Iowa seeks to dismiss ex-agent’s records petition

IOWA CITY – The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has asked a judge to dismiss a legal action that claims state officials violated the law when they shared a confidential report about an agent’s firing with an outside investigator.

In a filing last week, state lawyers called the petition by former Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Larry Hedlund “unprecedented and meritless” and claimed that if upheld, it would have far-reaching effects on state government’s ability to share information with outside experts.

At issue is the state’s decision to give a 500-page investigative report about Hedlund to retired Iowa Chief Justice Louis Lavorato, who was appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad to investigate Hedlund’s highly publicized retaliation claims.

Hedlund, a 25-year employee with no prior discipline, claimed that he was fired because he filed a complaint to superiors at the Iowa Department of Public Safety about an April incident in which the governor’s state vehicle was tracked driving 19 miles over the speed limit but not stopped. Hedlund was placed on administrative leave days later and fired in July.

Department officials insist that Hedlund was fired for unrelated rules violations, including behaving disrespectfully toward DCI Director Chari Paulson.

Branstad called on Hedlund to release a 500-page internal affairs report publicly so that citizens could know the reasons for his firing. Hedlund and his attorney rejected that suggestion, saying the report contained inaccurate and defamatory information. The report is a confidential personnel document, and therefore exempt from disclosure under Iowa’s public records law.

After Branstad appointed Lavorato to conduct an independent review of Hedlund’s case, state officials gave Lavorato a copy of the report.

Hedlund filed a petition in Polk County earlier this month claiming that by sharing the report, the state had violated the public records law. The petition sought a $2,500 fine against the DPS records custodian for violating the law, an order requiring Lavorato to return the report and other remedies.

In the motion to dismiss Hedlund’s complaint, assistant attorneys general Jeffrey Peterzalek and Julie Bussanmas argue that the court should reject it because the law only governs requests for public records, which had not been made in this case.

State employees routinely share information with people inside and outside government that would be considered confidential under that law and shielded from public disclosure, they argued. The motion didn’t elaborate. But other examples might include law enforcement information shared with another agency or economic incentives pitched to a company. In both cases, the shared information would be exempt from public disclosure.

Lavorato was authorized by the governor to conduct the investigation and sharing the report with him did not amount to a public release of the information, they said, noting Lavorato signed a nondisclosure agreement.