State auditor disappointed public records case continues

DES  MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has directed a lower court to do more fact finding to determine if State Auditor Rob Sand violated Iowa’s public records law. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously reversed a district court ruling that Sand was legally justified in denying a public records request for email communications between two reporters and the state auditor’s staff.

Sand says the ruling is disappointing.  “We have an obligation in the law in Iowa that’s unique for our office in that we can’t turn over a lot of material,” Sand said. “In fact if we do, by law in Chapter 11, some people in our office would have to get fired for turning some things over.”

The Kirkwood Institute, a conservative law firm, sued Sand, a Democrat in 2021. The lawsuit challenged Sand’s explanation that the emails were part of an audit. The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled Sand properly withheld one email, but must provide the district court with more evidence for why he withheld nine others.

Sand says the standards for gauging when a public record may be released are higher for his office because of the tips it receives about wrongdoing in state and local government.  “We’re going to keep following those laws to make sure that everybody in Iowa knows that I would rather be slandered in court than have them think that I would just hand over emails where they’re blowing the whistle,” Sand says.

In its ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court said it is not persuaded that each of the nine emails are covered by the exemption, as some were in the form of a request from the reporter for information from the Auditor’s office. Iowa’s highest court has directed Sand to provide specific evidence to the district court that each email was related to an audit.

In a written statement, the Kirkwood Institute’s founder says the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling paves the way for holding Sand accountable.