The battle between the Sun-Herald and State Auditor Stacey Pickering over DMR records raged in Harrison County Chancellor Jennifer Schloegel's courtroom as the newspaper sought to hold Mr. Pickering in contempt of court. The Sun-Herald reported:
Regardless of whether she finds State Auditor Stacey Pickering in civil contempt of court, Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel directed his office and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to produce public records by Monday, as she ordered in October
At the contempt hearing Wednesday, Pickering's chief of investigations, David Huggins, said under oath Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy subpoenaed records from the DMR to avoid making them public -- not because a grand jury needed them.
The Sun Herald sued the DMR, Pickering and the Auditor's Office under the Mississippi Public Records Act for documents the DMR produced in the daily course of business. The auditor in January seized the records as part of an ongoing investigation into the DMR. After the newspaper's lawsuit was filed, the auditor agreed, then refused, to release copies to the newspaper.
Schloegel declared the records public Oct. 31 at the end of a two-day trial. The auditor's office once again agreed to make the records available for copying, but instead whisked them off in the night Nov. 4 to Jackson.
Pickering testified he was informed after the fact the records had been delivered to the grand jury. Schloegel recessed the hearing until Friday, when Assistant Attorney General Melissa Patterson is expected to testify.
Huggins told Patterson about the subpoena the day it was issued, Nov. 4, but she did not notify Schloegel until after business hours.
At the time, Patterson said she was under the impression the records were still on the Coast and could be copied before delivery to the grand jury. Huggins testified he thought so, too. In the past, he said, he has simply had to secure records, not deliver them to the grand jury....
Huggins said Dowdy subpoenaed the records to protect them, not for the grand jury investigation.
The state and federal investigation is not over, "not by any stretch of the imagination," Huggins said. "It's very active."
Schloegel learned Nov. 5 the records were gone from the Bolton Building in Biloxi, where both the DMR and auditor's investigators had offices. She said all the parties realized at that point the auditor appeared to be in contempt of her orders to protect and produce the records, but she wanted to research the issue before an official ruling. The records had been in her court's custody before they went to Jackson.
The Auditor's Office did not seek direction from Schloegel before taking the records to Jackson. Instead, Huggins said, Dowdy said Nov. 4 "we" were going to call Schloegel. Huggins assumed that meant Dowdy or another federal authority would talk to Schloegel that afternoon.
Then more finger-pointing took place:
Schloegel also refused Wednesday morning the auditor's request to close the hearing to the public. The auditor had cited the state and federal investigations of the DMR as his reason for the request.
Pickering said he had hoped his office could comply with both Schloegel's order to turn over the public records and with the grand jury subpoena. He said he left it up to his staff to do so.
Pickering petitioned the state Supreme Court on Nov. 21 to stay action in the Chancery Court case, including the contempt hearing, but the Supreme Court turned him down Monday.
Pickering told Schloegel he is now prepared to ask a federal judge to release the records so they can be copied for the newspaper. Rest of article
However, the State Auditor was not done as he asked a U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett to allow him to release the records in a motion filed last week. The motion is posted below. The Sun-Herald again reported:
Kingfish note: Where is the line? When is a public record not a public record? Suppose a federal grand jury subpoenas the minutes or budgets of a city? When did federal law start superseding state public records laws, assuming such state laws are constitutional. Honest questions as I'm not familiar with this area of the law. Are all public records thus public but for the whims of the U.S. Attorney's office? Did anyone give a straight answer in court last week?
Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering asked a federal court on Thursday to authorize the release of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources records that are being sought by a Gulf Coast newspaper.
Pickering's motion, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, is in response to an order by Harrison County Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel.
Gulf Publishing and the Sun Herald newspaper have been fighting Pickering for the records. On Wednesday, Schloegel ordered the documents produced by Monday. She had issued a similar order in October.
Pickering had argued that a federal subpoena prevented his releasing documents seized from MDMR during a corruption investigation. Schloegel disagreed, saying the records were created by the agency, not as investigative reports. Rest of article