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Justices split, let stand rulings against DOC over death penalty secrecy

Dave Stafford
The Indiana Lawyer
February 26, 2021

The Indiana Supreme Court has evenly split in a long-running dispute over disclosure of records concerning the state’s lethal injection drugs, clearing the way for disclosure of the records and the payment by the state of more than a half-million dollars in legal fees.

Justices divided 2-2 in a case brought by a Washington, D.C., attorney against the Indiana Department of Correction over Indiana’s “secrecy statute” that prohibits disclosure of the state’s lethal injection drugs and who supplies them.

With Justice Geoffrey Slaughter not participating, the remaining justices split in an order issued Thursday. By rule, the lack of a majority affirms the rulings of Marion Circuit Judge Sheryl Lynch, ordering DOC to disclose the records, awarding $538,000 in attorney fees to Washington attorney Katherine Toomey and granting other relief.

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The Indiana Attorney General’s Office, which defended the state in this litigation, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Plews Shadley Racher & Braun partner Peter Racher, whose firm represented Toomey, hailed the high court’s decision.

“We and our client Kate Toomey are gratified that the Marion County Circuit Court’s orders have been affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court,” Racher said in an email Friday. “The Supreme Court’s decision is a vindication of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. Ms. Toomey made her request for lethal injection public records back in 2014. Pursuant to APRA, she should have received all the records she requested.  Judge Lynch of the Marion County Circuit Court ordered the state Department of Correction to comply with Ms. Toomey’s request in 2016, and again in 2018.  Now that the Indiana Supreme Court has spoken, we look forward to obtaining all the responsive records from the Department of Correction as soon as possible.”

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