“Rather than enlisting lawyers to shield their records from the public, these recall organizers should come clean with the people of Louisiana and disclose their supporters as required by law.” Jason DORÉ, Louisiana Republican Party executive director
While signatures are being collected on recalls against Gov. Bobby Jindal and others, the petitions are not public record and won’t be released, an attorney for recall organizers said Tuesday.
The response came in a letter to Louisiana Republican Party Executive Director Jason Doré, who filed public records requests on chairmen of recalls targeting Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.
“Your interpretation of Title 18 and the Public Records Law ... is contrary to previous attorney general opinions ... and there does not appear to be a single court decision which supports your position,” Lake Charles attorney Thomas A. Filo wrote.
“Moreover, given the Administration’s recent overly aggressive and troubling record of retaliatory discharges, attempting to secure the names of recall petition signatories prior to filing or certification raises serious constitutional issues under the 1st and 14th Amendments,” Filo continued.
Filo referred to the freedom of speech and equal protection amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Filo also advised Doré that if legal action were filed against recall organizers that a counterclaim would be filed for declaratory and injunctive relief “as well as constitutional challenge to the provisions of Title 18 which purports to designate recall petitions in progress as public records.”
Doré said he had just received the letter from Filo.
“We’re reviewing and considering our next move,” Doré wrote in an email response. He added that Filo is relying on out-of-date attorney general’s opinions and ignoring current law.
“Rather than enlisting lawyers to shield their records from the public, these recall organizers should come clean with the people of Louisiana and disclose their supporters as required by law,” Doré wrote.
Doré filed the public records request on Calcasieu Parish teachers Angie Bonvillain and Brenda Romero, seeking the name, address and signature of each person who has signed the Jindal recall petition.
Bonvillain and Romero started the recall effort in response to passage of Jindal’s education revamp, which diverted public school dollars toward helping students attend private and parochial schools and altered teacher tenure. They complained that the ideas of veteran classroom teachers were ignored and the plan adopted would only undermine public schools.
Since they launched the recalls, teachers have begun petition drives aimed at ousting three more state representatives — Greg Cromer and Kevin Pearson, of Slidell, and Ray Garofalo, of Meraux. All are Republicans.
Doré cited a provision in Title 18 of Louisiana law that states: “Upon the signature of the first elector, the recall petition, including the name, address, and signature of each elector who has signed thereon, shall be a public record. The chairman, or the vice chairman when acting as the chairman, shall be the custodian thereof ...”
Filo advised Doré that no one person is in possession of the information he requested since it involves numerous volunteers collecting signatures on many recall petition sheets. In addition, Filo said neither Bonvillain nor Romero meet the definition of “custodian” because they are not public officials or heads of public bodies.
Bonvillain called the GOP public records requests an attempt to scare and intimidate.
“It’s sad that they are misusing their power to try to scare people from participating in the democratic process,” said Bonvillain. “Jindal is being a bully again. I’m not going to back down ... The only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him.”
Bonvillian criticized the education revamp legislation as haphazard attempt to get notice nationally.
Doré has also complained that the recall efforts are not abiding by state law, which requires the filing of campaign finance reports once contributions or expenditures top $200.
Bonvillain said campaign finance reports reflecting recall efforts financial activity will be filed in July.
“We are not professional politicians. We did not realize we needed to file,” she said. “I’m very sorry but we will file.”
The state ethics agency that also oversees campaign finance laws sent both women letters advising of the potential filing requirement. Earlier, Romero said the recalls were operating under a single political action committee.