Alaska high court backs child pornographer in records requests
The Alaska Supreme Court has overturned a lower court’s denial of requests for Alaska State Troopers records, made by a former Fort Wainwright soldier convicted in a federal child-pornography case.
The five-justice court handed down its opinion Friday in favor of 28-year-old Kaleb Basey. He had filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against more than a dozen people – including troopers – based on their actions prior to his arrest and 2014 indictment in the child-pornography case.
A federal jury found Basey guilty Dec. 12 of distributing and transporting child pornography, after prosecutors said he had posted Craigslist ads seeking parents who would let him spend time alone with their children. He faces a sentence of five to 20 years in prison in that case, which was investigated by troopers along with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
In September 2016, justices said, Basey filed requests with troopers in his civil case for records on his criminal investigation, certifications for two troopers investigating him and troopers’ use of military search authorizations. Troopers denied the requests, citing their involvement in pending litigation.
When Basey appealed that decision in state Superior Court, the state Department of Law asked Judge Douglas Blankenship to dismiss his appeal on two separate exceptions to the state Public Records Act. State attorneys said the law allows authorities not to disclose records which “pertain to a pending criminal prosecution,” or when “the requestor is a party in a pending civil lawsuit that relates to the sought-after records.”
Basey, arguing on his own behalf, responded that the state hadn’t made “a sufficient showing…that disclosure of the requested records and information would reasonably interfere with enforcement proceedings” as required under the criminal-prosecution exception. He also argued that Alaska legal precedent allows denial of records requests only from civil-suit parties “involved in litigation with the state,” noting that he had sued individual troopers rather than the state itself.
Blankenship dismissed the case without a hearing based upon the state’s motion to dismiss it, without detailing why he did so. Justices began to review his decision under a higher standard of proof in state law, restricting dismissals to cases where "it appears beyond doubt" that a plaintiff's claim has support.
Upon review, the higher court concurred with Basey’s reasoning regarding the civil-suit exception, acknowledging that it had followed the same interpretation during a previous decision. As a result, the exception only applies in litigation directly “involving a public agency.”
“The State failed to establish Basey was involved in such litigation,” justices wrote. “Basey’s complaint refers to his criminal case, but that case is being prosecuted by the federal government, not the State. The federal government is not a ‘public agency’ as defined in the Public Records Act.”
The court described the lower court’s decision against Basey as “error” under the criminal-prosecution exception. Justices noted that the review implicitly required by the Public Records Act, of whether granting Basey’s records request would affect the criminal case, was never made.
“The State did not offer any evidence showing — and did not even allege — that disclosure of the requested records could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” justices wrote.
Friday’s decision sends the records request back to Superior Court, to be readdressed in accordance with the higher court’s opinion.
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