SUNSHINE WEEK – CORONERS
The Coroner is a constitutional officer pursuant to Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 29 operating in each parish and elected by the voters. Louisiana Revised Statute 13:5702 mandates the duty of being the “conservator of the peace”.
Coroners offices are gloomy places and rightfully so. It is commonly associated with the death of people… and also public records request. The lack of cooperation with public records request from this group of constitutional officers makes you wonder if there is something occurring that is worth looking into more deeply.
What is very interesting is that our requests for public records were sent to these bodies while many Coroners were gathered at the Louisiana State Coroners Association meeting. Many of those in attendance openly discussed our public records request. Some dismissed the public record requests as some “conspiracy” because it had been circulated to so many Coroners in a short period of time. Some fired back with a boiler plate letter rambling on about public records law, citing irrelevant Attorney General opinions and claiming that the requests were “broad” and “unreasonably burdensome”. Many demanded a deposit, one office upwards of $7,000, in order to fulfill our requests.
In one rural parish the Coroner graciously asked for additional time to fulfill the request which wasn’t a problem. Things turned south when the Coroner recognized our right to inspect the records, but demanded that we would have to pays the “fees” for the time spent fulfilling the request regardless of whether we performed an inspection or received physical copies.
Did you know?
A custodian has three days to provide legal reasons for the denial of any public records request. If the custodian arbitrarily fails to give a written explanation of the reasons for denying a request he could be held personal liable for penalties totaling up to $100 per day (but he still gets a “free” defense paid for by you the taxpayer).
CORONERS: (Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 29)
The following four requests were sent to each Coroner in the state:
- Individual appointment calendar of Coroner for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022, including but not limited to: traditional hard copy calendars and electronically stored information on cell phone(s), computer(s) and/or other electronic devices.
- Expenses reports or listing of expense reimbursements for Coroner for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022 OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE; any and all documents of expense reimbursements for Coroner for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022.
- Any and all documents pertaining to the disposition of personal effects and property of deceased persons for the period of December 1, 2021 thru December 31, 2021.
- List of all Deputy coroners, assistant coroners, secretaries, stenographers, clerks, investigators, technicians, official photographer and other helpers presently appointed by the Coroner.
The Coroners were then graded based on ten objective factors with each being worth one point, for a maximum score of ten points. Below is how the governing bodies ranked after the passage of at least thirty days from the date of the request.
Have the public bodies made information regarding how to request public records readily available and easy to find (i.e. website, etc.)?
- 3% 3%
Did the public bodies acknowledge the receipt of the public records request or provide any exemptions within three days?
- 18% 18%
Did the public bodies produce the records for inspection or provide an estimate of time reasonably necessary for production within five days of the request?
- 3% 3%
Did the public bodies accept the e-mailed requests without a demand that it be presented on a particular form, in a particular format or submitted in an alternative fashion?
- 100% 100%
Did the public bodies accept the request without demanding that a state issued identification card be provided?
- 38% 38%
Did the public bodies refrain from inquiring about the purpose of the requests?
- 100% 100%
Did the public bodies respond without employing an attorney to respond?
- 75% 75%
Were the records or information made available free of charge and/or without a request for a deposit?
- 33% 33%
Were the records or information made available by electronic means or did the custodian indicate the records could be copied using a portable scanning device?
- 25% 25%
Were the records provided by the public bodies responsive to the requests and of good quality?
- 17% 17%