Tips for Citizens

Here are some tips on what to say if a public meeting is being closed, if you are denied a public document or if you are denied access to a court proceeding. You can also send an email to ask a question. Be sure to check out the open meetings FAQs and the public records FAQs sections of this Web site first. You may find your answer there.

What to do if you think Idaho's Open Meeting Law is being violated:

If a meeting is being closed, ask:
Under what provision of the Idaho Open Meeting Law do you intend to close this meeting? Has a two-thirds majority voted to close the meeting, and has that vote been recorded in the minutes?

If you object to the closure, say: I object to the closure of this meeting, and I note for the record that any action taken in an illegally closed meeting is null and void. Furthermore, each member of the governing body who knowingly participates in an illegally closed meeting can face fines of up to $500 apiece. I also remind the board that even in a valid executive session, no final action or decision can be made. The Idaho Open Meeting Law requires all decisions to be made in public. I ask that my objection be noted in the minutes.

What to do if you are denied a public record:

Be sure to first read through the FAQs of the public records section of this Web site so you are familiar with the law. If you know your rights and are polite, you can quite often get past an initial rejection.

If you are denied a record, ask to speak to the custodian of the records in question. Ask the custodian to cite the exemption under which you are being denied the document. Be sure to note their answer. Next ask for written denial and request information about the appeals process for the agency holding the document. Follow their procedures. You have the right to formally appeal the denial of your public record in the local district court. Contact the Idaho Press Club or Idahoans for Openness in Government for more information.

What to do if you are denied (access to) a court proceeding:

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a judge considering closing a judicial proceeding must follow certain procedures to ensure that closing the proceeding will not infringe upon First Amendment rights. (Press-Enterprise v. Superior Ct., 464 U.S. 501, 1984)

The judge must hold a hearing on the need for closure, and allow the media and others to argue against closure. A presumption of disclosure under the First Amendment right of access requires courts to grant access unless confidentiality is “necessitated by a compelling governmental interest, and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” Thus, if a compelling interest is at stake (e.g., criminal defendant’s fair trial right) the judge must consider alternatives to court closure (e.g., change of venue, sequestering the jury, postponing the trial until the effects of publicity have diminished). A judge who determines that no alternative will work must also determine that closure will protect the party’s interest and must tailor the closure order to protect that interest without unduly restricting public access. Finally, the judge must present written findings supporting the closure decision in order to allow appellate review.

If a judge orders you to leave a hearing that has so far been public:

  1. If you know you are prepared to send a lawyer to argue against closure, politely ask the judge if you may speak for a moment.
  2. If allowed, tell the judge that you object to the closure and would like an opportunity to argue against it. Ask for a brief recess so that your lawyer may come to court to argue your case and ask that your objection be made part of the court record.
  3. If not allowed to address the court, do not refuse to leave or shout your objection. Leave the courtroom; write a brief note to the judge explaining that you oppose the closure and that you will contact your lawyer immediately. Ask a court officer to give the note to the judge.

If you learn that a closed court proceeding is in progress or has already taken place, try to determine:

  1. Who sought closure and on what grounds
  2. The nature of the proceeding (i.e., criminal, civil, pre-trial, trial, etc.)
  3. Whether a hearing was held on the closure order and, if so, what findings the judge made justifying the closed proceeding
  4. Whether the proceeding is still going on
  5. Consult your lawyer about challenging the order; challenge may be as simple as requesting a meeting with the judge to point out the procedural requirements mandated by the Supreme Court. Be sure to ask for access to future proceedings and transcripts of past proceedings (note: be prepared to pay for past transcripts). If the judge does not agree to “informally” resolve the issue, you can file a motion to intervene in the matter for purposes of formally challenging the closure order (including a possible appeal).

A blue-ribbon Media and the Courts Conflict Resolution Panel can be called upon by any member of the media or any judge at any time to resolve significant conflict that might arise on a case-by-case basis among the media and the Idaho courts.

To contact members of the panel:
Allen Derr, Boise, 208-342-2674
Joan Cartan-Hansen, Boise, 208-373-7220
Fred Hoopes, Idaho Falls, 208-523-4445
Deb Kristensen, Boise, 208-388-1200
Ron Schilling, Meridian, 208-898-0338

To convene the Panel, you may contact any one of the members, or you may contact:
Patricia Tobias, Idaho Supreme Court,
208-334-2246 or
Betsy Russell, Idaho Press Club, 208-336-2854

If you have a question for someone from the Idaho Press Club or Idahoans for Openness in Government, you may use our Contact form to send them an email.

Tips for Goverment Employees and Officials

If you have a question about whether a meeting should be open or if a document is public, a good general rule is to keep things open to the public. But if you do have questions, you can also send an email to ask a question. Be sure to check out the open meetings FAQs and the public records FAQs sections of this Web site first. You may find your answer there.

What to do before closing a public meeting:

  • Give proper notice. It is important to let people know the reasons why you want to close a public meeting.
  • Cite the exemption. When you make the motion to close the meeting, cite the exact section under Idaho Code why you wish to go into executive session.
  • Make sure you have a two thirds vote on the record. An exact vote needs to be recorded in the minutes
  • Keep minutes. Even if you have gone into executive session, you must keep minutes and those minutes must be available to the public. You only have to provide the subject matter and provide sufficient detail in the minutes to explain the general purpose of the session.
  • Don't stray. Do not discuss any topic other than the one for which you closed the meeting.
  • Don't take final action. No executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision.
  • If you have any questions, check with your agency's legal representative.

What to do if you are uncertain about releasing a public document:

Most public documents are just that, public. Be sure to read the FAQs of the Public Records section of this Web site.
  • Learn what documents in your care are exempt and why. It will save everybody time.
  • Find out who the custodian of the public documents for your agency or government body is. If you are not that person, be sure to have contact information available in case you have questions.
  • Do not ask a citizen why he or she wants a document. You may ask questions to narrow a broad request or suggest additional or alternative documents the citizen might find helpful.
  • You may ask for a written request, but it is not required.
  • You are responsible for the safety of the public document. If there is a question, find a reasonable compromise that provides the copy and yet protects the document.

What to do if you are a court official and have an issue with the media:

A blue-ribbon Media and the Courts Conflict Resolution Panel can be called upon by any member of the media or any judge at any time to resolve significant conflict that might arise on a case-by-case basis among the media and the Idaho courts.

To contact members of the panel:
Allen Derr, Boise, 208-342-2674
Joan Cartan-Hansen, Boise, 208-373-7220
Fred Hoopes, Idaho Falls, 208-523-4445
Deb Kristensen, Boise, 208-388-1200
Ron Schilling, Meridian, 208-898-0338

To convene the Panel, you may contact any one of the members, or you may contact:
Patricia Tobias, Idaho Supreme Court, 208-334-2246 or
Betsy Russell, Idaho Press Club, 208-336-2854

If you have a question for someone from the Idaho Press Club or Idahoans for Openness in Government, you may use our Contact form to send them an email.

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Idaho Public Television homepage link Idahoans for Openness in Government link