When virtually every newspaper in South Carolina - including this one - agrees to help fight a court ruling, it should get folks' attention.
This unprecedented unified effort of 104 newspapers is fighting a ruling that allows a local school board to let its attorney conduct board business and then keep it secret from the public, claiming attorney-client privilege.
The case in question involves the Berkeley County School Board, which asked its attorneys to evaluate the performance of its school superintendent. The board then refused to make the evaluations public. These evaluations have been ruled open in prior cases where attorneys weren't involved.
Circuit Judge Roger Young ruled in May in a lawsuit brought by Charleston's daily newspaper that the individual evaluations are protected by attorney-client privilege and don't have to be made public.
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The managing editor of the Post and Courier put it well when he said the order "is contrary to the very concept of open government and it defies the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act." The newspaper is going to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court and the newspapers will file a friend-of-the-court brief when the time comes.
Why should you care? This isn't just a newspaper issue. If this ruling stands, school boards all across South Carolina will have the green light to begin shielding superintendent searches and evaluations from public scrutiny behind a veil of attorney-client privilege. And it likely won't stop there ... other kinds of public business at the city and county level could be kept secret by having an attorney do it.
• Bill Rogers is executive director of the S.C. Press Association.