Health Care

Health clinic sues Eagle, Wichita State over records request

Hunter Health Clinic has sued The Wichita Eagle and Wichita State University in an effort to block an open records request for e-mails sent through WSU’s e-mail system.

The newspaper is seeking the e-mails in connection with its reporting on financial troubles at the nonprofit organization.

On May 20, The Eagle, under the Kansas Open Records Act, submitted a records request to WSU seeking e-mails to or from the accounts of Jaya Escobar and Richard Muma that reference the health clinic. Escobar is the current board chairwoman for Hunter Health Clinic and Muma is the former board chairman. Both had WSU e-mail accounts because of their associations with the university.

Founded in 1976, Hunter Health Clinic is funded through a variety of sources, including government grants. In 2011, more than 33,000 patients visited the clinic. Most of them are underinsured or uninsured, according to the clinic’s website.

On May 22, Hunter Health Clinic was granted a temporary restraining order against WSU and The Eagle in Sedgwick County District Court. Hunter Health Clinic sought the restraining order because it said the e-mails, although part of a public agency’s e-mail system, contained information that should be exempted from disclosure because of “attorney/client privileged communications, personnel information, personal identifiers of HHC employees, and non-public financial information regarding HHC and other non-public entities,” according to court documents filed by Hunter’s attorneys, Alan Rupe and Jessica Skladzien of Kutak Rock LLP.

In a response to the temporary restraining order, filed last week, The Eagle argues that the records are open and are not exempt from disclosure, and “alternatively, to the extent any exemption might apply, WSU is still required to produce redacted copies of the requested records.”

The Eagle states the clinic waived any right to claim the records are not public when it used a public agency’s e-mail system to discuss clinic business with knowledge of university policies.

WSU’s response to the temporary restraining order is that it awaits orders from the court.

WSU’s policy regarding the use of its e-mail system states: “Users should understand that communications made using University computing and information technology resources are considered to be non-confidential communications and that they should have no expectation of privacy regarding such communications. Such communications may be subject to disclosure through legal proceedings and/or may also be subject to access and disclosure pursuant to the Kansas Open Records Act.”

The Eagle is represented by Lyndon Vix with Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch.

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