Do Government Workers Routinely Violate The Law?

by Alan Korwin
Bloomfield Press,
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For Publication;
371 Words; Aug. 30, 1998;
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Alan Korwin is the author of Gun Laws of America
and six other best-selling books on gun law, see 

Newspapers in the Hoosier state, in a unique project, banded together to report on a story as a group--a virtually unknown practice. The subject they chose: How well is their government following the law. The specific topic: Are officials violating the freedom of information laws and illegally mis-managing public records?

The short answer is yes, yes and yes. The results prompted project leader Donald Asher to remark, "As audit results poured in, it became clear that Indiana was indeed in a 'State of Secrecy'." Bureaucrats were doing what they wanted with public records, and not complying with the law. And no one paid any price for the violations. The report broke statewide and ran for as long as a week in some of the papers.

When reporters approached bureaucrats in county after county, they were repeatedly rebuffed, shuffled and flat-out lied to. The arrogance of the officials is apparent in the reasons they gave for their failure to comply with the law. Bureaucrats decided to break the law because:

The state law was "outdated" (Monroe County)

The sheriff said the law must be wrong (Lawrence County)

You need "a good enough reason" (Allen County)

You need a written request from the county attorney (not true) (Randolph County)

We're "too busy" or the proper person is unavailable (a frequent excuse)

You're "misinformed" about the law (Delaware County)

If you want proper compliance "get a lawyer" (Steuben County)

"Go get a court order" (not required) (Jackson County)

We don't comply because you have "no personal interest" (Clinton County)

"How do I know you're not an ax murderer" (Ruth County)

One bureaucrat actually admitted using the state computer to check out the background of the person making the request. Readers called the seven newspapers involved and applauded the effort. Among their remarks, "It's unconscionable that this goes on in our country today. Government cannot be held accountable successfully without a clear understanding by public officials that they are OUR servants." "If there are no penalties for violations, why have the laws?" "They are the servants, not the masters." One reader suggested tying compliance with the laws to performance reviews. 98.4 percent said penalties should be assessed (but there are none).

(Based on an extensive report published in Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, April 1998)

Alan Korwin is a full-time free-lance writer and author of seven books on gun law, including Gun Laws of America Every Federal Gun Law on the Books with Plain English Summaries. Permission to reprint this article is granted to non-profit organizations, provided credit is given to Alan Korwin, Bloomfield Press, Phoenix, AZ. All others, just call us.

Alan Korwin
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