The Sun Herald has finally won the long battle for access to Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (M.D.M.R.) public records, and in the process, the Mississippi State Auditor has been found in contempt of court. The Sun Herald asked for the files more than a year and a half ago, and was denied by the M.D.M.R. on grounds that the files were part of the M.D.M.R.’s investigation.
The Sun Herald then sued, citing the Mississippi Public Records Law, and the public's right to know the truth. After a judge ruled the documents must be made available, the state auditor, Stacey Pickering, brought the files up to a city near Jackson to a federal grand jury. Because his actions went against the judge's ruling, he was held in contempt of court. Pickering and the M.D.M.R. must pay the Sun Herald's attorney fees.
Henry Laird, the attorney for the Sun Herald, says, “It is gratifying to take the position the paper did, that these are public records, and they're not exempt as being criminal investigation records, and for the court to agree with us, it’s good to know, good to experience. But let me say again, I think we all would rather not to have had to go through this experience just to get to that point.” Both attorney Laird and the Sun Herald hope the M.D.M.R. and State Auditor's Department are more open and forthcoming with public records in future cases.