Monday, March 21, 2005
The Gannett-owned newspapers in Louisiana have filed suit to obtain the 9-1-1 tapes that document the emergency medical assistance summoned to the home of Secretary of State Fox McKeithen, injured in a fall on February 17. The newspapers, including the Shreveport Times, are requesting the tapes under Louisiana's Public Records Act (R. S. 44:1 et seq.) The East Baton Rouge D.A.'s office, claiming that HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) requires that the tapes be kept confidential, has refused to release the material. The newspapers claim that the public has a compelling interest in discovering as much as possible about McKeithen's condition, since he is currently paralyzed from the neck down and is undergoing treatment at a hospital in Atlanta. He has named Al Ater as deputy Secretary of State.
No Louisiana court has ruled on the issue. However, in 1997, then Attorney General Richard Ieyoub and Assistant Attorney General Frances Jones issued opinion 97-233 with regard to Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) reports, in which they summarized previous AG opinions discussing the status of 9-1-1 tapes.
"Your request for an opinion from the Attorney General's office has been forwarded to me for research and reply. Specifically, you ask about the legality of releasing C.A.D. (Computer Aided Dispatch) reports. After discussing this request with you, it is my understanding that C.A.D. reports consist of E-911 tapes, along with any other information given to emergency dispatchers during the course of interactions with callers, law enforcement and other public service personnel. Previous opinions rendered by this office have stated that tapes of 911 emergency phone calls are public records, subject to the exceptions set forth in the Public Records Act, La. R.S. 44:1, et seq. Accordingly, the E-911 tapes which are part of the C.A.D. reports would be subject to the Public Records Act, with the exceptions which are contained in La. R.S. 44:3. Additionally, it appears from a reading of 44:1 and 44:3 that other information in these reports is also subject to these provisions. This determination will have to be made on a case-by-case basis to determine if information fits any of the exceptions delineated in La. R.S. 44:3. "