INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court has been asked to hear an
appeal of a southwestern Indiana judge's ruling that cause-of-death
information is not public record.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed the request this week, saying the
ruling goes against state policy that death certificates should be
available to the public.
"The Access to Public Records Act requires courts to liberally construe
its provisions to fully implement the State's policy for open access to
public records," the petition said.
The Evansville Courier & Press and Pike County resident Rita Ward had sued
the Vanderburgh County Health Department to gain access to the information
after it was denied in separate requests in June and July 2012.
The newspaper and Ward argued that death certificates are public records,
while the health department said state law requires it to restrict access
to the information.
Senior Vanderburgh Circuit Court Judge Carl Heldt sided with the county in
January. The newspaper appealed, but the state Court of Appeals upheld
Heldt's decision in August.
The Indiana Coalition for Open Government and the Hoosier State Press
Association have both filed friend of the court petitions urging the
Supreme Court to settle the matter.
Newspaper attorney Pat Shoulders said he was encouraged by Zoeller's move.
The newspaper published causes of death information from 2002 until May
2012, when the health department stopped including death causes in the
information it provided to the newspaper.
In the lawsuit, the newspaper and Ward argued that death records are
governed by conflicting state laws.
The Court of Appeals ruled that death certificates are public records
under state law but can be disclosed only if certain circumstances are
present, such as whether the person seeking them has a direct interest in
the death and whether it is needed to determine issues of property rights.