UGA law school clinic withdraws from advocacy for open records

Earlier this week, news broke that the University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic would stop supporting journalists and citizens in advocating for Open Records Act requests. The decision has been widely derided by journalists across Georgia, and Rough Draft joins the chorus of critics.

The Clinic was established in 2020 with the mission to provide law students with practical experience and to “defend and advance the rights of free speech, press, assembly, and petition via regional litigation and advocacy.”

Small, mostly independent publishers across the state, including Rough Draft, rely on the Clinic for help with Open Records requests and pre-publication review of articles.

Local news site Decaturish first reported the news of the decision via social media platform X on May 13 after following up on a records dispute the Clinic was handling for the publication.

According to multiple news reports, including this one from Amber Perry at Appen Media, “In early 2023, the Clinic began reaching out to news organizations around Georgia, ramping up direct advocacy work related to open records after receiving more funding.”

RELATED: Appen Media sues Sandy Springs over access to police reports.

Earlier this year, the Clinic sued the Atlanta Police Foundation on behalf of the Atlanta Community Press Collective (ACPC) and the Chicago-based digital Lucy Parsons Labs. Decaturish reported that the lawsuit has been transferred to another attorney as the Clinic ended its support.

The Clinic will continue to provide legal support and pre-publication review, but a UGA spokesperson told Appen Media that it will “refer open records/open meetings matters that need direct advocacy and representation to qualified legal professionals or agencies.”

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation, a journalism advocacy organization, released a statement criticizing the move:

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is very disappointed in the University of Georgia’s decision to stop providing direct advocacy and representation to Georgia journalists and citizens asserting their rights under the state Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act. The UGA First Amendment Clinic has provided an invaluable service in this area of need. The current Georgia Attorney General has reduced resources available to those seeking access to public records and meetings held by government agencies. That has made the work of the UGA First Amendment Clinic especially important, and its withdrawal from direct advocacy and representation in this area erodes the ability of citizens and journalists statewide to exercise their right to know. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is concerned about the lack of enforcement of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws statewide, and in keeping with our mission, we are committed to seeking solutions.

Georgia First Amendment Foundation statement (May 14, 2024)

Sophia Qureshi of 285 South, an independent news site covering Atlanta’s immigrant communities, wrote on X that it was “A shame they are ending this work.”

Rough Draft joins other local publishers and organizations in urging Bo Rutledge to reconsider this short-sighted decision.

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