A Marion County judge on Wednesday ordered state officials by Friday to disclose legislative proposals they have been trying to keep secret.
The records to be released show law changes that state agencies want drafted ahead of the 2019 Legislature.
A Portland business attorney has been seeking the documents to alert his clients to changes that could affect them.
Marion County Circuit Court Judge Audrey Broyles said after a hearing in Salem Wednesday that releasing the records would be of “significant public interest.”
The records, called legislative concept forms, go to the Legislature’s attorneys to be turned into draft legislation. The drafts then can be filed with the Legislature for consideration. Access to the records could give the public insight into what Gov. Kate Brown and her administration plan to do on sometimes key issues, such as taxation and education reform.
Attorneys seeking disclosure suggested Brown’s administration was blocking release to safeguard her in a close election fight with state Rep. Knute Buehler.
Broyles ordered all 250 disclosed by 5 p.m. Friday but state attorneys said they planned to block that through an appeal.
Greg Chaimov, a former legislative lawyer who now with the Portland law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, habitually requests the forms and provides them to business clients. One of his clients is Priority Oregon, a political action committee funding negative ads against Brown, said John DiLorenzo, Chaimov’s attorney. Chaimov said he has routinely obtained the forms in past years.
Chaimov sought the internal records last July, but the state Department of Administrative Services turned him down, saying disclosure would breach attorney-client privilege.
Sarah Weston, attorney for the state, argued Wednesday that the agency views attorneys in the Legislative Counsel’s office as their attorneys when it comes to drafting legislation. That would mean communications sent to those attorneys were protected by client privilege.
But John DiLorenzo, representing Chaimov, argued that attorneys in the Legislative Counsel office by law can only provide legal advice to legislators.
The judge agreed.
“I cannot find that the Department of Administrative Services could have expected to form an attorney-client relationship,” Broyles said. “I find the state has failed to meet its burden to establish either that there is a public records exemption that exists or that there is existence of an attorney-client relationship.”
Paris Achen: [email protected] or 503-363-0888. Achen is a reporter for the Portland Tribune working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group and Salem Reporter.