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PLN wins Tennessee public records suit against Corrections Corp. of America

CNN, Jan. 1, 2008.
PLN wins Tennessee public records suit against Corrections Corp. of America - CNN 2008

Judge: Private prison company must produce records

Nashville judge rules private prison company must produce records covered by Tennessee law

July 29, 2008: 06:22 PM EST

NEW YORK (Associated Press) - A Nashville judge ruled Tuesday that private prison company Corrections Corp. of America is subject to Tennessee's open records law.

Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ordered CCA to provide information on settlements, judgments and complaints against the company to Alex Friedmann, who first requested the information in an April 2007 letter.

Joe Welborn, an attorney representing CCA, said the company will appeal.

Bonnyman said the overriding issue was whether the company performs a government function.

"The court finds that CCA is the equivalent of a government agency based first and foremost on the fact that the Tennessee constitution makes the maintenance of prisons and keeping of prisoners a state function," she said.

The ruling only applies to records of Tennessee prisons, not to federal prisons the company runs, or prisons in other states.

Attorney Andy Clarke said he represented Friedmann pro bono because he felt the Nashville-based company was deliberately trying to keep damaging information from becoming public.

"Information is knowledge," he said. "They probably don't mind a $4,000 settlement for a broken back becoming public, but if someone gets killed, they probably do."

Friedmann, a Tennessee resident and associate editor at the monthly magazine Prison Legal News, sued CCA after the company denied his records request, claiming it was not subject to the state's open records law.

Among other things, he asked to see verdicts against the company and settlement agreements with prisoners.

The judge ruled that even confidential settlements were public records and had to be turned over as long as they had not been sealed by a court order.