Campaign for Accountability (CfA) is a Washington, D.C.-based public interest organization that is fighting the payday loan industry. When the industry procured a piece of academic research from Kennesaw State University supporting the industry’s claim that payday loans don’t ensnare borrowers in recurring cycles of debt, CfA suspected industry influence in the findings. So it filed an Open Records Act request for the industry’s communications with the KSU professor who published the research. The industry’s own research and education arm sued the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to prevent production of the communications, arguing that the Georgia Open Records Act prohibits disclosure of fifty broad categories of documents, including those relating to research conducted at public universities.
CfA needed a seat at the table in the lawsuit to fight for its right to the documents. So Arnall Golden Gregory moved the trial court to allow CfA to intervene in the case, and when the motion was granted, AGG coordinated strategies with the Board of Regents to refute the industry’s interpretation of the act. This was harder than one might imagine, as the issue was a case of first impression, and the leading decision out of the Georgia Supreme Court seemed to lend support to the industry’s position. AGG decided to pursue a two-pronged attack, closely parsing the convoluted statutory text, while explaining the very real harm that would occur—to the public’s right to open government and the government’s need to communicate information to its citizens—if the industry’s interpretation were adopted.
AGG prevailed in the trial court, but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, accepting the industry’s reading of Supreme Court precedent and its interpretation of the Open Records Act. Through superior briefing and persuasive oral argument, AGG and the Board of Regents convinced a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals and adopt AGG’s interpretation of the act. Not only did CfA win its right to see the industry’s communications with KSU, but the public won too, because the decision and its new interpretation of Georgia’s Open Records Act guarantees their right to an open and transparent government.