Judge: Chief coastal adviser’s emails are public records

The state Division of Administration has until Jan. 15 to hand over to a New Orleans environmental activist thousands of emails that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief coastal-protection adviser sent and received during an eight-month span, a judge ruled Friday in Baton Rouge.

Anne Rolfes, who filed a public records lawsuit against the division in September, suspects correspondence to and from Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves from December to August could include discussions between Graves and the energy sector about a flood-protection board’s decision to file a huge lawsuit against dozens of oil and gas companies in July.

Graves was first told in December that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was considering a suit against 97 oil and gas firms alleging that their dredging and pipeline work in coastal marshes has been a major contributor to coastal erosion, which has upped the risk of catastrophic flooding in and around New Orleans.

Graves has led the Jindal administration’s vocal opposition to the suit, accusing the flood protection authority of exceeding its mandate and interfering with other coastal restoration efforts.

Rolfes filed a public records request with the Division of Administration in August seeking all communication sent or received by Graves during the prior eight months. The division told Rolfes the request was overbroad and unduly burdensome, prompting her to file the public records suit.

Rolfes’ attorney, Jane Booth, argued Friday to state District Judge Todd Hernandez that the division, which asked Rolfes to narrow her request, has not provided a single piece of paper to Rolfes.

“Basically the name of this game right now is delay,” Booth told Hernandez during a hearing.

Division attorney David Boggs countered that the division did not deny Rolfes’ public records request and added that it will take the division at least two months to pore over more than 19,000 emails and determine which ones are public and which ones are not.

“If it takes that much time, then it takes that much time,” the judge said.

Hernandez said Rolfes’ public records request was not unreasonable and he scolded the division for its inaction in the matter. He also ordered the division to pay Rolfes’ attorney fees of $1,400.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” Booth said after the hearing. “I think the court rendered a fair ruling.”

Rolfes, the founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, filed the public records request and suit on her own and not on behalf of her organization.