AG Olens wins Nydia Tisdale case

August 26, 2014 12:15 pm

by Chet Martin · 18 comments

Olens and Tisdale, courtesy of the AJC

Two days after Attorney General Olens made news for defending videographer/activist Nydia Tisdale, Judge Robert Adamson ruled in his favor on her behalf. In the heady days of 2012, Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt ordered Ms. Tisdale to stop filming a meeting of the Cumming City Council. As is fast becoming her trademark, she refused, a right protected by Georgia’s Open Meeting Act. From the AG’s Office:

On August 21, 2014, Judge Robert Adamson ruled in favor of Attorney General Sam Olens in a lawsuit filed in June 2012 against the City of Cumming and Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt for violations of the Open Meetings Act. Judge Adamson ordered the defendants to pay $12,000 in penalties, the highest amount possible under the law. Defendants have also been ordered to pay attorney’s fees in an amount to be determined at a later hearing.

“This ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” said Olens. “Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly. The essence of our democracy is that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens and that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment.”

At a Cumming City Council meeting on April 17, 2012, Mayor Gravitt demanded that citizen Nydia Tisdale cease filming the meeting and subsequently ordered her to leave the meeting. Ms. Tisdale returned to the meeting with another hand held camera and was again told to stop recording the meeting. Georgia’s Open Meetings Act expressly provides that visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted.

“My office takes very seriously our responsibility to enforce the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. The actions by the mayor in this circumstance were egregious, and it is essential that he be held responsible for his actions.”

Attorney General Olens is a long-time advocate of open government. In 2012, he championed the first overhaul of Georgia’s Open Meetings and Open Records Acts in over a decade, which was signed into law with sweeping approval by the Georgia General Assembly. The revised sunshine laws are more user-friendly and provide tougher penalties for violations. Additionally, the updated law allows the Attorney General to bring civil actions for violations of the sunshine laws. This lawsuit marks the first civil action brought by the Attorney General under the revised law.

“The Georgia First Amendment Foundation (GFAF) is thrilled to see the ‘new’ open government law in action. Enforcement of the state’s Open Meetings and Records Acts are a critical component of the duties of the Office of the Attorney General, and we are delighted to see access rights preserved. We were particularly pleased by the use of the new civil penalties provisions of the new open government laws, and look forward to seeing more of these types of cases,” said Hyde Post, President of GFAF.

Here in our gloriously shady state, every political fracas quickly becomes a transparency fight. Government disclosure in the metro area is… lacking. It’s reassuring to see the Attorney General fight for and win the most basic First Amendment statutory protection. It’s equally reassuring to see Nydia Tisdale exercise that right.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Noway August 26, 2014 at 12:35 pm

To the ham-handed cops who arrested her the other day…Oops! I smell a wrongful arrest suit in their future…You go, girl!

dsean August 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Nah. As I understand it, she refused to leave private property being used as a campaign event. Very different from Cumming kicking her out of City Hall during a Council Meeting.

Kicking her out of the campaign event was monumentally stupid, but totally legal, as was the arrest that followed.

Lea Thrace August 26, 2014 at 5:16 pm

But doesnt that change if the event is listed everywhere as public AND she was an invited guest?

Will Durant August 26, 2014 at 5:38 pm

And she obviously wasn’t the only one recording video or we wouldn’t have the video of her arrest. IANAL and I’m sure the legality of the arrest will be news in the future but since this was on private property was the Deputy there as private security or was he on the clock? Dawson County hasn’t received publicity of this magnitude since James Dickey wrote Deliverance.

dsean August 26, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I don’t think the legality of the arrest would depend on whether he was privately hired or not. Based on what’s being reported, she was asked to leave, refused, and then was arrested. As long as the officer has the requisite POST certifications, etc., the arrest itself should pass muster.

Again, though, monumentally stupid of the GOP to kick her out even though it seems totally legal.

dsean August 26, 2014 at 5:40 pm

No. You can kick out an invitee at any point in time. If they refuse to leave, it’s trespass. Even things advertised as “open to the public” or that are generally open to the public (like a mall or restaurant). If it were a meeting subject to the Open Meetings requirements under state law, then yes, that would change the answer, but as I understand it, the most recent meeting as a party fundraiser.

Harry August 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Obama refuses to let anyone tape his fundraisers. It’ll be fun when he comes here and tries to pull that stunt, because AG Olens has clarified this. Anyone can tape any public event whether invited or not, on public or private property. So if someone is granted entry to an Obama fundraiser, they can tape without being removed.

dsean August 27, 2014 at 9:51 am

That’s not what Olens said. Olens was referring to an open meeting (as defined by statute), which anyone can attend and tape. Party meetings on private property aren’t open meetings. Anyone can be removed from them. Olens’ preference is that the GOP meetings be open to all, but he wasn’t saying the law requires it.

Harry August 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm

OK, I understand, thanks. Do you happen to have a cite or link to where an open meeting is defined; in other words, what exactly distinguishes it from a non-open meeting, and what is private vs. public property? For example, if Obama holds a fundraiser in a museum or library, it’s considered public property and an open meeting, right?

Harry August 27, 2014 at 3:22 pm

When Hillary gives a speech in a university, it’s considered an open meeting and can be taped? Any difference between a public university, say UNLV, and a private one?

dsean August 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm

No idea about Nevada’s laws. Here, I believe UGA could close it if it wanted to. Private Universities almost certainly can. Emory could host a meeting with Hilary and the university chancellors to set policy and keep the whole thing closed. They’re private. That law just doesn’t apply to them.

Harry August 27, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Let’s say Hillary gives a speech at a public institution that’s by invitation, where the faculty and staff are invited and the subject matter is her usual spiel – and nobody is permitted to record, which is the normal stipulation in her contract. And somebody was recording, and was ejected. We don’t know the Nevada law, but would it not seem at least inappropriate to eject the person?

dsean August 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Sure – http://law.ga.gov/sites/law.ga.gov/files/imported/vgn/images/portal/cit_1210/62/49/186393706OMA_M_2012_Act_correctly_formatted.pdf

That’s the Open Meetings Act. Basically, it’s any substantive meeting of a quorum of members of any governmental or agency body, whether in public or in private, that is setting policy or conducting actual business. Pretty broad, but the key is that it’s a government body conducting business (and certain publicly-funded non-profits – I think that’s directed at things like the Regents, various regional transportation agencies, and maybe the public defenders offices, but I’m not 100% sure).

There are exceptions for when there’s a quorum at a civic function or similar event (like if the whole city council belongs to the Rotary Club, the Rotary Club doesn’t have to open all of it’s meetings).

Harry August 26, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Thanks AG Olens for clearing up the legal uncertainty.

NoTeabagging August 26, 2014 at 3:17 pm

The Partisans must be wringing their hands and banging their heads over this one.

Harry August 26, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Why do you think so? I’m as partisan a Republican as anybody, and what Olens did is a good thing because it eliminates the uncertainty. Maybe I’ll go videotape a Dem meeting, just for fun.

Ghost of William F. Buckley August 26, 2014 at 3:26 pm

People 1
Jack Booted Thugs 0

Stefan August 26, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Makes you wonder why the good people at Dockers even go to the trouble of sewing pockets in khakis.