The Louisiana Board of Ethics is suing the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in an attempt to block the auditor’s access to information in its case files that the auditor’s lawyers say is needed to conduct a performance review of the ethics administration.
In a suit filed in March in 19th Judicial District Court, the ethics board argues that under state law, it cannot divulge information from its case files because the information is not only confidential but privileged. A violation of that law carries potential jail time.
The auditor counters that it has the legal right to review the information and also the legal obligation to keep it confidential, just as the ethics board does.
A virtual hearing in the case before Judge William Morvant is scheduled for June 22.
The case arose when the auditor launched a performance audit of the ethics board, which is different from a financial audit, to evaluate the agency’s “administration and enforcement of state ethics, campaign, finance and lobbying laws.”
“We’re basically just reviewing their policies and procedures to see how they do things,” says Louisiana Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera.
In the process, Purpera’s office asked for full access to ethics board records from 2013-2018, specifically including investigative case files, files for cases with waivers/suspensions, and ethics board executive meeting minutes.
The ethics board agreed to turn over some of the information but withheld the investigative case files and executive board meeting minutes, arguing that state law, “provides that documents obtained or prepared in connection with an investigation are not only confidential but are also privileged.”
“We want to be as transparent as possible within the confines of the law we administer,” ethics administration executive director Kathleen Allen says. “We just want to seek some guidance from the court before turning them over.”
This isn’t the first time state regulatory boards have sought guidance from the court over what it must legally share with the legislative auditor.
In recent years, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners and the Louisiana Pharmacy Board both sought court rulings before turning over files containing patient medical records to the legislative auditor.
The court ruled in favor of the auditor in both cases, though Allen says the circumstances were slightly different because the court ruled the privilege was for the patients to give, not the medical boards.
Purpera says he is optimistic the court will rule in the auditor’s favor this time, too.
“We succeeded in both of those cases and we will succeed in this one, too,” he says.
“This is a continuing fight. We’ve been fighting for records for the last 25 years.”