The Arizona Attorney General's Office redacted embarrassing information in a release of hundreds of documents from an internal probe over suspected media leaks.
The Arizona Capitol Times reports (http://bit.ly/QwRnaY) that censored material included rumors of sexual affairs between Attorney General Tom Horne and a subordinate, questions about a key ally's conduct at work and disparaging comments about the ally, who is entangled with him in alleged campaign finance violations.
Horne's office in August released investigator Margaret Hinchey's case file into the suspected leaks. The file included memos outlining Hinchey's interviews with eight Attorney General's Office employees.
Those memos were heavily censored, with large chunks of text blotted out. But when the Maricopa County Attorney's Office released documents from a joint investigation with the FBI into alleged campaign violations by Horne and ally Kathleen Winn, the file included the memos in their entirety.
Attorneys who specialize in First Amendment issues say there are several reasons why a government agency can withhold information from public records. However, attorneys say the fact that something is potentially embarrassing to a public official isn't one of them.
Solicitor General David Cole responded that the redactions were based on a 1984 Arizona Supreme Court ruling stating that information can be withheld on grounds of privacy, confidentiality or the best interests of the state.
"In responding to public records requests, it is the policy of this office to redact information that is known to be defamatory and false. It is also the policy of this office to redact extraneous gossip, innuendo, rumors, and hurtful remarks that have nothing to do with the legitimate functions of the agency and that can cause damage to individuals and the agency. Our practices comport with Arizona law," Cole said in an email to the Capitol Times.
Horne launched the internal investigation in 2011 after the Phoenix New Times submitted public records requests regarding Carmen Chenal, who is in charge of foreign extraditions at the Attorney General's Office, and wrote about Horne's hiring of her.
Perhaps the most damaging redacted information is about an alleged affair between Horne, who is married, and Chenal, a former law partner who worked for him at the Arizona Department of Education.
Horne hired Chenal for a six-figure job, despite a spotty record that included the loss of her law license, which she got back with his help. According to Hinchey and the FBI's interviews with employees at the Attorney General's Office, Winn often exhibited jealousy of Chenal and other female colleagues she perceived as being close to Horne.
Horne did not respond to an email and a voicemail message from the Capitol Times inquiring about the rumored affair with Chenal. Horne has refused to answer the question when asked by other media outlets.
In an email to The Associated Press, Arizona Solicitor General Dave Cole said state officials redacted information because of privacy, confidentiality, and the "best interests of the state."
"In responding to public records requests, it is the policy of this office to redact information that is known to be defamatory and false," Cole wrote. "It is also the policy of this office to redact extraneous gossip, innuendo, rumors, and hurtful remarks that have nothing to do with the legitimate functions of the agency and that can cause damage to individuals and the agency. Our practices comport with Arizona law."