On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of utility watchdog, Warren Woodward. The Court reversed and remanded Yavapai County Superior Judge Jeffrey Paupore’s ruling in a case brought by Woodward involving “smart meters.”
Judge Diane Johnsen wrote the opinion for the unanimous three-judge panel.
The Court awarded costs to Woodward, which amount to approximately $550, due to the fact that he represented himself.
Johnsen wrote, “Although the Commission argues at length on appeal that as a factual matter, it made a good faith effort to comply with Woodward’s public records request, those facts are for the superior court to rule on in the first instance, not this court. Contrary to the Commission’s contention, Woodward’s complaint alleged facts sufficient to state a claim that the agency failed to disclose documents subject to disclosure under the public records law. Accordingly, the court erred by dismissing the complaint without resolving Woodward’s claim that the Commission failed to produce public record documents.”
Woodward’s case isn’t the only situation in which the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has tried to block the public’s view of public business. The Commission has been mired in controversy due to a majority of the commissioners opposing the effort by Commissioner Bob Burns to make public possible campaign donations to commissioners by Arizona Public Service and its parent company Pinnacle West.
According to Woodward, he had sought “documents and emails concerning the “smart” meter health study that the ACC asked the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to perform. The ACC redacted stuff they had no legal right to redact. They even invented a redaction classification that does not exist under Arizona law, “state of mind.”
The “smart” meters have been a source of controversy ever since they were introduced as a cost savings device by power companies. Many have argued that the meters present a health hazard especially to those people who claim “electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” The Commission has heard concerns about the meters from residents across the state. Some have claimed that they have experienced health problems from the wireless emissions.
Woodward had discovered an email exchange between the ADHS and ACC staff that had not been turned over by the Commission in response to his request. “In other words, the ACC hid it from me,” Woodward told supporters in an email after the Court of Appeal’s ruling. “In that exchange, the head of the ACC was prejudicing the study from the start by telegraphing the type of study the ACC wanted (favorable to “smart” meters). Remarkably, the head of the ADHS responded that he knew “intuitively” that “smart” meters were safe. So much for objective science. The ADHS study went downhill from there.”
Woodward had approached the Citizen Ombudsman Office, which was gutted after Governor Doug Ducey took office, for assistance in obtaining the public records. The Ombudsman is tasked with assisting citizens in records and other types of disputes with government agencies. Once a powerful advocate for transparency and responsiveness, the Ombudsman Office is now nothing more than a waste of time according to Woodward and others.
“The Superior Court judge botched the case six ways to Sunday,” wrote Woodward in his email. “Basically, in a surprising and highly unusual move, the judge gave me all the documents in unredacted form but told me they were for my eyes only. Then later in the case he asked me to show why they were not legal (even though the burden of proof was on the ACC to show why they were legal).”
“So I went through each illegal redaction and cited specific examples, and then the judge busted me for violating his gag order. In other words, he had set me up,” continued Woodward. “On top of that, the judge then dismissed the case saying I could keep the records he gave me but not share them. That’s called “prior restraint” and big, big 1st Amendment no-no. So I filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals, and yesterday they ruled in my favor.”
“I don’t know why they’d bother but the ACC can appeal this to the Arizona Supreme Court, and the case has actually been “remanded” back to the Superior Court, but in my opinion that judge’s hands are pretty much tied by the Court of Appeals’ decision,” concluded Woodward.