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Tribal court rules in favor of Osage News

A lawsuit brought by the Osage Nation tribal newspaper alleging an Open Records Act violation by Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle apparently will be allowed to proceed through the tribe’s court system following a judge’s ruling that the act entitles the newspaper to the same protections as any member of the public.

Osage News filed the suit against Red Eagle in June after his office had failed to release information regarding a pipeline consultant’s contract. Shortly after filing of the tribal court action, the requested information was released — approximately five months after the Open Records request originally was made.

On Aug. 14, Presiding Associate Judge Lee Stout denied a motion by the chief’s attorneys requesting dismissal of the suit. Stout ruled the Osage News — as a “business entity” — may request government records the same as any other member of the public. The ruling also said damage relief can be sought if those requests are not fulfilled.

In his ruling, Stout said: “It is the opinion of this court that I believe that the Osage News does meet the definition of a business entity of the Osage Nation, therefore is a ‘person’ as defined by the open records act and therefore capable of making open records act requests.”

Stout said his ruling does not mean the case is over, as the court will now consider the newspaper’s original filing, which asked the court to compel release of the information that had been requested from the chief, who was asked to pay a civil penalty for allegedly breaking the tribe’s open records law and also to pay the newspaper’s attorney’s fees.

Attorneys for Red Eagle had pointed out that the tribe’s Open Records Act was amended “to make clear that requests by government employees and government officials are not public requests governed by the Act.”

An attorney for the newspaper responded by claiming the Osage News serves no government function, is “clearly a business entity” that operates under a tribal provision that makes it “free from any undue influence and free from any particular political interest.’”

The next court date in the case has not yet been set. Also, the chief’s office also has an opportunity to appeal the decision.

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