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BATON ROUGE — A judge Thursday spurned Attorney General Jeff Landry’s argument that Louisiana’s public-records law applies only to state residents, refusing to throw out a lawsuit filed against Landry by a woman who lives in Indiana.

But state district Judge William Morvant also wouldn’t heavily penalize the Republican attorney general for the lengthy time it took his office to turn over the records requested by Scarlett Martin, a researcher in Indianapolis.

Instead, Landry will have to pay Martin’s attorney fees. Her lawyer Chris Whittington estimated that would cost the attorney general’s office about $25,000.

Martin sought records in September and October 2016 about Landry’s dealings with the oil industry, travel to conferences and public appearances, vehicle purchases and contracts to hire outside law firms. She received thousands of pages in response to her requests, a number that Morvant said exceeded 16,000 documents — but only after she filed her lawsuit in March 2017.

Landry argued Martin didn’t have the right to sue because she doesn’t live in Louisiana, and asked Morvant to dismiss the entire case.

“The (state) constitution creates a right for the citizens of Louisiana, not the citizens of the world,” said Landry’s assistant attorney general Carey Jones.

Morvant disagreed, saying legislators didn’t offer any such specification in Louisiana’s public-records law. He said the only people who have detailed limits on their records access under the law are inmates.

“There is no implicit or explicit basis to say the Legislature intends that we have open public records, but you have to be a citizen of this state,” the judge said, calling that a “novel argument.”

But while Morvant wouldn’t shelve the lawsuit, he also didn’t agree that Landry’s slow response ran afoul of the public records law in a way that justified steep financial penalties.

A Section on 01/11/2019

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