Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's office has been ordered by a judge to turn over emails between then-Gov. Mike Pence, President-elect Donald Trump and Carrier Corp. about Trump's negotiations to prevent the company from moving most of its operations from Indianapolis to Mexico.
Monday's order by Marion Superior Court Judge Heather Welch gives Holcomb's office 30 days to disclose any communications sent between Nov. 14-29, 2016, about meetings between Pence, Trump and Carrier, which operates an Indianapolis furnace factory.
The not-for-profit Citizens Action Coalition first requested the documents in December 2016 after Trump and Pence struck a deal with Carrier to keep the plant open for 10 years and employ 1,100 workers there.
The watchdog group was told that the Pence administration would try to produce the records as quickly and completely as possible. But the group filed a complaint in June 2017, by which time Holcomb was governor, accusing his office of violating Indiana's open records law by not providing the requested records.
In her order, Welch found that Holcomb's office had violated Indiana's open records law by failing to provide updates on the status of the records request, The Indiana Lawyer reported .
While Holcomb's office had argued that the coalition's request was not sufficiently specific to satisfy the standard under the public records law, Welch disagreed after reviewing decisions from the Indiana Court of Appeals as well as the state's Public Access Counselor. She found that the group did meet the law's "reasonable particularity" standard.
Welch wrote that while the coalition's staff attorney did not identify specific email addresses of senders and recipients in its request, "the Court believes that should not be a requirement in all cases, especially when the subject matter is so narrow that the public agency should know exactly where to search for the requested records."
William Groth, the coalition's counsel, called the court order "a resounding reaffirmation" of the state's public records law.
"It also reaffirms that the burden of proof for delaying or denying access must always remain on the government rather than on the person seeking disclosure," Groth told The Indiana Lawyer.
Holcomb's press secretary, Rachel Hoffmeyer, told The Indianapolis Star on Thursday that the governor's office "values transparent government and will follow the law." She said Holcomb's office has offered to work with the coalition in an effort to narrow its request for records.
Carrier announced in February 2016 that it would close the Indianapolis factory, cut about 1,400 production jobs and move some production to Mexico in a shift that was expected to save $65 million annually.
Trump frequently criticized the closure plans during the 2016 campaign. He traveled to the Indianapolis factory three weeks after his election win to announce a tax-incentive agreement partially reversing the closure.
Under that deal, Carrier pledged to keep nearly 1,100 jobs in Indianapolis, including some 800 furnace production jobs it planned to cut with the outsourcing. But about 550 jobs were still eliminated at the plant.
Carrier also received up to $7 million in conditional state tax incentives and training grants in the arrangement, and agreed to invest $16 million in upgrades and automation.