By the Way

DMR records: Mississippi's auditor has it backward

By ANITA LEE

calee@sunherald.com Twitter/Facebook

State Auditor Stacey Pickering on the witness stand in the courtroom of Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel. When Pickering testified in December 2013, the Sun Herald was fighting for access to state Department of Marine Resources business records the auditor had subpoenaed.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering on the witness stand in the courtroom of Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel. When Pickering testified in December 2013, the Sun Herald was fighting for access to state Department of Marine Resources business records the auditor had subpoenaed.

Stacey Pickering spoke on the Paul Gallo radio show Friday morning about the public records case against DMR that the Sun Herald won in Chancery Court and lost on appeal.

The DMR prevailed when the state Court of Appeals decided hundreds of documents the agency withheld were investigative records exempt from the state Public Records Act. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources compiled the records during the routine course of business, not as part of an investigation.

Pickering said this on Paul Gallo's radio show:

"At the end of the day the Sun Herald wanted all our investigative documents, the documents that we had gone in and subpoenaed as part of a circuit court grand jury."

Pickering has it backward.

The Sun Herald filed public records requests, then the State Auditor's Office subpoenaed and confiscated the records. The DMR claimed it could not produce the records because they were part of the auditor's investigation.

Now, the auditor's office wasn't very inventive about this. The investigators didn't even bother to change the language in the subpoenas, worded almost exactly like our records requests, something presiding Judge Schloegel noted.

Consider an excerpt from the Sun Herald's first records request, filed Nov. 14, 2012:

"All paperwork, documents and records of money transfers, payments, invoices contracts, copies of checks, check stubs, an account of all money spent, including copies of leases on boats leased by DMR . . . "

Now consider the auditor's subpoena of Jan. 31, 2013:

"All paperwork, documents and records of money transfers, payments, invoices, contracts, copies of checks, check stubs and account of all money spent, including copies of leases on boats leased by MDMR . . . "

From a Sun Herald records request dated Dec. 27, 2012:

"Account receipts, expenditures and balances for Artificial Reef Program Account . . ."

From the Jan. 31, 2013 DMR subpoena:

"Artificial Reef Program account, to include all receipts, expenditures and balances . . . "

At least the investigators took the time to change the order of the sentence, if not the records requested, in the second example. We can understand why the investigators might want some of the same records, but in the same order the Sun Herald requested them?

You be the judge. Was Stacey Pickering shooting straight with the public on the Gallo show?

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