“It has always been my policy that all of my files are closed to the public,” Brandon Jones, Anderson County attorney, said. “I only give copies of my files to the defense attorney in the case as required by law. Otherwise, my files are closed.”
Jones, Ottawa, who also serves as Osage County attorney, reported to Anderson County commissioners June 24 he had investigated a complaint regarding a postcard mailed by opponents of a contentious $25-million hospital bond issue in April that did not include a “paid for by ...” line to attribute who funded it, as required by state election laws.
“I received a complaint from Mr. [Dane] Hicks, [Anderson County Review publisher], and a county commissioner, and so I investigated the complaint,” Jones said in an email. “At the end of my investigation, I did not determine who actually directed the mailing, and the person who was billed for it did not have any criminal intent, in my opinion. I do not feel that charges are warranted or in the public’s best interest in this case.”
In a letter to Anderson County commissioners, Hicks said Jones’ action conflicted with the spirit of state election laws, which demand openness and accountability in political campaigns. Whether or not charges were filed, the individual should still be forced to file a state-required contributor’s report with the Anderson County Clerk’s Office, and that his or her name should be public, Hicks said.
Hicks had discussions with Jones before he approached the county commission about taking action, he said.
“I had asked [Jones] for the information outright, but he declined,” Hicks said. “He could release the information if he wanted to, but he is within his legal bounds not to do so. I would like to get a court order to force him to release the individual’s name, but I think that’s probably a slim chance.”
Hicks said the point he is trying to make in pursuing this action is that the public has a right to know who is contributing to political campaigns. The $25-million bond issue to build a new hospital passed by a slim margin, Hicks said.
“If a district court rules that I need to turn over documents from a file, I will be happy to comply, but without an order to that effect, my files have been, and will always be, closed to the public and media,” Jones said.
The practice of not making investigation notes public is not unusual, Jones said.
“I can’t speak for other prosecutors, but I would be surprised if other prosecutors shared documents from their files with the public or media on cases they declined to prosecute,” Jones said. “I decline to prosecute numerous cases each year for a variety of reasons, i.e. insufficient evidence, lack of criminal intent, illegal search, prosecutorial discretion, etc. I keep copies of all of those reports, but they are closed files not open to the public or media. This case is no different.”