5 things to know about KSL’s legal fight for transparency

Feb 26, 2024, 5:00 AM | Updated: 9:59 am

SALT LAKE CITY – KSL and the Utah Attorney General’s Office are squaring off in a legal fight over access to Attorney General Sean Reyes’ work calendar. Here are five things to know about this showdown over government transparency before both sides make their case to a judge in Salt Lake City on Monday afternoon.

1. How we got here

Monday’s court hearing is more than a year in the making. The records battle kicked off in November 2022, when the Utah Attorney General’s Office denied KSL’s requests for a copy of Reyes’ schedule under Utah’s open records law. KSL took the case to the Utah State Records Committee, which sided with the news organization in May 2023.

To address security and privacy concerns, the panel ruled Reyes could redact addresses of his work meetings, along with any information about personal appointments but still had to hand over his work schedule to KSL. Reyes’ office then appealed that decision to 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City, saying the panel misapplied the law and they want clarity from a judge.

2. Why KSL wants to see the attorney general’s calendar

KSL news director Leona Wood said taxpayers deserve to know what public officials are up to and it is journalists’ job to find out. “Transparency is key to good government,” Wood said. “He has a right to privacy for those matters that are private. But when he is doing the work of a public official, the public should be able to see what that work is.”

KSL asked for Reyes’ weekly calendar spanning two and a half months, from August to mid-November of 2022. We asked other public officials for their schedules and got a range of responses. Auditor John Dougall sent KSL his calendar, while Utah’s House speaker, Senate president and state treasurer said they had “no responsive records.” The governor’s office posts a detailed agenda every week.

3. Where the AG’s traveled

During his decade in the job, Reyes has made headlines for projects in other states and a series of splashy getaways that he says he took on his own time and not on taxpayers’ dime. The KSL Investigators wanted to know more about how Reyes spends his hours on the clock and filed the open records request.

When he was first appointed Attorney General in 2013, Reyes pledged to restore public trust. His two predecessors were engulfed in bribery scandals that involved free trips to fancy resorts. Lawmakers are also attempting to get answers about where Reyes goes and who he meets with from a pending audit they ordered last year.

4. What the law says

In Utah, if a government employee keeps a calendar for “personal use,” then the public can’t get a copy under Utah’s open records law. KSL and Reyes’ office disagree on whether his calendar can be considered a personal one.

According to the AG’s office, his schedule is kept on the office system, contains work appointments in addition to personal engagements, and can be viewed and edited by multiple state employees. But the AG’s office says because the calendar is primarily for his own use and the office doesn’t consider it an official schedule, it’s not subject to release.

5. What’s at stake

A calendar is a basic record that shows if government employees are doing their jobs.

First Amendment attorney David Reymann, who’s representing KSL in court, says the public trusts leaders when they know what’s going on, but secrecy breeds suspicion.

“They’re not entitled to do their jobs in secret. That’s the principle we’ll be asking the court to uphold,” he said.

However, a possible KSL victory may be short-lived. Utah lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill, SB240, that would keep these records secret in the future. Reymann says the legislation won’t affect KSL’s fight.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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5 things to know about KSL’s legal fight for transparency