Press groups support radio host in open records suit

Metro Radio personality Rocky Disabato ""Rocky D"" was let go from radio station WTMA Wednesday evening. (Brad Nettles/ 12/1/12 Buy this photo

Two leading freedom of the press organizations have filed supportive documents in a case where Charleston radio personality “Rocky D” sued over access to records kept by a state education advocacy group.

The S.C. Press Association and the S.C. Broadcasters Association filed an amicus brief with the state Supreme Court in an appeal covering the radio host’s use of the Freedom of Information Act.

During the 2009 recession and government bail-out debate, the host, real name Rocky Disabato, sued to see records kept by the S.C. Association of School Administrators.

Disabato’s FOIA request was aimed at getting copies of phone records and other documents he said might expose “collusive efforts” between the state Department of Education and others in pressing the state to pursue millions in federal stimulus money, which then-Gov. Mark Sanford opposed. Sanford eventually requested the funds.

Disabato and his supporters contend the association’s records should be considered open and public since the group is partially funded by taxpayer money. One example is when superintendents require a county school district to pay for association membership.

Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper ruled against the radio host, saying that requiring the group’s membership to comply with open meeting and records provisions is an unconstitutional imposition on their First Amendment rights of free speech. Forcing them to open their doors would stifle their mission, he said.

The S.C. Press Association supports sending the case back to circuit court for trial on the merits that SCASA’s closed-record stance violates the FOIA.

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