Friday, May 5, 2006

Lawyers' good deed

Abraham Lincoln's maxim that government is "of the people, by the people and for the people" is increasingly treated as a quaint slogan by many in government who prefer secrecy to openness.

Happily, therefore, we salute three Boise attorneys who have donated their professional time to the thankless good cause of battering down the closed doors of secrecy in government.

Attorneys Emil Berg, Joe Miller and Tony Park are the 2006 recipients of the Max Dalton Open Government Award, named for the late Idaho milk industry businessman whose open records lawsuit led to a landmark 1984 state Supreme Court ruling. The award is conferred by the Idaho Newspaper Foundation.

Berg, Miller and Park have been fighting all the way to the state's highest court to eliminate a gross example of statutory abuse by state lawmakers in behalf of special interests.

Lawmakers simply made official information vanish from public records.

In 2004, the Republican-controlled Legislature bowed to the cattle industry with a law blocking public access to Agriculture Department records on dairy feedlot nutrients. Outrageously, the law requires feedlot data be returned immediately to dairies. Without access, public interest groups cannot measure whether health standards are being met.

(It's worth noting Idaho ranks dead last among states requiring disclosure of financial information about legislators, according to the Washington watchdog group Center for Public Integrity.)

Although a final ruling has yet to be made in the feedlot records lawsuit, the pro bono public service legal work of the honored lawyers has cast a bright light on this indefensible contempt for access to the public's business.

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