What Exactly can be Obtained Through a Gramma Request?
Article I, section 14 of the Utah Constitution prohibits state actors from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. The state can seize evidence without violating section 14 if it uses a valid warrant or subpoena.
In Shroeder v. Utah Atty. General’s Office, 2015 UT 77 David Schroeder filed a public records request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). He was seeking bank records the state had seized lawfully during a criminal investigation that arose from the City raising funds that were intended to promote the City as a destination for tourists and entrepreneurs, but instead they used a significant amount of those funds for expenses in support of local political campaigns. The district court denied the request and held that section 14 has a broad right of privacy that prevents the state from disclosing bank records even if the records were obtained legally.
On appeal, the court addressed whether the right against unreasonable searches and seizures prevented Mr. Schroeder from accessing information the state seized during its investigation of the City’s raised funds. The court said no; there cannot be a violation of section 14 when the government obtains information through a valid warrant or subpoena. Therefore, the state constitution does not exempt the bank records from GRAMA’s public disclosure requirements. The court reversed the district court’s decision of shielding the bank records from disclosure.
Mr. Schroeder was entitled to their disclosure after any nonpublic information is redacted as required by GRAMA because section 14 does not exempt the bank records from GRAMA and because the state did not argue on appeal that the bank records were shielded by any of GRAMA’s protective provisions. GRAMA has 64 categories of protected information that no one can access without compelling justification. Under GRAMA, even nonpublic records may be released if the interests favoring disclosure outweigh those favoring nondisclosure. The court concluded that the records should be disclosed because the City’s citizens have a right to know about potential public corruption. The government has the burden to establish that a document falls into one of these nonpublic categories. The AG’s Office did not carry its burden, however, because it did not argue that any of these provisions applied in the case. Consequently, Mr. Schroeder was granted access to the bank records.