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Reviewing Arkansas State Police crash reports to remove children's names adds "substantial additional time" to the process of making the reports publicly available, says the state lawyer responding to a Little Rock lawyer's accusations that the agency is deliberately delaying releasing the records.

The state police have always been in compliance with the law controlling the release of those reports, which is the state Transportation Code, not the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen stated in a Friday motion to dismiss a lawsuit by Brad Hendricks and his eponymous Little Rock law firm.

Hendricks sued last month in Pulaski County Circuit Court, accusing state police of illegally slowing down the release of the reports in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

A 2013 law written by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, and signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson requires all enforcement agencies to remove the names and addresses of minors from vehicle crash reports before they can be made public.

That information can now be disclosed only to a parent or legal guardian of a child involved in a crash or to the insurance company that provides coverage for those involved in a crash.

Arkansas State Police officials said last year that the agency doesn't have the resources to conduct the required review and redaction process on every report, so they announced they would end the practice of allowing open inspection of all reports.

Because of the Williams redaction requirement, officials said, those who want to see crash reports would have to specify the reports they wanted to see by date, location and the name of at least one vehicle occupant.

According to the police response to the lawsuit, the agency does allow public inspection of all crash reports that have been previously requested and have already been redacted as necessary.

Williams' redaction requirement does add "substantial additional time" to the release process, Friday's court filing states.

"The parties agree that before making accident reports available for public inspection, the State Police must review the reports and make redactions required," the police response to the lawsuit states. "Hendricks is understandably frustrated by the fact that the State Police's turnaround time for accident reports has expanded because of ... new redaction rules.

"Of course, the State Police cannot ignore the law, and Hendricks concedes that the State Police must review all accident reports, and redact where required, prior to public disclosure."

Jorgensen calls for Hendricks' lawsuit to be dismissed as having no basis in the law. Jorgensen said the attorney is wrong to assert that the disclosure time for the reports falls under the Freedom of Information Act, which requires public records to be released within three days.

Chapter 53 of the state Transportation Code, Title 27, controls the reports' disclosure, not the open-records law, the state attorney asserts on behalf of the state police. That chapter specifically allows for a flexible release time to accommodate the additional time for the reports to be reviewed to comply with the Williams redaction rule, the filing states.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mary McGowan is scheduled to hear arguments from the sides on July 21.

Jorgensen also disputes Hendricks' assertion that Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler, a co-defendant in the suit with the agency, failed to answer the law firm's inquiries about how the agency complied with its duties under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to Jorgensen, Sadler engaged in "an extended email conversation" with a Hendricks attorney, Caroline Lewis, over several days, only stopping after Sadler felt that he had answered all of her questions, which he said had become repetitive.

Metro on 07/09/2016

Print Headline: Redacting kids' names in crash reports a slog, state tells court


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