Arkansas Television Station Takes AIDS Foundation to Court to Release Records
The Little Rock, Ark., television station KARK has filed suit in both state and federal court "alleging" that the Arkansas AIDS Foundation has "refused" to produce documents the station requested under the state and federal freedom of information acts, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The station is investigating documented complaints from foundation clients about the Arkansas Supportive Housing Network, a group that assists the homeless and "at-risk individuals" in finding housing. The station made the first of three requests for documents pertaining to the foundation's relationship with the housing network in March. The most recent request, "hand-delivered" by KARK anchor Bob Clausen, requested "all materials in your possession involving the Arkansas Supportive Housing Network. This request includes, but is not limited to, client complaints against Arkansas Supportive Housing Network; client records pertaining to denials of financial assistance from the Arkansas Supportive Housing Network; financial records of assistance paid to clients that could not get support from the Arkansas Support Housing Network; and investigation documents pertaining to the Arkansas Supportive Housing Network."
Subject to State or Federal Law?
Because the foundation receives funds from both the state departments of health and of human services and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, attorneys for the station argued that it is subject to state and federal information laws because the grants "constitute public funds." However, the foundation countered that it is "exempt" from the federal law because it is a "grantee" and from the state law because it is not a "'public agency' as defined by the law." Furthermore, the foundation's records are protected by a "medical records" exemption, according to foundation attorney Allen Dobson. Lawyers for the foundation also filed motions for dismissal, saying the suits are "draining money away from their already scant resources." They estimate the legal actions have already cost the foundation $20,000. The foundation said it seeks to protect the privacy of its clients and acknowledged that the release of "any information related to a person's HIV status" would violate that privilege. In a hearing last week before Circuit Judge John Plegge, lawyers for KARK and Clausen "agreed" that the foundation could black out the names and addresses of any clients contained in the requested documents, but Donna Waugh, foundation executive director, said "that concession is not enough." Meanwhile, the Supportive Housing Network, which "acknowledges" the complaints, remains "caught in the middle." Executive Director Sandra Wilson said, "It keeps us in a bad light because [information about the complaints] is not being released. [But] I can certainly understand them not wanting to set a precedent of releasing information." The Health Department found the complaints to be "unsubstantiated," she added (Shurley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 6/12).