I-Team: Huntsville city attorney refuses to release records without court order

Riley told us he believes the right to privacy outweighs your right to information we've requested, and he told us the only way he will release a personnel file is if a judge orders it.

Posted: May. 23, 2018 7:02 PM
Updated: May. 24, 2018 11:05 AM

Huntsville’s City Attorney Trey Riley told the WAAY 31 I-Team if you or anyone else wants public records “take us to court.”


WAAY 31 is advocating for the public, and we're taking the first steps to force Riley and everyone else in Huntsville City government to follow the law, and release records you have the right to see.

Riley told us he believes the right to privacy outweighs your right to information we've requested, and he told us the only way he will release a personnel file is if a judge orders it.

"I would say no. By virtue of working for a public entity like the government, you don't lose all rights of privacy. Your life does not just become an open book for the general public to peruse at their leisure," he said.

That was Riley's answer to our question about a request to view the personnel file of a police officer charged with DUI.

Riley says he's not willing to give up any city employee files including his own.

That's right he won't release them even though your taxpayer dollars pay their salaries.

"I wouldn't want people just to come because they're interested and look their way through my personnel record, and I think that privacy interest works here," he said.

State law disagrees. It says every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state. There are exceptions such as medical records and anything that could jeopardize public safety.

Wednesday, WAAY 31 sat down with Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel.

He told us the way the law is written allows the City a liberal definition of what can and cannot be protected.

"You would have to go to court and go before a judge and show that the public has an overwriting interest in having that document versus the privacy of the employee," McDaniel said.

Riley told us his office believes the right to privacy outweighs the public's right when it comes to personnel files.

The City's assistant attorney, Eddie Blair answers most open records requests, according to Riley.

"I handle them several a day and I give them out to individuals in the city and media in the city. I have given records out several times this week to media outlets," Blair said.

The only example Blair could give us on a file the city's attorney's office has turned over is incident reports.

However, they only release the first page which is all the law requires.

The first page doesn't have any details on it, and the City charges $10 to obtain a copy of it.

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