use of the public’s dollars. They should be accountable for their actions and their spending. No elected official should be able to skirt the law to their benefit, especially when a citizen asks questions about their use of our money,” said Fortenberry.

The public will have an opportunity to hear from Fortenberry and Clerk of Court Jeremy Evans at the court hearing this morning.