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Jackson County circuit court judge rules
concealed handgun licenses are public record
By Paris Achen
April 26, 2008
The Mail Tribune is entitled to the list of concealed handgun licenses issued in Jackson County that it sought from Sheriff Mike Winters, according to an opinion issued Friday by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge G. Philip Arnold.
"We were confident all along that concealed weapon permits are public records," said Editor Bob Hunter. "They've always been public records."
The newspaper asked for a list of concealed weapons permits issued in 2006 and 2007 in Jackson County about eight months ago as part of an investigation into news that a South Medford High School teacher had such a permit and wanted to carry her gun at school.
English teacher Shirley Katz sued the Medford School District over a policy prohibiting employees from taking weapons on campus, then appealed when the policy was found valid.
The sheriff, whom state law authorizes to manage the county's weapon permit program, asserted the documents were exempt from public view because they could compromise security and contained personal information, including names and addresses.
None of the permit holders, however, had challenged the newspaper's right to obtain the information based on privacy issues, and state law favors disclosure of public information, Arnold stated.
He also pointed out that the permit application required applicants to attest to and sign that they understood that state law considers the form public information.
About two months after the Mail Tribune requested the information, that statement was removed from Jackson County's concealed weapon permit forms, Sgt. Bob Grantham testified at a February hearing.
Winters, who had spent Thursday and Friday assisting in a search for two Medford firefighters who died on Johns Peak apparently from an all-terrain vehicle accident, said he hadn't had time to review the judge's opinion. He declined to comment until he has read it.
It was unclear whether Winters would appeal the ruling or when a list of permit holders might be released to the Mail Tribune.
The newspaper does not intend to publish names on the list but fought Winters' refusal to hand over the information to protect people's ability to access public records, Hunter said.
"This was not an attack on Second Amendment rights; this was about public records and public officials following state law and not their personal preferences," Hunter said.
The court case has cost the newspaper about $6,000 in legal expenses to date, he said. The amount the sheriff's office has spent on the case was not available Friday.
The newspaper initially requested the list of permit holders to see how far-reaching a ruling on Katz's case might be. During a February hearing, Winters agreed to release a copy of Katz's permit to the newspaper because her story had already been publicized.
Newspapers in Multnomah and Lane counties asked for and received concealed weapon permit information from their respective sheriffs around the same time that the Mail Tribune made its request.
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