ATLANTA - Attorney General Thurbert Baker today issued a decision strengthening Georgia's Open Meetings Law. Attorney General Baker found that while the Open Meetings Act allows a governmental body to close a meeting with its attorney when the threat of potential litigation exists, this exception to the Open Meetings Act is to be construed narrowly.
In response to a complaint by the Augusta Chronicle regarding the Augusta-Richmond County Council's closure of a meeting on August 24, Attorney General Baker used his newly-acquired authority to investigate matters related to the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. The justification given by the Augusta-Richmond County Council and the Augusta Aviation Commission for closing the meeting was attorney-client privilege based on the threat of potential litigation.
Attorney General Baker determined that the "potential litigation" exception to the Open Meetings Act should be construed as narrowly as possible, and that the closure of a meeting should be based on more than a "mere unrealized possibility of a lawsuit." Invoking the "potential litigation" exception to the Open Meetings Act will require "a realistic and tangible threat of litigation" against the agency.
"I have the highest commitment to the enforcement of Georgia's open government laws," Baker said. "That's why I made acquiring the power to enforce these laws one of my top priorities during this year's legislative session." Baker continued, "The potential litigation exception, if construed broadly, presents the danger of allowing the exception to become the rule. My hope is that by narrowing the use of the exception, we will be able to avoid abuses that wrongly deny the people and the press free access to governmental decision-making."