The Lens is seeking a new trial after a Civil District Court judge denied the nonprofit news outlet’s request for the judge to declare that the city routinely ignores public records law.

The Lens filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor Mitch Landrieu in mid-May alleging the city regularly fails to answer public-records requests on time and in accordance with state law. The lawsuit listed five outstanding requests, four of which were fulfilled after the lawsuit was filed.

But in his June 1 judgment, denying the Lens’ requests, judge Kern Reese relied heavily on his assertion that all five requests had been fulfilled. That simply wasn’t true — the city has yet to fulfill the fifth request.

Based on those inaccuracies, and other procedural concerns, Lens attorney Scott Sternberg requested an amended judgment and new trial in a motion filed June 9.

“Obviously, we’re not satisfied with the initial ruling because it hampers citizens’ access to the city’s public records,” Lens Editor Steve Beatty said. “So we’re asking the judge to reconsider.”

The Lens initially sued asking the judge for three things:

  • To order the city to produce records that The Lens requested weeks or months ago
  • To declare that the city has a pattern of not providing public records in a timely manner
  • To issue an injunction that would prevent city officials from continuing their practice of delayed compliance

The judge denied all three.

Sternberg’s request for a new trial and amended judgment cites the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, which states that a new trial shall be granted “When the verdict or judgment appears clearly contrary to the law and the evidence.”

In Reese’s June 1 ruling he wrote emphatically that state public records law is “NOT hard, fast and definite.”

In The Lens’ new request, Sternberg counters that notion. “Petitioners believe that the law means what it says — that records should be presumed open, and that requestors should not have to file a lawsuit to get the records they seek.”

A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 14.

“If that doesn’t work out the way we hope, we’ll likely appeal to the Fourth Circuit,” Beatty said.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...