Scoop Media Group wins redaction lawsuit against Montgomery County

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Chancellor McMillan ruled that the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office must stop the illegal redaction of public information from open records requests. Circuit Court Clerk Cheryl Castle announced her resignation just days after depositions, leaving her elected term unfilled.

On August 7th, Chancellor McMillan ruled that the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office must stop the illegal redaction of public information. The ruling comes after Montgomery County Attorney Tim Harvey appealed to the court for closing arguments and the case conclusion to be conducted at an in-person hearing. Chancellor McMillan denied that request and concluded the case via teleconference due to COVID-19.

Scoop Media Group filed the suit in Chancery Court on February 13th after Circuit Court Clerk Cheryl Castle began redacting details from public arrest affidavits in January. Castle resigned her position on May 21st, shortly after depositions in the case, citing an “emotional week”, losing her mother and working during the pandemic on a Facebook post.

Cheryl Castle Public Resignation Post (Source Facebook)
Cheryl Castle Public Resignation Post (Source Facebook)

The redactions initially began after a telephonic communication between Scoop Media Group and Montgomery County Public Information Officer Michelle Newell, who told Scoop that she did not agree with how Scoop published public records, would be seeking legislation to prevent future publication and would restrict access going forward.

The Memorandum Opinion and Order reads “Therefore, the court is of the opinion that T.C.A. § 4-38-11 l(i) does not make confidential the names and addresses of alleged victims of criminal conduct found in warrants and affidavits of complaint and that a permanent injunction shall issue enjoining Respondent Montgomery County from redacting this information, not otherwise specifically made confidential by statute, from proper requests made under the Public Records Act.”

Scoop CEO Jason Steen had this to say in an email he sent out with the disposition “I am pleased that the judge upheld and reinforced existing state law – this case will serve as a precedent for future (and current) counties that redact information from public records that deviates from the allowed TCA exemptions.”

Jason Steen is campaigning to fill Castle’s unexpired term. He is running against Castle’s current Deputy Clerk Wendy Davis.

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