Georgia attorney general's office withdraws motion that asked judge to order removal of public records from student's blog

GEORGIA — The state attorney general’s office has withdrawn a motion that was asking a judge to order a student journalist to remove public records from his blog.

Monday evening, the attorney general’s office notified the judge in writing that they planned to file paperwork Tuesday to withdraw the motion. Before the motion was withdrawn, it was widely criticized by journalists and press-freedom attorneys as overstepping the state’s authority.

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Sam Olens’ office, said Olens was not personally aware of the motion filed by attorneys in his office until this week, when media reports publicized it.

“Once the attorney general learned about it, he ordered it withdrawn,” Kane said. She declined to elaborate on the reasons for the change of course, saying “it speaks for itself that we withdrew it as soon as we learned of it.”

The motions were filed as part of an ongoing public records lawsuit filed by University of Georgia student journalist David Schick. Two years ago, while a student at Georgia Perimeter College, Schick requested public records to investigate how the university system handled a budget shortfall at the college.

He was given some of the records he requested, but not all. Schick filed suit in June 2013, alleging the university system violated Georgia’s public records law by failing to provide records in the time frame required and by failing to cite exemptions when withholding records.

The now-withdrawn motion concerns four pages out of a 713-page set released last August. The attorney general’s office raised the issue at the start of the trial last month, explaining that the university system had inadvertently turned over records that were actually exempt under the records law. In the motion, the attorney general’s office said the four pages — which have not been specified — contain information identifying candidates for presidential positions within the university system. Because of this, the state was asking a judge to order Schick to remove the documents from his blog.

Schick’s attorney, Daniel Levitas, of Atlanta’s Clements & Sweet, LLP, said he was surprised and pleased when he heard the motion would be withdrawn.

“It seemed the unanimous consensus was that this motion was rather ill-advised, and that’s putting it kindly,” Levitas said. He is representing Schick pro-bono as part of the Student Press Law Center’s attorney referral network.

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