CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Dave Freudenthal wrongly withheld draft budget documents from a Cheyenne newspaper last year, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle sued Freudenthal last year after he refused to release information about proposed state agency budget cuts. He said the information wasn't public because it was part of the government's "deliberative process."
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Laramie County district judge's earlier decision that the budget information was public.
Judge Edward L. Grant of Cheyenne, now retired from the court, had ruled that although the budget information was public, state law should allow for such a deliberative process exception in some circumstances.
The Supreme Court stopped short of ruling whether Wyoming's public records law allow for such a deliberative process exception at all.
Tuesday's ruling, written by Justice Marilyn S. Kite, states that the facts of the case didn't allow for a determination of whether the privilege exists. The ruling states that the court can't issue rulings on hypothetical situations.
Tribune Eagle Executive Editor D. Reed Eckhardt applauded the court's decision.
"Obviously we're thrilled more for the people of Wyoming than we are for ourselves," Eckhardt said. "We contended from the beginning that the documents should be accessible so the people of the state could watch and review the budget-making process, which is the spending of their money. This certainly upholds that."
Eckhardt said he would have preferred the court to rule that the deliberative process exception doesn't exist at all in the state. But he said he was pleased that the court ruling will stand as a warning to government officials that it won't be easy to claim the exception.
Bruce Salzburg, Wyoming attorney general, declined comment on the ruling on Tuesday, saying he needs time to review it.
The Wyoming Education Association, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association and the Equality State Policy Center had filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the newspaper's position in the appeal.
The groups have said they were concerned that Freudenthal was trying to create a new exception to the state's inspection of public records law that could hurt their ability to get information about state government activities.