Jenna Garland, press secretary to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, is facing criminal charges of violating the state open records law. Garland is accused of attempting to frustrate a reporter’s 2017 request for billing documents from the city water department by telling a subordinate in text messages to “drag this out as long as possible” and “provide information in the most confusing format available,” the New York Times reports. The charges she faces are misdemeanors, carrying at most a fine of $3,500. They are the first time in Georgia history that any public official has been criminally charged under the state’s open records law. Nationwide, criminal actions against public officials for open records violations are uncommon.
Garland declined a plea offer last week from the state attorney general. Her case could go to trial as early as the fall. First Amendment advocates say the charges have already served as a warning to other government officials to take records requests seriously. “Public records belong to the public,” said Cynthia Counts, a board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “Without enforcement there’s really no meaning behind any of the provisions.” The case is a notable fallout from an epic public battle between Reed, and one of the most important African-American politicians in the South, and two titans of the Atlanta media scene, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, the local ABC affiliate, which are owned by the same parent company and often team up for coverage. The newspaper’s coverage of the Reed administration has been vigorous and thorough, generating numerous scoops in the midst of a continuing corruption investigation.