It isn’t a conflict of interest for the state Attorney General’s office to defend state agencies when they are accused of violating the state open records laws, a Fulton County judge ruled Tuesday, even though the office helps the public resolve disputes over access to local government records.
“Under the Georgia Constitution and governing Georgia law, the AG’s Office has a constitutional and statutory obligation to represent and defend the agencies of the State of Georgia,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua wrote.
Atlanta attorney Gordon Joyner raised the issue as part of a lawsuit he filed against the State Accounting Office last November alleging violations of the Open Records Act. In his suit, he said that agency didn’t provide any records he had requested until he filed his lawsuit, and that the Attorney General’s office provided only limited help when he reached out.
LaGrua noted the State Accounting Office’s “failure to timely respond” to Joyner’s records request and said she would hold a separate hearing on that issue and consider whether the state should be required to pay Joyner legal fees.
Joyner, the former head of the state Commission on Equal Opportunity, said in a statement that he will appeal over what he called “the inherent conflict of interest of the Attorney General’s Office” in defending, and not prosecuting, a state agency that broke the state Open Records law.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said she could not comment on pending litigation.
The Attorney General’s office runs the Open Government Mediation Program to help the public with open records requests to local government agencies. The Attorney General is also the state’s lawyer.