NASHVILLE (AP) — Attorneys for the Corrections Corporation of America on Tuesday told members of the state Court of Appeals that the company should not have to turn over copies of its legal settlements to the public.
The appeals court previously ruled that the Nashville-based private prison company is subject to Tennessee’s Open Records law because it performs a governmental function by running prisons and jails.
The request for settlement agreements from CCA was one part of a public records request made in 2007 by Alex Friedmann, the editor of Prison Legal News. The company turned over some of the documents after the 2009 Appeals Court ruling, but not the settlements.
In court on Tuesday, CCA attorney Jason Callen argued that while many of the documents that are made or received while the company is operating prisons and jails for the government are public records, legal settlements are different.
“CCA is not acting on behalf of the government when it defends itself in court,” Callen argued.
The three-member appeals panel questioned Callen about that assertion.
“There is no private right to arrest or incarcerate,” Judge Richard Dinkins said. “Matters like this come with the presumption that at CCA everything from paperclip orders to settlement documents is public, because it performs a function only the government has the authority under our constitution to do.”
Friedmann’s attorney, Andy Clarke, told the panel he believes the law is clear that settlements are public record. After the hearing, Clarke said in an interview that he thought it was disingenuous of CCA attorneys to claim any ambiguity on that point.
“Citizens have a right to see how the government functions,” Clarke said. “You can’t contract that out.”
Friedmann said nearly all of CCA’s money ultimately comes from taxpayers.
“They have a right to know how their money is being spent and whether they’re getting a value for their dollars,” he said.